The Christian community in Syria is growing quickly, and some new converts share their stories.
After 10 years of war, Syria appears in many ways as a country in ruins. However, it’s also a land of hope for many who have discovered the message of Christ despite the hardships.
Aleteia went to meet Yahya, Mayas, and Oubada — three Syrian Muslims who’ve converted to Christianity.
During his Urbi et Orbi Easter blessing this year, Pope Francis described their country, which has been plagued and weakened by ten years of war, as “beloved and war-torn Syria.” The Church has tried to alleviate those 10 years of suffering through the presence of communities that accompany those most in need and the investment of nearly 2 billion dollars.
Many Syrians have had to face these hardships head-on, drawing on their own resources. Some of them, including Yahya, Mayas, and Oubada, have discovered the faith and the incredible message of love of Christ.
Every year, hundreds of baptisms take place across all the local Christian communities—Latin, Greek Catholic, Melkite, Syriac, Orthodox and Kurdish Evangelical. This is confirmed by Pastor Nihad Hassan, who has already baptized a hundred Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and Fr. Raafat Abou El Nasser of the Melkite Catholic Church in Damascus.
“There’s been a growing demand given the circumstances, the war, and the arrival of the Islamic State,” he tells Aleteia. “People have discovered what was (for them) an unknown or misunderstood religion. They went from Islam to Christ. These new converts were guided and accompanied along the way, between 6 and 24 months, until their baptism.”
The priest regrets not being able to go into more detail about these deeply moving personal journeys. “There’s fear on the part of the family and those around them. Moreover, many have refused to bear public witness for fear of being recognized.”
Faith, a refuge in times of trial
Yahya is a Syrian-Lebanese man born in a Muslim family, originally from Homs, and the father of a 3-year-old girl. The idea of converting to Christianity had been germinating in his head for several years, but the culmination of his conversion was his visit to the monastery of St. Charbel in Lebanon.
In 2014, the city of Homs was under siege and his father was killed by a missile launched by Daesh. He then decided to leave Bab Amro with his wife, Mayas, for Lebanon and then Kurdistan. He says,
“I suddenly felt free of a burden, at peace with myself. I had the feeling that I had found what I had been looking for for a long time. I was serene. I was happy. I was born again. Since then, I present myself with my new identity, John. Today I’m a member of the choir of the Catholic Church in Erbil, Iraq, where I live with my wife and our 3-year-old daughter, who was born and baptized Christian.”
Oubada’s background is also atypical. Born into a conservative Muslim family from Damascus, he lived in Saudi Arabia for a long time for work and attended Islamic public schools. He became interested in studying the Koran, which he eventually understood in depth. Yet he felt frustrated and tied down.
One day, out of curiosity, he decided to immerse himself in the Gospel and in the life of Jesus. As he recounted his journey to us, his hand suddenly grasped a rosary that he always kept close by. He says,
“I’ve always had very strong feelings when I pass a church. Daesh only confirmed what I felt about Islam. I have detached myself from it. Five years ago, I met Fr. Raafat, and two years later, I was baptized. That day, I became another man. It was an indescribable feeling, so beautiful and profound.”
It’s a feeling that Yahya fully shares: “I was looking for a meaning to my life, and when I got to know Jesus, I understood that He was the Life.”
Unfortunately, their faith has led them to be rejected by those around them. Yahya and Mayas tell us, “Our family in Syria rejected us; our neighbors in Lebanon threatened us, because for them our civil status remained Muslim. And here in Erbil, it is very difficult to integrate with the Chaldean community, which is closed in on itself!”
This trial pushes Mayas to affirm, “The church is my second home. My faith is the only thing that helps me today to bear these difficult moments.”
As for Oubada, who lives in Arabia: he lives his faith discreetly. “I cannot testify publicly but I live my faith with the Gospels, my bedside book, and the Byzantine songs. I am a man filled with the love of Christ.”