The message in the book of Zechariah speaks to the experience of a nation that has been scattered, that needs hope, words of comfort and an assurance of protection from our heavenly father. It feels to me like Syria is very much in this position today. The numbers of refugees fleeing the country is hard to wrap my head around, and I’ve read that there are millions more who have been displaced within the country. The local population where I live personally is 150,000 people in the town and the whole surrounding area. How do I comprehend 3 million refugees? I underlined a few verses in the first chapter of Zechariah that seemed to speak to the present need in Syria and did my best to work them into a simple prayer in my margins:
Heavenly Father, I pray for all those who have been scattered and displaced from and in Syria, a land where Jesus walked and performed many miracles. I pray for Syrians to turn to you and your wisdom, that they will see your image in one another. May the cities that provided a home to the early church once again overflow with prosperity. I pray that leaders will work for lasting peace. Amen.
I had lunch today with a friend who grew up in the Orthodox Syriac Church, just a small start toward a better understanding! I also watched an interview on the Daily Show that provided a pretty good introduction to the conflict, which began in March 2011 as part of the Arab Spring. Months ago, I spent some time reading up on the persecuted church and noted that there are two main causes of religious persecution: dictator paranoia and religious extremism. The people of Syria seem to face both problems at once. My very simple understanding at this point: There are plenty of people who would choose lasting peace, religious freedom, and civil liberties, but they are up against two fronts: a dictator and religious extremists. And I fear, outside nations are getting involved and making things worse. There’s a phrase that rings true to the situation in the first chapter of Zechariah: “the nations at ease are furthering the disaster.” Christians are about a 10% minority in the country, and my sense is that Christians are primarily suffering because the suffering is so widespread. It’s a true humanitarian crisis.
Update (10/13/15): After reading Among the Ruins and many news stories, the problem in Syria feels tremendously more complicated. So many tensions have been flamed. I did my best to capture some of the conflicts. There’s the original conflict between Assad and those who protested his government as part of the Arab Spring. ISIS is taking advantage of the civil war in Syria to enlarge its physical footprint outside Iraq. There’s the division between Shia and Sunni that underlies so much of the conflict in the Middle East (and that I’ll probably never really understand). There’s even underlying tension between the U.S./Great Britain and Russia surfacing. Among the Arab Spring moderates, there are those who fared reasonably well under Assad, regardless of whether they liked him or not, who could be much worse off under a new government. And there even seems to be tension among the groups that I think of as religious extremists, too, Al Qaeda and ISIS, for example. Probably most at risk are the minority populations in Syria, including many Christians. Yet it’s worth adding: Those most likely to be killed by Islamist extremists are other Muslims. It’s hard to imagine how this will ever all get sorted out. My hope is that everyone will just get sick of fighting and a dialogue of life will return under fresh leadership. It’s hard to imagine as I read about all this and think about it in the context of my love for the Bible: This is where it all began, where tradition says that Cain first asked God: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Praying for a message of love and hope to bring order out of this chaos and light into this darkness.