(Photo: Barnabas Aid)
As Christians around the world get ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, believers in Syria are welcoming the holiday on a much more somber note.
"We will use the Christmas time to visit the families that have been going through pain and suffering," a pastor in Damascus told Open Doors USA, a persecution watchdog that aids Christians around the world. "Christians will come together in the churches of the capital to have their Christmas services, but no decorations and nothing big," he says. "The whole city is mourning the loss of their people, family and friends this year, so people will not really celebrate."
Syria has faced the ravages of civil war this past year, as President Bashar al-Assad has been doing everything possible to quell the rebellion against his administration. While the Syrian government is saying that "terrorists" have been attacking its authority, rebel groups say that they are fighting against a tyrant who has even threatened to use chemical weapons on his own people.
Open Doors Director of Media Relations Jerry Dykstra told The Christian Post that he is not aware of specific relief organizations working in the area, but that Open Doors partners with churches in some areas with relief materials.
Christians, making up 10 percent of the population in the predominantly Muslim country, have been caught in the crossfire of the conflict, with many having to make do with meager supplies and barricade themselves in their homes while the two sides continue fighting. Rebel forces have said that the conflict so far has caused over 40,000 deaths, and although the U.N. has tried to broker a peace deal between the two sides, tensions remain high.
Open Doors say that Syrian Christians are keeping a low profile this Christmas, and will have to make do without Christmas decorations or any other signs that could attract hostility.
"We will be just serving others. We will focus on getting together for prayer," the Damascus pastor continued, noting that they will keep things simple.
"We are not celebrating Christmas like before," another unnamed pastor from the city of Aleppo added. "We will have services in church and invite church people to come and bring their friends. The focus will be on children more than anyone else because they need to feel some joy."
Many Syrian Christians have even been forced to flee the country into neighboring Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, with statistics showing that as many as 2.5 million Syrians are not receiving the help they need inside the country, while another 1.2 million have been displaced.
International organizations have had a difficult time trying to get into Syria to provide assistance. Open Doors says Christians and all Syrians could use the world's prayers and God's protection to keep them safe and comfort them at this time of trial.