A Christian mother living in Damascus with her husband and two young daughters has shared of the fear her family live through every day in the war-torn city, including stories of rape and church attacks, as well as how her faith is compelling her to stay despite the dangers.
"The schools have started again, so we get back to the uncertainty. We are getting up very early to pray and fast whenever our daughters are not at home," the woman, identified as Hanna, shared in a testimony obtained by Open Doors USA, a persecution watchdog group.
"Every day when I walk to the school I work at I hold my breath; every minute something can happen. Many streets are closed and when you walk the streets you see the traces of the battle: little fires all over the streets. Also in our house you see the traces of the war: we already noticed a bullet hole in our guest room, but recently I also discovered one in the room of my girls."
Syria has been locked in a deadly war since 2011 with various rebel factions looking to bring down the government of Bashar al-Assad, a conflict which has left over 100,000 people dead and forced over 2 million to flee as refugees. The country's minority Christian population, making up 10 percent out of 23 million, has been targeted by extremists, left with little protection from the government.
Hanna noted these dangers in her testimony, and shared of an instance when she overheard a man talking on a phone in front of a church, planning an apparent attack.
"When I came home I told my husband: 'They are going to attack that church, I know it.' My husband thought I was wrong, but half an hour later we heard that the church was attacked by a mortar. It wasn't the first church that was attacked. In fact attacks on churches happen a lot now. They are also targeting Christians. Many of them are killed or kidnapped. When they are kidnapped they ask their families for ransom or they force them to convert to Islam," Hanna continued.
She explained that women are often raped, and people in general have been left traumatized by the various ordeals they have been put through.
Christians in Syria have largely tried to stay out of the political situation and from choosing sides in the conflict. While various reports have noted that some communities are fleeing, fearing for their safety, other believers are choosing to stay behind and help others.
"There are some Christians who are fleeing because they have no other choice, but there are many Christians who have really felt God's call to stay in town, even though they have been attacked and targeted because of their faith. They realize that God's using them, and (are reaching) out to their Muslim neighbors," Emily Fuentes, PR and Communications Coordinator at Open Doors USA, shared with The Christian Post earlier in October.
Hanna says she realizes that some wonder why she is staying in the country under such circumstances, and she asks herself the same question every day.
"As a mother and as a wife I want to leave, but as a Christian I want to stay," she explained. "Every time my husband and I pray, God gives us a burden on our heart: stay in Syria. He has things to do for us here. God will bless Syria, know this for sure. He is already blessing us. Every time we go to church, the church is full; people come together in times of despair.
"We also see new faces every time. Many of the new faces are people with a Muslim background who are refugees. They say: 'We've lost everything: our house, our job, family members. But we have gained the most important thing: the knowledge that Jesus is our Savior.' Recently 30 people in our church were baptized. Three or four of them were from a Muslim background. The situation is hard, but we are living by faith."
While organizations like Open Doors are running donation programs and calling for prayers for believers in Syria, international talks continue trying to find a resolution to the crisis.
International aid agency Oxfam has said that hopes lie in the upcoming Geneva peace conference in November, which might provide an answer to the cries for peace by the Syrian people.
"Secretary Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov now have a real opportunity to help bring an end to the death, displacement, and suffering taking place," the agency said about the upcoming U.S.-Russia peace talks, which will also feature input from Britain, France and China.