- (Photo: Reuters/Muhammad Hamed)
As Christians in Syria continue to suffer persecution in the midst of an ongoing civil war, Open Doors USA is encouraging Christians worldwide to pray for the war-torn country on May 11.
"As Christians in Syria continue to suffer from the devastating effects of the two-year-old civil war including killings, kidnappings, homelessness, lack of food and shelter and closing of schools; they are also seeing that God's hand is at work as all denominations are joining in passionate prayer," Open Doors USA interim President/CEO Steve Ridgway said in a recent statement.
Open Doors USA, a human rights watchdog, reportedly received a letter from Christian officials in Syria encouraging Christians around the world to join in an international day of prayer and fasting this Saturday.
"In the face of violence and persecution, our brothers and sisters are striving to keep their eyes on the Lord and seeking His face in their country. Even in pain, suffering and death, God is using the church to accomplish His plan," the letter reads, according to the Open Doors USA website.
"On Saturday, May 11, Christians from different denominations such as Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant/Evangelical are joining together in prayer and fasting to plead before the Lord for His mercy on Syria and an end to the violence."
Jerry Dykstra, spokesman for Open Doors USA, said that not only should Christians offer their prayers to Syria on Saturday, but they can pray in their churches on Sunday for Syria and spread the word of Christian persecution to their fellow congregants.
"Pour out your heart with pleas for the suffering Christians there. They are in need and asking for our prayers!" Dykstra added in the recent statement emailed to The Christian Post.
The California-based nonprofit is encouraging all Christians to pray for an end to the bloodshed in Syria, unity among Christian churches in the area, healing the injured, the future of Christianity in the country, and the innocent children affected by the ongoing warfare.
Since March 2011, Syria's Ba'ath Party government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, has been involved in a brutal civil war against rebels trying to overthrow the government, resulting in the death of nearly 70,000.
As the World Evangelical Alliance pointed out, Christians living in Syria have also been extremely affected by the civil war.
Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, executive chair of the alliance's theological commission, previously noted that Christians are persecuted in the country because rebel fighters see them as loyalists to the country's president, while Assad supporters do not trust Christians in the predominately Sunni Muslim country.
Since the civil war began in 2011, the Christian population in Homs, a hotspot for wartime activity, has reportedly declined from 60,000 to 1,000.
Christian leaders in the country affirm that although vital supplies such as medicine and food are needed, prayer is equally important for the Christians who continue to suffer daily in the Middle Eastern country.
"It is so powerful to pray like one family. It's not that just our prayers aren't enough for God, but if all the Christians in the world unite with one heart, we believe it will be a blessing for Syria and the whole earth. Words can't describe how thankful we are that you will pray with us. We pray that God will bless everyone who is praying with us," one Christian leader told Open Doors USA.
Along with Christians being killed, raped, and tortured in Syria, they are also being kidnapped, as seen in the disappearance of Greek Orthodox Archbishop Boulos Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim last month.
The two bishops were kidnapped last month from Aleppo, located in northwestern Syria, when they were taken by an unidentified gunman.
The orthodox communities in Syria and neighboring Lebanon canceled their Easter celebrations last week to pray for the bishops, and although differing reports indicate that rebel forces have taken responsibility for the kidnapping, many contend that Syrian opposition and Assad loyals continue to trade blame for the abduction.
In spite of these recent events, many Christians in the country maintain hope that one day peace will be restored to their homeland and the Christian religion will once again thrive.
"Christians have been in Syria long before Islam," Sam Ghannoum, a Syrian Christian who fled to Beirut after being briefly detained by Syrian's government forces, told NPR recently.
"No sect or force will be able to eliminate us. That's for sure," Ghannoum added.
Correction: Thursday, May 9, 2013:
An article on Wednesday, May 8, 2013, incorrectly reported that Open Doors USA spokesperson Jerry Dykstra said that Christians should "carry their grievances to mass the following day." Dykstra had said, "perhaps you can also pray in your churches for Syria the following day."