According to the 2015 World Watch List, Syria is the fourth most hostile country in the world for Christians living there. This is because of the growing presence and control of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Christians are among those most marginalized and endangered. Between the Islamic State’s harsh implementation of sharia law and the ongoing violence of civil war, they aren’t the only ones suffering. The astounding number of Syrians fleeing from their homes proves this. The vast amount of Syrian refugees also tells of this great suffering.
More Than a Number
Some 6.5 million Syrians have been internally displaced, while around 4 million have been displaced to surrounding countries, and some still beyond. Numbers like these are so big that they can actually be ineffective. Rather than helping us feel the tragic weight of human suffering, all we see are intangible statistics. In reality, these numbers represent individual people. Most of these people are lost, and many are unreached – without access to the gospel.
Of the over 20 million people in Syria (the vast majority of whom are Muslim), nearly 7.5 million are unreached. These unreached people span across 18 distinct people groups. These people groups are now in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, and Europe.
Implications for Missions
All of this has a few huge implications for missions:
1. Those hardest to reach with the good news remain in Syria.
With the Islamic State taking over, people who remain are either silently hurting at their hands or complicit. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15), so to sinners, we must go.
2. Whether in Syria or abroad, Christians face persecution.
The Islamic State violently opposes all who don’t agree with their religious convictions, especially Christians. Believers still in Syria are likely to be on the run, anxiously hiding, or suffering abuse. Believers who have fled Syria are often homeless, unemployed, lacking basic needs, separated from family, and still religiously restricted… unfortunately, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, and Jordan (the top destinations of Syrian exiles) are all also on the World Watch List. As fellow members of the body of Christ, we suffer when they do. Our love for them is evidence of our love for God and a testimony to the gospel for a watching world (1 Jn 4:7, Jn 13:35).
3. The Syrian refugees are uniquely situated to hear the gospel.
For displaced unbelievers, not only are they more accessible than they would have been in Syria, but they’re also potentially more receptive to the message of Christ. They may be disenchanted with Islam (Daniel Abraham explained this clearly today on Tim Challies’ blog), they might be thinking more about eternity, and their awareness of their need for a Savior may be heightened.
The Darkest Spots
As is often the case, the church hurts worst in the world’s darkest spots. As we look to Syria and see our believing brothers and sisters suffering and fleeing, let’s not be guilty of indifference. Let’s pray for them, support them, and advocate on their behalf, knowing that helping the Syrian church continue to shine brightly is one of the greatest services we can do for the dark world around it. Syrians today need the light of Jesus more than ever. So let’s also bring the good news of forgiveness and reconciliation to those who presently oppose God.
The people of Syria are in dire need. The Syrian refugees are in need too. May we rise to the occasion.