A pastor in the war-torn region of Aleppo, Syria has shared how the country's humanitarian crisis has caused hundreds of Muslims to turn to Christ and helped the Church grow at an astonishing rate.
The BBC estimates that as many as 30,000 Christians are among those who have fled Aleppo, with only a quarter of the Christian population remaining since the beginning of Syria's civil war in 2011. World Watch Monitor notes that East Aleppo is bombed almost daily by Syrian and Russian air forces; its west is frequently shelled by the rebels from the east.
However, one of the Christians remaining in the city is Pastor Alim, whose congregation is helping up to 2,000 needy families each month - Muslims and Christians - through a team of motivated people.
The pastor revealed that those living in Aleppo are daily exposed to to the horrors of war: "Every day we hear of someone who has died, every day we are surrounded by death," he said. "We feel the pain, but for those who died we cannot do anything. We can make a difference for the living, we can help them."
While the war has brought continued pain and suffering, it has also brought thousands to Christ, the pastor said.
"Because of the crisis, bridges are being built with people we never had contact with before," he explained. "We started visiting families, we organize camps for children who are not Christians, and their mothers also come."
He added, "Before the war, we were a church with 150 to 200 members. Now the number is the same, but most of them are new. Each year we baptize some 15 to 20 people - and an equal number are new believers who cannot be baptized because of community pressure."
After witnessing the love and compassion extended by Christians, Muslims traumatized by the horrors of war are becoming increasingly open to the Gospel, the pastor said.
"There is hunger to come closer to God! There is hunger for the prayer meetings for example. Now the whole congregation comes to these meetings. The church is full of people praying."
He said that some Muslims turn to Christ after encountering Jesus Christ in dreams: "God is speaking the language of each group," he said. "Muslims meet Jesus in dreams. A woman saw a man in a dream, he was dressed in white and his face was shining. She woke up and went to church, she was very afraid of being rejected. She was accepted with love."
Recently, a number of displaced people from other areas of Aleppo arrived in his region, staying in schools, mosques and in unfinished buildings.
"Our church took the initiative to visit them," Alim recalled. "What we see and hear is often heart-breaking. Yet these people now see what the Church does. There is now a greater appreciation for its role. Before, people reacted differently towards the church. Before, as we were distributing food, we heard people saying: 'Here come the infidels': now people are different."
While thousands of Syrians continue to flee to Europe, the pastor said he believes God is telling him to remain in Aleppo: "I feel a calling of God. He wants me to be here till the end, as long as there is work to do in Aleppo. It wasn't an easy decision. My wife has the same calling. I tried to persuade her to move to a safer area. She didn't want to; she wants to be with me."
He added that the continuing crisis has only strengthened his faith: "We have passed through very difficult situations, we don't know why we feel such a peace and hope! I think God is giving us double grace. That's why I don't feel 'seduced' to leave - although doors are open for me..."