A Syrian pastor who has shared the gospel in the war-torn country over the past six years despite continued dangers has said he's witnessed a staggering number of Muslims, disillusioned by the atrocities committed in the name of Islam, come to Christ.
"God is moving and doing great things around us," Pastor Simon, who ministers in war-torn regions of Syria, shared with persecution watchdog Open Doors USA. "What the Lord did in the past six years, he saved hundreds of thousands of Muslims in different countries. Before the war, we only saw some believers from a Muslim background. God is moving and doing great things around us, many are being saved."
The pastor revealed that that since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled the country. In the city where he ministers, there were some 900 Christian families in the city when the crisis began. Now, only 310 Christian families stayed, including three evangelical families.
Pastor Simon said: "In the places where I work as a pastor, we don't have young ministers anymore, the last one left us eight months ago and relocated to another country."
But while Christians continue to flee the country, more and more Muslims are coming to Christ, the pastor revealed. He shared that in the past years, he has baptized many people from both Druze and Muslim backgrounds. Such conversions come with a cost, however.
"I visited a family," the pastor recalled. "The brother of the wife had tried to run her over with his car because she was baptized, but the Lord saved her. Her 8-year-old son was with her. "Next time I'll kill you," the brother said afterward. I prayed with them and now search for a safer place for the family."
Despite fearing for the safety of his wife and three daughters, the pastor feels called to stay in Syria and share the gospel -- for now.
"When I see the number of people coming to know the Lord, this puts a pressure on me," he admitted. "I know that if I were to leave, no one would stay to serve these people. I pray to God: 'If we leave, Lord, send someone else.' Some time ago a pastor came to advise me to leave. The pastor never arrived at my place, he was kidnapped, and only after one a half years was he released."
He added, "I feel great pressure to stay, we're going through pain, but we still have hope there will be a solution. But I can't guarantee I will still be in Syria six months from now."
The pastor said the support he receives from Open Doors helps him: "The Lord has not yet told me to leave," he said. "When I meet with people in their pain, I see that my presence makes a big difference. They say, 'Don't leave us here'...I encourage people to stay, I speak from my own experience. When I say that God saves, I have the same experience as the people in the church."
A new report from Open Doors, Served and Middle East Concern estimates that 50-80% of the Christian populations of Iraq and Syria have emigrated since the start of the Syrian civil war. In Syria alone, the charities estimate that the Christian population of around 2 million in 2011 has "roughly halved"
According to the report, by the time ISIS infiltrated many parts of the country, Christians had already experienced an "overall loss of hope for a safe and secure future" stemming from the ongoing civil war.
The report also notes that for the Christians who have settled elsewhere, there is "little incentive" to return, with several interviewees saying "the Middle East is no longer a home for Christians".
Nevertheless, the charities note that "many" of those who remain "want to play their part in rebuilding the shattered societies of Iraq and Syria. They want to be seen as Iraqi or Syrian citizens, enjoying the full rights of citizenship, such as equality before the law and full protection of their right to freedom of religion or belief, including the ability for everyone to freely worship,practice, teach, choose and change their religion. They are not calling for special privileges as a religious minority."