Christian conversions in the midst of Syrian civil war

(AP)
In this February 21, 2013 photo, Syrian citizens walk in front of a church that was shelled by mortars, at the Christian village of Judeida, in Idlib province, Syria.

A US-based Christian organisation which supports overseas mission has released information about the "surprising openness" of Syrian Muslims to the Gospel.

Middle Eastern ministries have reported that "thousands" of Syrians have committed their lives to Christ in the midst of civil war and unspeakable violence, though sceptics have suggested that many have done so only to receive the food packages offered by Christian missionaries.  They refer to these people as 'rice Christians'.

For that reason Christian Aid Mission began exploring the realities of Muslim-Christian conversion in the region, speaking with mission agencies in Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon which border Syria and have received an estimated two million Syrian refugees since the beginning of the crisis in 2011.

They report a "surprising openness of Syrian Muslims to hear the gospel, read the Bible and come to faith in Christ".

"Literally thousands of Syrians from traditional Muslim backgrounds are turning to Jesus Christ," the charity asserts. "It's not an inflating of numbers, nor is it an optimistic estimate."

A ministry spokesperson in Lebanon reported that hundreds of Syrians "come regularly to church meetings", while a representative from an Iraqi ministry estimated that "10,000 Muslim families have converted" in Syria and its neighbouring countries.

In response to claims of 'rice Christians', leaders from all ministries noted that they expected people to first come to Christian agencies for practical help. But "even if they come for the food and clothing, we see that God changes their hearts", a missionary in Turkey noted.

"We make sure that the decision [to convert] is made willingly, without putting any pressure on the person," added the Iraqi representative.

The responses from these ministries make it clear that it is important to fund and equip local believers to work in their own communities, sharing the love of God both on a practical and spiritual level. "First, we have to show them that we love them without condition. Then they will wonder, want to join us, and search," notes the ministry leader from Turkey.

"When Lazarus died, Jesus hugged Martha and Mary and cried. First He shared in their sadness. He didn't give a lecture about theology," he added.

According to reports, previously-Muslim Syrians are openly identifying with Christianity in areas of Turkey and Lebanon, as well as in European countries, while many are also now leading Bible studies and evangelistic initiatives themselves.

Christian Aid Mission is delighted that God is still touching the hearts of many who are suffering horrendous grief and violence, and has praised the work of partner ministries that are investing "wholeheartedly in outreach to war-wear Syrians" in desperate times of need.

"Are the conversions real?" asks president of Christian Aid Mission Cynthia Finley.

"From what the ministry leaders told us, it is true."

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