Syria: Children describe life of fear
"It's scary. We hear a lot of bad stories about what is happening around us. On the streets there are soldiers everywhere. We see smoke from fighting and hear bombings all the time."
Those are the words of Youmna*, 13, a Christian girl who lives in Damascus, Syria, with her sister Nashita*, 10.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, approximately 100,000 people have been killed in the civil war between government forces and rebels. The death total includes 5,000 children under the age of 16. The conflict began on March 2011.
"One day I was going to school by bus when we heard a shooting nearby," says Youmna. "So we all dived down, hiding under our seats, waiting until the shooting was over. Another day when we were at school there was an airplane very close by, threatening to bomb our school. We all had to go into the basement and stay away from the glass."
Nashita adds: "My classmates and I were all very scared. Kids around me were crying and shouting at the teachers because they were so afraid. Some called their fathers crying to them that they wanted to go home."
Nashita says almost all her friends have left Syria. "My best friend Lunah* went to Egypt. I miss her so much. We talk on the phone, but it's not the same."
The United Nations office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict says it has received verified reports "that Syrian children are killed or injured in indiscriminate bombings, shot by snipers, used as human shields or victims of terror attacks". The office reports boys as young as 10 are used by armed groups to work as combatants and porters.
Also, the United Nations reports 1.3 million Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring countries and 4.2 million persons are displaced inside the country, half of whom are children.
Youmna says she prays and remembers God's words during the traumatic times: "I memorise Bible verses and say them out loud when I'm afraid. One of the Psalms I say out loud in these moments is Psalm 91 that says: 'He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.' Saying these words makes me feel better."
Nashita and Youmna ask for prayers for their country.
Nashita pleads: "Please pray for the kids in Syria....that God will stop the bad things that are happening. Pray for the kids that have no food and the kids that lost their houses because of the war. Pray that God will free Syria from this evil and that all the people can come back. And also pray for my friend Lunah, so we can play together again."
Youmna requests for prayers for "the kids that have lost their parents. A lot of our friends have no fathers anymore because they have been killed in war".
"Please heed the requests of Youmna and Nashita to pray for Syria, especially for the innocent victims such as the young children," says Open Doors USA spokesman Jerry Dykstra. "Not only do the children face the daily violence of civil war, but they are also the targets of persecution, including kidnapping, because they are Christians."
Syria is ranked No 11 on the Open Doors 2013 World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians.
* Names have been changed for security reasons.