Syrian natives who have ministered to refugees from the civil war there are trusting in God to protect their fellow Christians. There are many “satans” in the world, but “there’s a lot right now in Syria and Iraq,” Christian minister Joseph Sleman told an audience Sept. 18 at a religious freedom summit co-sponsored by Baylor University and hosted by the Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C. Sleman and his wife Hannah described a list of horrors perpetrated by the Islamic State against Christians in Syria amid a years-long civil war. “The blood is shouting from this land,” Hannah said. Yet they added that the Gospel originally spread to much of the world from Syria thanks to St. Paul, and that “we believe that God can do it again.” “The only hope that we have is Jesus,” Hannah said, noting that prayer and fasting have sustained the Christians in Syria far longer than expected. “We believe that the power of the Lord is working a lot in our country,” she said. The Syrian civil war has continued since 2011, internally displacing 8 million, and forcing more than 4 million to flee the country as refugees. More than 250,000 have died in the war. The Slemans hail from Syria but moved to the United States for Joseph to continue his theology education. They have ministered to refugees in Syria for years, though; first from the Iraq War, and now from the Syrian civil war. Before the civil war, Christians and Muslims lived together peacefully and were free to worship, they maintained. Joseph described how his childhood friends were Muslims. “As Christians and Muslims, we have one enemy,” he said, “it’s Satan.” Now that the civil war has erupted and the Islamic State is ravaging portions of the country, Syrian Christians live in the constant face of death, they explained, and they are “waiting for the time they will die.” Fathers say goodbye to their families when they leave the house, knowing it could be the last time they do so. Parents cry after their children leave the house for school in the morning. The Slemens described their own hellish experience in Syria as they endured an hour-long shelling of mortar rounds in the area of their residence as they cried and prayed on the floor. “Many children died that day,” Joseph said, adding that “many families face the same things every day.” Islamic State militants can eviscerate whole villages in 24 hours, he explained, and they are notorious for not only mass killings but rape as well. Their trail of terror has grown so great that some Christians have planned to kill themselves and their families rather than fall into their hands. One of Hannah’s friends armed his house with explosives in case the Islamic State took over the area, she noted, and this would have killed intruders along with his family. It’s good to hear that countries have opened to welcome refugees from the conflict, they maintained. The Polish embassy in Syria, for example, opened its doors for refugees seeking visas. But more could be done. The White House says the United States has taken in 1,500 Syrian refugees since the beginning of the conflict, and the president pledged to increase to accept 10,000 refugees over the course of the next year. However, more than 20 former senior White House officials urged the administration to increase that number to 100,000, citing the gravity of the situation. Joseph and Hannah are pseudonyms, used to preserve the couple's safety and privacy.
Catholic News Agency was founded in 2004, in response to Pope St. John Paul II’s call for a “New Evangelization." It is an apostolate of EWTN News.