The Baptist church life that once flourished in Homs, the heavily embattled Syrian city, has nearly died out. Only about 15 of the 175 worshippers remain.
Such was the report from representatives of Baptist Unions in the Middle East to leaders of the EuropeanBaptistFederation (EBF) at a March 26 meeting in Amman, Jordan.
The whole situation in Syria is strongly characterized by uncertainty and fear, said Hans Guderian, president of EBF, following the meeting.
Many Christians were deeply thankful for the relative freedom they had enjoyed in Syria until now. This had allowed Baptist churches to double their membership, growing to about 1,150 members.
About 2.5 million Christians live in Syria, making up about 10 percent of the population. Most belong to Orthodox churches.
In addition, about 1.5 million refugees have come to Syria from Iraq in the past two years.
Others participating in the meeting with Guderian were Otniel Bunaciu, EBF’s vice president from Bucharest, Romania, and Tony Peck, EBF’s general secretary.
They called for prayer and for solidarity with Christians in the Middle East.
“Our brothers and sisters in the Middle East need to know that they are accompanied in this difficult period by the prayers of Christians throughout the world,” said Guderian. “It is especially important to pray for the human rights situation, religious freedom and open doors for spreading the gospel.”
In addition to the two representatives from Syria, eight church representatives from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip took part in the meeting.
Regarding changes resulting from the Arab Spring, all reported great uncertainty concerning the future, but also “open doors” for spreading the Christian message.
“Their faith gives them the strength to continue to remain active even under the changed conditions,” said Peck.
It was reported that three Baptist churches in Egypt had to close recently after radical Muslims had attacked them.
Nonetheless, the Baptist Union of 19 churches and about 2,000 members will not reduce their missionary efforts. In the next 10 years, they plan to plant 100 new churches.
In Jordan, there are 20 churches with 1,500 members and up to 3,000 attending worship services.
The situation in Jordan is considered stable, but the country’s extensive social work – especially among refugees from Iraq and Syria – has reached its limit.
The situation in the West Bank was reported to be unclear and difficult. The number of Christians continues to decline.
The lockdown of the Palestinian area through nearly 600 Israeli control points has led to the isolation of churches, most of which are small.
In addition, they suffer from sensationally published press releases that later turn out to be false reports.
For example, the Baptist church in Bethlehem has not been closed, threatened or destroyed, as was reported by much of the media.
The situation of the three Christian churches, including one Baptist church, in the Gaza Strip was described as especially complicated and tense.
Christians there are pressured on two fronts: the lockdown by Israel and political stress from the Hamas government.
Participants in the meeting appeared especially concerned about the situation of Christians in Iraq, with whom they are in contact.
Many Christians have left the capital city of Baghdad, which opened a Baptist church in 2004.
The church once had up to 500 worshippers, but today there remain only 70 church members.
However, in Erbil, in the Kurdish region in northern Iraq, a new and growing church has come into being. It was reported that even numerous Muslims there had converted to Christianity.
According to reports, there are good opportunities for missions, social work and evangelism in Lebanon.
SAT 7, a Christian TV network, has greatly expanded its program, allowing millions of people throughout the Middle East to be reached with the gospel.