Syria, officially the Syrian Arab Republic, is an Arab country in Southwest Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Israel to the southwest, Jordan to the south, Iraq to the east, and Turkey to the north. The modern state of Syria was formerly a French mandate and attained independence in 1946, but can trace its roots to the Eblan civilization in the third millennium BC. Its capital city, Damascus, was the seat of the Umayyad Empire and a provincial capital of the Mamluk Empire. Syria gained independence in April 1946. Officially a Republic, Syria has been under Emergency Law since 1963 and governed by the Baath Party; the head of state since 1970 has been a member of the Assad family. Syria's current president is Bashar al-Assad, son of Hafez al-Assad, who held office from 1970 until his death in 2000. The population of 22 million is mainly Muslim, of various schools and branches, but with a significant Christian minority.

In Syria, the secularist regime which advocates freedom of religion is under attack. Fanatical Sunni Islamists have been trying to take over since January of last year. If they succeed, the consequences will be immense for Christians in Syria. MERF works with congregations in Aleppo and Damascus, and reaches out to the Syrian populace through the Arabic radio ministry.

Food parcels and other aid are being distributed with loving witness to Christ's saving grace to needy families in Damascus and Aleppo. In the face of skyrocketing prices due to instability and economic pressures, this was much appreciated. Most of the families receiving aid are jobless. Some are widows and orphans. Others are refugees from Iraq or areas of Syria attacked by Islamist rebels. Others are suffering from ill health. In addition to parcels of basic food stuffs, aid is also given through local Syrian churches to meet special needs for medicine, school expenses, and refugee housing. Syrian Christians praise God for the care and prayer of their brothers and sisters around the world.

Syrian Christians are heartened by the outpouring of prayer for their protection. They have been threatened by Islamicists opposing the government in incidents throughout the country. The predominately Christian neighborhood, Mahrada, in western Hama was overrun by Islamist rebels who took over Christian homes, forcing families to flee. Three men were shot dead before their families. The same occurred in the predominately Christian Hamidiyah neighborhood in Homs on a larger scale, where tens of men were killed and 23 Christian women were kidnapped and repeatedly raped before being freed by the Syrian army who recently regained control of the neighborhood. In both cases Christians are gradually returning to their looted homes. Pray for peace and stability, healing, and forgiveness.


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