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God at work in Syria


WORLD Radio - God at work in Syria

After the devastation from ISIS, volunteers in Raqqa work and ask God to rebuild the Christian community

Free Burma Rangers helping the church in Raqqa. Photo by Caleb Welde

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, May 29th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

Before we get into this next story, a warning: this story may not be appropriate for young ones. So this is the time to hit pause and come back later.

We go to Raqqa, the former capital of the ISIS caliphate in Syria.

The city of Raqqa was home to about five thousand Christians before it fell to ISIS in late 2013. The city remained under ISIS rule for about three years.

What happened to Raqqa’s Christians and how are those still in the city doing now?

EICHER: WORLD associate correspondent Caleb Welde brings us this report.

AUDIO: [Vehicles running, car doors shutting] Good morning!

CALEB WELDE: It’s a warm November day in Downtown Raqqa and the air is thick from last night’s rain and persistent smog. A team of humanitarian aid workers is arriving at the Armenian Apoastolic Church. The relief workers are Free Burma Rangers—a small, Burma-based group focusing on helping displaced people in war zones.

In 2020, The Rangers helped rebuild this church. Though several adjacent structures remain rubble and rebar skeletons, the new church is pristine. Dave Eubank leads the team.

DAVE EUBANK: We had no money for this kind of thing. And God provided it, mostly from one family in Texas.

The main structure is two stories high, desert tan, with a large cross fixed to the top of a third-story dome.

EUBANK: So here it is. Total miracle to me.

Natural light streams in from large windows in the vaulted ceiling—a stark contrast to the jet black paint ISIS used to coat the front of the building in late 2013. ISIS also raised its black flag in place of the cross.

EUBANK: Then they tunneled underneath it and put a headquarters underneath it. Because then from the air, if the American saw there was something left they wouldn't bomb the church.

But the Americans did bomb the church in the fall of 2017. Eubank saw the aftermath several months later.

EUBANK: Total wreckage. Stunk. Bones. You saw the videos, dead bodies, everything.

He prayed God would rebuild the church and that the Christians would come back.

EUBANK: And when I prayed that prayer, I thought, that's a dumb prayer! Who'd ever want to come back here? What a waste of money. Ha! And then I said Lord, sorry, that was just a reflexive prayer. What is your prayer? And this time I close my eyes and I listen and I felt God say, Pray that same prayer, but this time with faith. Jesus, please, I'm sorry. Please bring the Christians back, help the church be rebuilt.

Eubank says he then went outside to see a man walking toward him with a rifle.

EUBANK: And he goes, What are you doing in my church? Said praying it gets rebuilt. He goes, I'm the only Armenian left here. This is Armenian Apostolic Church. I've been shot four times by ISIS. And then there's like four others. You know somewhere around here. But there were 1000s before, and they’re gone.

Today, the beautiful new sanctuary still sits empty. The pews have a thick layer of dust on them. A middle-aged Muslim man in sepia sunglasses guards the building. He leads several aid workers to some graffiti on the exterior walls of the church.


Or, “Allah is Great,” in black spray paint. And there’s more…

SYRIAN TRANSLATING: Hmm, yeah, We come to kill you, um, pig.

AMERICAN FREE BURMA RANGER: So who wrote it, some people?


Free Burma Rangers survey the graffiti on the walls of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Raqqa.

Free Burma Rangers survey the graffiti on the walls of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Raqqa. Photo by Caleb Welde

After the visit to the church— Eubank and his team pull into a refugee camp on the outskirts of the city to put on a children’s program for about two hundred kids.

Ahmed helps oversee the camp. He used to be a journalist in Aleppo—a Syrian city three hours to the west.

AHMED: According to all my friends who are from Raqqa, they told me really hard stories about how ISIS was torturing them, and how they are cutting heads, and throwing the heads in front of the people.

Ahmed was himself arrested in 2013 when someone turned him in for taking photos. He spent more than a month in an ISIS prison.

AHMED: If someone didn't know how, how the Muslims pray, they will arrest him and put him in the jail and torture him and let him know how he should pray.

He says the average civilian in Raqqa did not support ISIS, but…

AHMED: If he saw a head in the street, what, what should he say? I like ISIS! Of course he will say that!

Ahmed also says Christians were kidnapped…

AHMED: And force them to be Muslims. And if they are not, they, they kill them. So that's it. In short.

Now, most sources say there are less than a hundred Christians in Raqqa.

One claims exactly 26 believers in the city of three hundred thousand.

After the children’s program, a high-ranking government official invites the team to his office. He seems relaxed talking with Eubank.


TRANSLATOR: He said I regret.

EUBANK: Regret what?

TRANSLATOR: Regret of married.

Regrets being married.

SYRIAN TRANSLATOR: It's not like for love issue. He loves his wife.

The man also has three children.

TRANSLATOR: The regret is that we brought these kids to this life to suffer.


Eubank challenges that thinking.

EUBANK: Everything about love is worth it.

He says Jesus is the source of worthwhile love.

EUBANK: Not just a prophet. Our Savior, to be with us and help us. When our time is finished, whether we die in Idlib or Raqqa or America or Europe, go to heaven. You can look in your wife's eyes and tell her how much you love her, the same for your children.

So, even if the church sits empty, it doesn’t mean the church isn’t at work.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Caleb Welde in Raqqa, Syria.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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