Pastor Edward Awabdeh has been leading souls to Christ in Syria for over a decade, even through the worst of his country’s catastrophic civil war.
“It’s so painful to see the degree of evil that’s taken place in my country,” Awabdeh says, lamenting what has become of Syria. But his faith has not only grown in response, it has helped him make sense of the disaster.
Awabdeh oversees Alliance Church and around 20 other congregations in Syria, according to a story at the U.K. Express last year, where his congregation has endured not only the horrors of the country’s civil war, but the encroaching presence of ISIS in the region.
When your mission field is a literal warzone and your congregants under constant threat of becoming casualties, carrying out the great commission is a daunting task.
In an interview with Conservative Review, Pastor Awabdeh recalls one week in particular that was exceptionally trying for his flock. During the week leading up to Easter a few years ago, one of the church girls – who was supposed to sing for Palm Sunday – lost both of her feet in a mortar attack on her school, one of the women of the church was killed in a missile attack on an apartment complex, and a son of one of the church’s pastoral team was killed amidst the conflict.
It really taught us in a hard way how to be focused on what’s eternal. And I think this lesson was spread in a clear language to everybody among us.
“I felt a very heavy burden … that it was too much to handle,” Awabdeh said, explaining that he also had to go through with the regular Easter services all the while supporting the grieving families affected by loss.
“It was very challenging,” he said. “But when you see people experiencing the help of the Lord and seeing that the Holy Spirit is really filling their hearts with peace, it was really a great encouragement to us. It really empowers us.”
Speaking before the interview at an event on Capitol Hill, Awabdeh told a similar story of a woman in the congregation whose son was killed by Al-Nusra forces, where militants went door to door slaughtering Christian men en masse, in a genocidal attack. He said the mother – whose son willfully and proudly accepted his martyrdom – still doesn’t know where her child is buried.
Another man he knew, Awabdeh says, was killed by Islamists simply because he had a Christian name.
But, for Christians, the Syrian civil war and its impact are just part of a larger pattern of persecution, conflict, and genocide that is steadily driving Christianity out of the region in which it was born. In his speaking engagement on Capitol Hill, hosted by the International Christian Concern, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the House International Religious Freedom Caucus, Awabdeh remarked sadly on Christianity’s desperate and beleaguered situation in the region.
“It seems that each year goes by, more Christians leave the country,” he said. “Century after century, Christians became less and less.”
Times are indeed dark in the pastor’s homeland. But seeing people come to Christ through such indescribable suffering and desolation is what makes the nightmare in his country make sense to him.
“I see that the Lord has allowed this disaster in my country, but that he is using this disaster to bring eternal salvation, eternal fruits [to people],” Awabdeh tells CR. “That helps me — that He has a great project that He is working on … that it is something eternal and that He is using church to be an instrument in this project. This is the most, one singular encouragement of my life.”
Having served as a pastor in Damascus since 2004, Awabdeh said that the decision to stay when war broke out was a natural one for him and his congregation, even as millions of others began to flee the carnage.
“It was not a challenging decision at all, because I am pastoring a church and I am just helping people,” he says, adding that he only thinks about it when he is asked. “So, when things got worse we felt it was just the normal thing to do — the right thing to do.”
“When things got really bad,” Pastor Awabdeh said, “we felt like it was a privilege to be there. We felt that the hand of the Lord was doing something in this country. How blessed are we that we are there to be part of what the Lord is doing in this country? So we thank God for this privilege.”
“It really taught us in a hard way how to be focused on what’s eternal. And I think this lesson was spread in a clear language to everybody among us,” he said, saying that the challenges he and his congregation have endured have taught them to rely on their faith and God completely. “We need Him every minute, every day of our lives.”
He says that when things get especially tough, one portion of scripture that he goes to for support is the second half of Romans 8, which St. Paul wrote to persecuted Christians, laying out the promises and the power of God.
“I feel that’s very comforting, the wonderful promise of Jesus,” Awabdeh says. “I always feel like the sovereignty of God and the love of God are the two wings that carry me through the storm.”