A church in Syria has stood courageously in the midst of constant threat from the Muslim extremist group ISIS and has seen growth as more people lean on it for support.
The church is led by Pastor Edward Awabdeh, a dentist who worked in the U.S. but returned to his home. While many Christians have fled the country, he chose to stay â€“ even after Syria became the fifth most dangerous country for Christians.
Awabdeh said the risk that Christians face in Damascus is pretty much the same risk that other residents of the area face, with bombs randomly exploding and constantly threatening their lives. He himself experienced having a bomb fall on his house. Fortunately, it did not explode.
However, Christians face a bigger problem, as the extremist group is determined to wipe out "everything Christian" in the Middle East. In February 2015, ISIS abducted 250 people from 35 Christian villages. The attack caused 3,000 people to flee their homes.
"It breaks my heart to think that sometime the Middle East will be evacuated of the church of Christians," Awabdeh said. "This thought scares me to death because that land where Christianity started and even where the work of the apostle Paul started, right there from Damascus, and from Antioch the mission work started."
He said he has seen how important it is for Christians to keep doing the work of Christ in Syria in order to be "like a light in the darkness."
Aside from having a weekly worship service, Awabdeh and his wife lead the church in ministering to traumatized children. They gather the children for simple activities like painting to help them have a sense of normalcy and to gain insight into their emotions.
Some of the children painted blood and fighting, with a number of them painting an image of their school being attacked with bombs and the streets being covered with blood. Others painted pictures of people going away. These paintings show that the children need counseling and post-traumatic support, Awabdeh said.
The pastor said they would follow up on the children who painted such images to "see what they need" and endorse them for "any psychological support or post-trauma treatment."
The worship service has an attendance of around 250 people. Awabdeh said people are reaching out to the church because they "want to experience peace and hope in the middle of this crisis."