Love Your Enemy

When a young Syrian is kidnapped by terrorists, Scripture gives her the power to forgive and to heal

You dog,” Maria’s captor spits the words at her. Maria stays very still. She is blindfolded but can sense the room is full of people. Sounds of others being tortured echo around her, and she tries not to hear. Her skin crawls. Her stomach aches. The fear is physical. But she won’t let it win. She prays, God, be with me.

Coming of age during Syria’s Civil War, Maria had gotten used to fear so thick you could touch it. Neighbor turning against neighbor. Empty city streets and emptier hearts.

Then, at twenty-three years old, Maria was kidnapped by Jabhat al-Nusra, a Syrian offshoot of al-Qaeda.

Maria’s mother was also taken, along with others from their community. The group was held underground to avoid detection. Over twenty-two months of captivity, they were moved from place to place without rationale. They were treated like the hostages they were.

If you met Maria today, however, this isn’t the story she’d tell. She’d say, “I felt like it was God’s intention to put me in this situation. All this brought me closer to God and strengthened my belief.” She’d tell you of the restorative power of Scripture in times of despair. She’d tell you how she’s now bringing the healing power of Scripture to fellow Syrians.

Syria’s Civil War

To understand how radical Maria’s journey has been, it’s helpful to first have a broader picture of what’s been happening in Syria.

For eight years now, Syria has been in upheaval. After uprisings toppled the presidencies in Tunisia (2010) and Egypt (2011), revolutions known as the “Arab Spring” swept across the Arab world. In March 2011, protests erupted in Syria. Tensions escalated when the Syrian government responded forcefully to the protests. Rebel groups and terrorist cells from Syria and abroad quickly joined the fight. Foreign interests and backing from countries like Russia, Turkey, and the United States added to the complexity of the power struggle.

Civilians have been tragically caught in the middle of these political divides. Millions have fled Syria to seek refuge in nearby countries like Lebanon and Jordan. Millions more have remained in the instability—most without jobs or security. Eight years later, the news never shows Syria’s ancient citadels and shimmering textiles; it only reports rubble and despair.

Maria’s story is set in relief to this backdrop of war. Hers is a modern-day Bible story of Jesus providing miraculous comfort to Syrians in the heart of the conflict.

Faith in Captivity

“It was clear to us that God was with us from day to day,” Maria says of her time as a hostage.

Maria and her mother were different from their fellow captives in one critical way; Maria and her mother are Christians. Despite their horrific situation, they never questioned their faith. They never gave in to the hostility.

“I experienced how God protected us from evil people who did not wish us any good,” says Maria. “God saved us through all these difficulties. And he used us as witnesses!”

When their captors derided Maria and her mother, they returned kind words. When their faith was mocked, they silently prayed, Forgive them, Father. Every day, they looked with love at their guards. What if they knew the Jesus we know? How would their story change?

In the darkest of circumstances, God was present. The guards told Maria and her mother that they would release them if they would convert to Islam. They refused. One day, instead of asking them to convert, a guard asked a surprising question: “Can you tell me what you believe in?”

“We told the guards about our faith,” she explains. “As Muslims, they only had theoretical knowledge about Christianity. We tried through our lives to show them what Christian faith really is. They had only heard of Jesus, but I had the opportunity to testify of Jesus’s love and that God loves all people. This was something completely different from the Christianity they had heard of but not experienced.”

In that moment, the harsh strain of captivity faded. Maria found a greater purpose behind her suffering. When Maria and her mother were finally released almost two years later, their guards told them, “We have learned to become fond of Jesus because of you.”

Maria’s Move from Captive to Counselor

Although Maria knew God’s comfort during her captivity, she wasn’t exempt from emotional fallout from what she’d endured.

Syrians like Maria who have experienced the physical and mental atrocities of war need the comfort of the God of Scripture. Unfortunately, trauma can silence God’s promises and replace them with questions like, Why would a good God allow suffering?

Maria knows the hard questions a hurting heart asks in the middle of the night. That’s why she, already a certified psychologist, chose to be trained to facilitate Bible-based trauma healing groups. Trauma healing helps individuals process traumatic life events by studying and applying Scripture. In a safe space, participants hear what God says about suffering and embark on a healing journey.

For Maria, this journey has led to radical forgiveness. “I do not have any anger or hatred toward God or people after this time. If I now met the women who were my guards, I would perhaps thank them,” she says. “I actually thank God for this experience.”

As a trauma healing facilitator, Maria is using her experiences to tell others that God can use a journey of suffering for his good. Thanks to your support, approximately seventy women and five hundred children participate in these Bible-based trauma healing groups in Syria each month.

You Tell Syrians There’s Hope

Maria’s story is only one of the many incredible testimonies we hear of how God is at work, even in the world’s harshest circumstances. Syrians like Maria are discovering the peace and comfort of Jesus through Bible-based trauma healing and other Scripture resources.

“In the same way that people need light, warmth, and food, they need spiritual food,” says George Andrea, who leads Bible Society in Syria. “In this difficult time, it is important to the family to get hope and comfort through the Word of God. It is as the Bible says: ‘The Lord is our refuge.’ ”

Over the past year, thanks to generous partners like you, ten thousand Scripture Portions were printed and distributed to hurting Syrians.

“People still request Bibles, New Testaments, and other biblical books,” says George. The Bible Society is the main organization importing Christian literature into Syria. George says, “Even during the siege of Aleppo, we managed to provide books.”

Like Maria, George has chosen to remain in Syria to help share the hope of Jesus with others who are hurting—despite the risk to him and his family. “We are still here in Syria because of the prayers of people all over the world. We feel this intercession constantly. The prayers of believing people are what keep us going,” he says. “We lay all our worry in God’s hands.”

Your support provides Bibles and resources like Bible-based trauma healing to Syrians in need. Thank you for stepping into this critical moment in history and offering Jesus’s love. May many say about you what Maria’s guards said about her: “We have learned to become fond of Jesus because of you.”

How Can I Pray?

  • Jesus, be with Syrians like Maria who have experienced atrocities no person should have to experience. Remind them you too were wounded as you hung on the cross—and that you are eager to take on their pain and walk with them through their sorrow.
  • God, encourage Bible-based trauma healing facilitators like Maria as they hear and respond to the wounds of others. Give them strength and hope for the future.
  • Holy Spirit, speak to the hearts of the guards who held Maria and her mother hostage. Bring many more Syrians to a saving knowledge of Jesus.

Story adapted from an interview by Dag K. Smemo of Norwegian Bible Society.

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