– By Andre Codouni, a member of the People of God, one of our communities in Beirut

Early February 2016. The man and his wife, both leaders in the community Emmanuel, had left Aleppo for a couple of weeks to be with their daughter as she gave birth far from the insecurity of the city. Now they felt compelled to hasten back because of the love they had for the Lord’s work and for the brothers and sisters they had left behind. As they met up with the others on their return, the man described the overwhelming joy he felt when he hugged and kissed the others; in his words: “As I wrapped my arms around my brothers and sisters, tears of joys filled my eyes”…

At a recent retreat with members of Emmanuel Community from Aleppo and members of People of God, a sister community from Beirut

Emmanuel, a community made up of families, single people, young and old, currently consists of eighty-five members. They give witness in the middle of a life-or-death struggle within an area close to the center of Aleppo. Routinely the members are asked how they are faring in their circumstances and they promptly answer in so many words: “Our fight is of a spiritual nature and what we are doing together has tremendous importance in the balance of things.” Another adds: “For us, what is at stake is the future and the survival of the Christians in Aleppo, in Syria and maybe all of the Middle East.”

This deep conviction goes hand in hand with reaching out to others with excitement and zeal. One hears them repeating, “Now, we are seeing the fruits of reaching out to others, more than during times of peace. People are responding and committing themselves to Christ, sometimes instantly.” A couple of months ago they finished giving a Life in the Spirit Seminar and they prayed with about thirty new members who want to continue with the group.

War-torn Aleppo is the largest city in Syria.

The situation in the center of the city has increasingly become more difficult to bear. Real threats surround them. ISIS and other groups have encircled the middle of Aleppo threatening to kill all “Infidels.” The uncertainty they live under from one day to the next is naturally unbearable. Food and heating fuel are hard to find. Sometimes the population has to survive without any supply of fresh water for as long as two weeks. People live in constant alert; they relentlessly hear sounds of explosions in the background to ever remind them that things are not normal. There is the danger of snipers, and sleep is regularly interrupted and parents worry about their children and their safety. Jobs continue to be extremely scarce. Prices have more than tripled and essential commodities are very hard to get.

The strategic importance of Aleppo cannot be exaggerated. It is the largest city in Syria and is situated right in the middle of many junctions and strategic areas. The situation there has become exceedingly challenging.

Jean Barbara, a leader in People of God in Beirut, gives teaching to the University Christian Outreach group from Aleppo

Yet Emmanuel members choose to stay. The Lord formed a people in the midst of what is looking more and more like a city in ruins. They have banded closely together around a common mission; they come together to pray and to be guided together daily by the Lord. Their faithfulness is an inspiration to many and their joy is contagious. They see themselves “as disciples on mission” and they are committed to remain together and in support of each other. They boldly encourage others to join with them.