by Reagan Hoezee
Mission Network News
Like members of his congregation, the pastor must constantly evaluate the risks of staying–with the added weight of having to choose between fleeing to protect his family and remaining to disciple the converts who make up most of his church. The car bombing on Friday (Sept. 11) killed a prominent Druze cleric and 25 others on the outskirts of Sweida, and retaliatory violence has reportedly killed another 21 people. In the initial attack, a second car bomb exploded near a hospital in a neighborhood where at least 50 injured people had been taken. No one has taken responsibility for the bombings.
Sweida Province will be coveted territory for the Islamic State (ISIS), said the pastor, whose name is withheld for security reasons.
“Sweida is a target for two reasons,” he said. “First, religious reasons: the Druze are not Muslims. The Druze are very educated and modern. Druze women dress quite modernly. Secondly, Druze are considered to be loyal to the government, which makes Sweida a big target to ISIS.”
ISIS militants can be found near Tadmore, less than 20 miles from Sweida, he said.
After leading a church in Daraa in southern Syria for 8 years, he had moved to his home village of Kharaba, about 30 miles east, when civil war broke out in 2011. From there he was still able to serve his church in Daraa, but the next year rebel militias took over Kharaba, forbidding Christian worship or even the ringing of church bells. Most Christians fled, and the militias resettled 500 Muslim families to take over their homes.
The pastor moved his family another 30 miles east to the Druze stronghold of Sweida. He has been able to continue visiting his church in Daraa once a month while leading a new church among Sweida’s Druze, who made up 3% of Syria’s pre-war population but account for 96% of the Sweida area.
Unlike his congregation in Daraa, where most people came from Christian families, those in his Sweida church are former Sunni Muslims displaced from other areas, and former Druze, a religion originating in the early 11th century as a gnostic mix of various philosophies and religions. The Sweida church’s ministry has expanded to serving people displaced by the war.
Christians make up 2% of the Sweida population, and between them and the displaced, most would like to leave.
“When we talk with the Christians here, we find that 80% of them want to leave,” the pastor said. “But there are two things that keep them here. First, most don’t have the ability to leave financially. Secondly, where would they go...”