A white van made its way along the narrow street and came to a stop at the curb next to me. The door slid open, and inside were more children than the van had seats or seatbelts. They were stacked two and three deep on the bench inside. A few jumped out and headed off in different directions. School was out for the day and the students were being shuttled home.
“Oh, Lord, please get these children home safely,” I breathed out as I continued my walk through a neighborhood in Damascus. “And, while you’re watching over their steps perhaps whisper in their ear that you are a God who sees them.”
Over a decade has passed since I ventured out on a prayer walk in the nation of Syria. It was quite a different place when I visited. Then, safe and friendly, it offered so much to see and experience. Some of our Christian history is contained in their history. The Apostle Paul met Jesus there. He received his calling and prepared for his ministry there before becoming a missionary to the Gentiles in the Roman Empire. It was exciting to descend the steps that lead to Ananias’ home on Straight Street where Paul would receive sight, both physical and spiritual. And then, there was the visit to the church that houses the site where Paul escaped assassination by being lowered over the city wall in a basket. [Go to Acts 9 for the story.]
But even as thrilling as it was to walk where the Apostle Paul walked, it was moments spent in prayer as I traveled the country that will stay with me. Many times, God would point out something He wanted me to see, prompting a conversation with Him. At one historic site, I came upon a huge balance scale used in an ancient market place. It brought to mind that in the Islamic tradition one’s hope for heaven was based on the number of good deeds versus bad deeds in one’s life. More good, they would find themselves heaven bound. Not so great for the one whose scale tipped in the wrong direction. Please Lord, may the people of this country who practice Islam find Your grace. Let them come to experience Your Son, Jesus, who conquered death, tipping the scales for those who trust in Him.
Many prayers just like that were sent out in my travels through the country. A sight of a Bedouin tent with its flaps raised to expose the colorful interior lined with beautiful rugs—God you know each of these people from the inside and out. Bring your message of ‘good news’ to their hearts, and in the transformation, let beauty be seen by all. And red peppers drying in the yard of a small farm brought on the words—May the fruit of the Spirit be evident in the ones that choose to follow you. I pray that the fruit will multiply until a whole nation enjoys its sweetness.
One prayer was inspired by the meeting of a very young nun who asked if I could take her picture and send it to her mother. Comfort. Another by a woman totally shrouded in black who tried to talk to me until her escort cut us off. Freedom. In countless meetings, my heart uttered prayers for those I encountered. Each one specific to the moment and each calling for God’s revelation into their lives. Please, make Yourself known.
But in all my walking and praying, I never imagined that Syria would be where it is today. War and its horrors have come to their land, lasting far too long and far too many lives have been lost. Man, at his worst, would use his worst against his countryman until sheer hopelessness would take over. Millions now are refugees, abiding in countries their hearts do not belong to. Many have left fathers and mothers, neighbors and friends, even children who could not flee. Their lives are shattered. Loss is all they know. Displaced and heartbroken, they seek shelter and comfort from the devastation they find themselves in. In this terrible place of hopelessness, many have found Jesus to be a refuge from the terrible darkness that has demolished their lives.
I have heard reports from ministry workers in both the Middle East and Europe that many Syrians are becoming followers of Jesus. They are not merely converting in hope to receive aid, but rather they are genuinely seeking Him. They are openly identifying with Christ, being baptized, reading the Bible, and sharing the ‘good news’ that they have found. And when the war is over, some will return to Syria carrying Jesus home with them. Hope will be in their hearts as they become lights in their world. God, thank you for your answers in whatever form they come. I will trust You for Your plans are perfect.
One event stands out from my wanderings more than the others. It came on one of the first few nights I was in the country. My driver wanted to take me to a mountain on the outskirts of Damascus to see the view at night. From this vantage point, it was a beautiful sight. The lights twinkled in the darkness, revealing a vast number of streets and neighborhoods. Mixed amongst the white lights, I could see green lights all over the city. When questioned, the driver revealed they marked the locations of the mosques. There were dozens of them. Each neighborhood had its own, sometimes more than one.
As I stood taking it all in, I knew by morning each one would loudly make itself known over speakers on their minarets. The eerie sound of the call to prayer would rise over the city before the sun did. Thousands would bend their knees in obedience. I would pray, as well. My prayers were for a future in which the people of Syria would find hope and deliverance and a life walking with Christ. Lord, send a call out that urges many to put their trust in You, the One True God and Your Son, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.
LORD, hear my prayer. In Your faithfulness listen to my plea,
and in Your righteousness answer me.