I’ve heard a lot about Syria, I’m sure you have too, but like Saint Thomas, wait until you get there before you make up your mind.
A feeling of excitement mixed with curiosity prevents me from getting any sleep on the plane.
This is it, I’m there, my face pressed against the windows of the cars that drive me to Damascus, before my final destination the next day, Aleppo. I scan the darkness to try to define the curves of the buildings bruised by the rain of bombs from the not so distant past. I imagine the violence of the blasts that shook the whole neighbourhood. Sweet Jesus.
Aleppo here you are. I can imagine the past luxury of this city. A certain charm remains, and unlike other Eastern megacities, the streets seem strangely clean. The few green spaces are maintained. This sleeping beauty looks great, I am already won over.
All these young children working in the streets, I can’t believe they don’t go to school! I was told later that a Father would never allow a Christian child to be exploited in this way and would take him under his protective wing immediately.
The welcome in the mission is warm. I meet Jean-Rémi, deputy head of mission in Syria, whom I met in 2019 during my first mission in Egypt.
The city, which will welcome me for my new Christian mission for two months, already fascinates me. There is a real energy and a desire for hope.
The days are punctuated by successive power cuts and drastic petrol rationing. Huge diesel generators, as big as trucks, spit out their blackish sputum uninterruptedly to the sound of heavy, incessant humming that has become part of my daily life. These amps are sold by companies to those who want to run their fridge or fan for more than four hours a day! Many people only use the city’s electricity and organise themselves according to the few hours provided.
We have many actions for the most disadvantaged. The distribution of hygiene packs for the elderly or people suffering from a genetic pathology allows me to meet and communicate directly with the population.
So much to say, so many lessons to learn. Those who have nothing give everything. I remember these ladies, all widows, living lying on their bed in the living room, surrounded or not by their close family. To the question: “How can we help you? Always the same answer: “Thank you, thanks to God I have everything I need.” Humility, mother of virtues.
I also remember the look on the face of this octogenarian lady dying on her sofa. It was 40°C inside the flat! There was no draft and no electricity to run the only fan available. It was terrible.
I make friends with two Syrian volunteer sisters who occasionally accompany us, the older one, Marina, frequently tells me about the dark hours of the past. I still have this story stuck in my left ear.
“I remember the crash of the explosion and the irresistible force that threw me to the ground. I came to my senses in the Saint-Louis hospital, my scalp full of shards of glass, bent over, without strength.” It was in Midan, a district now undergoing reconstruction, where the association is financing the restoration of flats for Christian families, and where volunteers are working with skilled workers. “A bomb had just fallen nearby, I was alive and practically unharmed, while there were so many victims! I realised that I had been close to death.
I was upset, but I had no fear in retrospect, because I had the absolute certainty that, if I had been killed, everything would have been fine for me: I would have been with Jesus Christ in heaven.”
Here nothing is thrown away, everything is recovered, recycled, transformed and repaired. With nearly 87% of households living below the poverty line, every good has its value! No over-consumption here.
I think of all those churches that have been partly or completely destroyed by terrorists, desecrated by insulting tags, icons torn up, burnt, furniture destroyed. Everything starts again, again and again. The generosity of the donors and the strength of will of the parishes work miracles. They will never take away our faith, never.
My childhood faith became a personal faith, and I chose to follow Jesus as I grew up. This new mission is a cry from the heart.
This little testimony to talk about a mission with Jesus Christ, how he delivered me on many occasions, as he took care of me every day, and I tried to spread his love in Syria.
It is with great reluctance that I leave Syria, it needs me as much as I need it.
Sébastien, volunteer in Syria.
Head of volunteers