It sounds like the setting of a post-apocalyptic novel. Citizens are left in the shelled-out husk of a war-torn city. Those who were able to leave have fled. Electricity is turned on only intermittently by the government— otherwise it is dark, and the cold of winter has set in.
Water and food is scarce, and what little is brought in is quickly picked over by the masses or priced so high it's difficult to afford.
Without jobs, without order, gangs roam the streets at night, and you can't really trust the person next to you. Government officials go door to door in search of remaining rebel militants.
This isn't a piece of fiction. This is real life right now for the people living in Aleppo, Syria.
Steve Van Valkenburg with Christian Aid Mission shares, "Basically, the attitude of the people is that they're scared, they're not sure what's going to happen. The government is not sure who to trust. The government doesn't know if there are militia members just mixed in with those who are fleeing, and people who stayed behind may be actually militant members and may be pretending to be regular citizens. So there's a lot of door-to-door and searching by the government and a lot of just not being sure if the person next to you may be a suicide bomber.
"I personally don't think that Aleppo is going to become a nice, civilized place for a long time. You've got people who are going to be a problem, and it's going to take a long time to get things rebuilt—if ever they will—and the people are living among the carnage."
Van Valkenburg says Christian Aid Mission has multiple ministry partners currently in Aleppo, and they've been able to describe the reality of the situation.
"What they said was that some people are beginning to return to Aleppo, but what they're finding is there's not much to return to because things are all damaged. But where they went to when they fled really wasn't very good either."
But what's so surreal is, in the midst of Aleppo's rubble and carnage, the Holy Spirit is stirring.
"One encouraging thing was that an agency within the government has asked a ministry if they would have kids' programs all this week. So every other day, they're having kids' programs, and they're evangelistic programs. They've been very effective in the past and actually have seen thousands of people coming to their meetings," says Van Valkenburg.
"They invite the kids and often the parents, or at least the mother, will come also with the children. They will give out Bible coloring books where they tell stories of the Bible, and then they color and they give out crayons, and this is something that's very helpful emotionally to the kids. ... Also, they show gospel films. They just received a large shipment of Bibles in Aleppo, and so they can give those out, and they're expecting large crowds all during this week. And then the government is going to provide security for the people there."
Christian Aid ministry partners have also erected prayer tents throughout Aleppo and hosted prayer times—both near and within the areas where rebels vacated. And Muslims are coming to them for prayer.
"They have workers there all day long every other day just to pray with those people who want to come and pray. And of course, many people are just very bothered, they're at their wit's end, they have heavy burdens, and they're afraid and they're looking for somebody to come and help them. So even though they may be Muslims, they still are looking for somebody who will give them solace. ... As the missionaries pray with them, they can share the gospel, they can give out Bibles and tracts, and so there's a lot of spiritual, emotional needs met."
One of the biggest needs right now in Aleppo is heating and supplies to survive the rest of the winter.
"Now, the weather is very cold, and they burn anything they can find. The electricity is only turned on once in a while now. The government did turn on the electricity so they can have a special Christmas celebration, but for the most part, the electricity is not on. There's no water, no sewage; food supplies are scarce. The government brought in some trucks full of supplies, but of course they were quickly gone. Most of the food and goods are coming from surrounding areas into Aleppo, but they need to have food, they need blankets, they need all of the basic needs."
Van Valkenburg says one ministry is "bringing in hot water bottles and blankets to be able to distribute to people because of the lack of heating within the city and the lack of utilities and electricity and any of kind of fuel for warmth."
Christian Aid is helping their ministry partner supply blankets, hot water bottles, Bibles and supplies for the children's outreach. They're also working on food baskets and bringing in T-shirts, socks and gloves for kids.
So what can you do with this information? Well, first and foremost, you can intercede for Aleppo before the Lord.
"My encouragement would be that people would continue to pray for the people [in Aleppo] and specifically pray for their safety, for them to be able to have basic needs met and for their spiritual well-being. Pray for those who are seeking Christ [that they] would be able to find effective materials and workers there who can help them, and that hearts would be turned to the only hope there is, and that's Jesus Christ."
"We are regularly sending help to the Christians in Aleppo to enable them to reach out with the gospel and to show the love of Christ to the people there in that hurting area," says Van Valkenburg.
"There are good workers, good ministries happening within Aleppo. Even though many people have fled, there are still some people whom I very much appreciate, and our hats are off to them that they didn't have to be in Aleppo, but they're there because they want to have a ministry and they want to help."
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