1 – Context
beaten as a child
Amal was born in Syria in 1993. By the time he was eight, he had received his fair share of abuse. His father, a strict shopkeeper with little patience, lashed out whenever Amal was insubordinate or failed to follow daily Islamic rituals.
By the time Amal was 10, he had also become a scapegoat for his three younger siblings, and, in addition to more violent beatings, his father began imprisoning him for weeks at a time.
“My parents would always tell me that they held me accountable for my brother’s mistakes because as his older brother he would mimic my every move.”
Amal could never reconcile his Islamic faith with the monstrosity of his father. Perhaps it was the bruises and fear that led to his doubts.
His grandfather’s house became his only refuge. During one particular stay with his grandfather, he apprenticed at the neighborhood barber shop. Over three months, he discovered that he was both willing and capable of making a career out of cutting hair. With no prospect of school or university, it seemed like an excellent fit.
Unfortunately, these peaceful periods with his grandfather were always limited. Either his seemingly repentant father would vow to never hit him again, his mother would convince him that she would protect him, or, he would simply return home out of concern for his brother and sisters.
But by age 12, Amal had had enough. Not wanting to put his grandfather in jeopardy, he struck out on his own. For the next five years, he worked as a barber and supported himself.
2 — Maturity
a curious teenager
As a self-supporting teenager, Amal began asking serious questions about his faith:
- Why do we pray?
- Why do we wash before prayer?
- Why is it okay for me to marry four women while females aren’t offered the same right?
- Why do I have to hit those who hit me?
“An eye for an eye, tooth for tooth” didn’t feel right after his abusive past. And while these questions haunted him, no one could provide convincing answers. Until one day he came across a Bible verse:
“One verse I read as a kid: Christ says to turn the other cheek. At 15, this verse was simply captivating, even way before I understood what the gospel meant. Looking back, I always felt like this verse was the reason why I chose to believe in Jesus Christ in the first place.”
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matt 5:38-39)
At 18, after five years of serving under another barber, Amal decided to open his own shop. He took out a small loan, found a promising location, and purchased equipment. He was successful from the start. Unfortunately, his timing couldn’t have been worse.
In 2011, at the height of the Arab spring, demonstrations to remove Syrian President Assad turned violent and a sprawling Civil War ensued—one that would create both the largest refugee crisis in the history of the world, as well as a gaping hole for ISIS to come to power.
The government began drafting all fighting-capable males, including Amal. Normally, the recruitment and training process took well over a year, but Amal found himself in combat within a month.
He was stationed as a peace-keeper meant to maintain crowd control during protests, but his role soon required him to track down would-be instigators. One day, a commanding officer ordered Amal and 11 other troops to capture a suspected usurper. After breaking into the suspect’s home, Amal’s commander ordered him to execute the man—and his 10-year-old son—on the spot.
Amal couldn’t do it. Was this man innocent? Why his son too? Where was justice? Trembling, he held the gun up but aimed wide of the man’s head. After firing and missing, he threw the gun and fled outside.
“I missed my first shot at the father and couldn’t shoot again so I threw the gun and ran away.”
The officer chased him down and demanded the rest of the company to beat Amal. They broke his leg and knocked him unconscious. By the grace of God, he survived, but he spent the next six weeks in the hospital and the five weeks after in the brig.
3 — Rescue
While in prison, Amal planned to desert the Syrian army alongside four other inmates.
“If your superior officer ordered you to kill someone and you didn’t, you would be the one who was killed.”
Once released, the five men fled southwest. It was a grueling, dangerous journey. Two of their companions were killed.
With no connections outside of Syria, the group disagreed on where to cross the border. Ultimately, Amal’s surviving companions fled south toward Iraq while he travelled west into Lebanon.
By God’s provision, he made it safely to the Lebanon border. He didn’t want to cross illegally, which would limit his civil abilities to work or rent an apartment, so he reached out to his grandfather and asked him for help obtaining documents.
His grandfather worked out a deal with a distant contact who allowed Amal to trade his Syrian military ID for a Lebanese passport. He was safe—and legal!
The Syrian war was at a high point during this period. Amal’s family had been displaced and were on the run. Within a few weeks of making it to Lebanon, Amal petitioned for his family (including his father) to join him. The Lebanese government obliged, and his family safely crossed the border a few days later.
A few years after moving to Lebanon, Amal got married, and they had a little girl. His income was irregular, but his family was happy. His wife, who had converted to Christianity just a few years earlier, was a positive influence on him, and her friends from church were able to answer some of the questions that had haunted him for years.
He began to read the Bible. He landed on the same verse that had intrigued him from the beginning (Matt 5:28-39). This led him to weekly church meetings and eventually to Christ.
As a child, Islam had felt like the root cause of his misery. As a teenager, Islam couldn’t answer his questions of doubt. As an adult, Christianity seemed to fit like a glove.
One morning, Amal and his family were walking to church. The streets were fairly quiet, so it was odd when a man began running toward them. Before either Amal or his wife had a chance to react, the man scooped up their daughter and kept running.
Amal pursued, caught up, and wrestled his daughter back, but the kidnapper escaped.
The incident was jarring, and Amal and his wife couldn’t wrap their minds around the kidnapping. However, over the next few weeks the motive would become crystal clear.
Amal’s father had learned of the family’s conversion. Despite their detachment, and the fact that they hadn’t spoken to one another in over a year, he had secretly recruited a network of distant relatives and seedy friends to intimidate Amal’s family.
The kidnapping was the first effort, soon to be followed by a constant barrage of anonymous, threatening phone calls, random knocks at the doors and windows at all hours of the night, and, worst of all, they were followed nearly everywhere they went. The threat of kidnapping never diminished, and Amal was in a state of constant fear and anxiety.
4 — Restore
our hope is in Christ
There’s a stigma that surrounds Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Despite Amal’s legal status, it’s difficult for him to find consistent work. Lebanon is also four to eight times more expensive than Syria and Iraq, making rent, school, and utilities nearly impossible to cover on a monthly basis.
But through the threats and insecurity, Amal and his family have held fast. And God has been so, so good.
Amal’s pastor has provided robust discipleship training and counseling. The family’s church has provided security: easing the fear of threats on the street and providing resources when Amal can’t find work. And Help The Persecuted has helped underwrite the family’s living expenses and is working to procure the necessary legal documentation (marriage licenses, citizenship) for the family to re-migrate to Syria.
5 — Rebuild
looking towards the future
Despite the ongoing threats, Amal has forgiven his own father. And why not? God had a plan all along, did He not? If Amal hadn’t questioned Islam under his father’s constant abuse, if he hadn’t fled the family and struck out on his own, would he have come to know the loving grace of Christ? Who can say?
What we do know is that Amal’s pastor speaks of him as a stellar father and husband. We know that Amal freely shares the gospel—in fact, his brother is now a believer.
And we know that by moving back to Syria (a move Help The Persecuted is helping orchestrate), not only will the family escape the familial persecution that has haunted them for the past year, but they will truly be a city on a hill, a light in the darkness, in a country that is on the cusp of revival.
Help The Persecuted is working with countless cases like Amal’s. There are literally thousands of Syrian believers spread across Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq yearning to go home. And the pain that they’ve endured these past few years has so sweetly been molded into a holiness that will manifest itself, over and over again, into gospel presentations for a people desperate for Christ.
Help us help more people like Amal. Help us rescue our brothers and sisters in Christ from familial persecution, from repressive societal stigmas, and from the constant threat of kidnapping and violence.
Help us restore and rebuild Christian livelihood and community; to create more cities on a hill and to claim the Middle East for Christ.