By Andrew Nash
War is hell and, for a teenage Mary, living through the Syrian Civil War, hell was every day.
“Every day while going to school, we believed this is the day we are going to die,” she said. “Death was the main incident in our lives. There was no security or peace in Syria.”
For six years, Mary was trapped in a land of insecurity, and “death was everywhere.” Thanks to her uncle, Hary Khano, and his wife, Janée Angel, who serves as CBF field personnel, she was able to flee as a refugee and join them in Antwerp, Belgium.
LIFE IN SYRIA
Mary was 17 when the war started. “Suddenly, everything stopped. There was no food, no school, no future,” she said. Mary had friends who were killed. Other friends were kidnapped and sexually abused. Neighbors couldn’t trust each other. At one point, her father went missing for days before the family discovered he’d been taken away for not having his Syrian I.D. with him. The threat of kidnap and rape by ISIS was a constant shadow. “There was no future; everything came to a halt. The danger of death was with us wherever we went,” she said.
The fear became too much for Mary, who failed her exams and began cutting herself. Sometimes, she would put salt in her wounds so that she could “feel more pain.” She considered carrying poison in case she was caught by ISIS. Mary even began taking relaxants and pain killers. One night at 3:00 a.m., she attempted suicide, taking “all kinds of medicine” as she began to say her goodbyes. She collapsed; but her mother fortunately happened to wake up and discover her before it was too late.
“I died two times that night. When I made the decision to end my life and when I heard my mother screaming, I couldn’t tell anyone about what I had done. She thought that my blood pressure was low. I started to pray for the first time in a long time. I was asking the Lord, ‘What do you want from me? I am tired. I want to be yours.’”
Not long after that moment, ISIS came into the region, forcing Mary to flee to another city. In that new city, she attended church for the first time in ages and heard the pastor say that those who wished to follow Jesus should not hesitate.
“Here I stopped everything and raised my hands and talked to Jesus,” Mary said. “I told him, ‘Here I am, in front of you, coming to you. I want to be yours and only yours. Take me as your daughter.’ I felt that I was clean inside; after all the suffering and all the distortions in my soul and body, I was finally clean. I wanted to jump for joy and tell everyone, ‘I am clean,
I am innocent, I am a new person now.’”
ESCAPING TO BELGIUM
Mary was not alone in Syria, nor was she without international support. Her uncle, Hary, and his wife, Janée, were providing support from Antwerp, Belgium, where Janée serves as CBF field personnel. Their passion is evangelical work with the diverse Arabic-speaking population in Belgium.
They partnered with Havé Vista, a nonprofit organization in Belgium that works with refugees. Havé Vista figured out how to get around international roadblocks to bring nearly 200 refugees out of Syria via Lebanon.
“CBF gave the first large offering that helped to get those people out of the country,” Janée said.
Mary recalled that her name was among the “last on the list” of those who were able to escape Syria to Antwerp through Havé Vista.
“When we reached Belgium, I had a new life, and it is a beautiful picture. I am alive, and everything around me is beautiful,” she explained. “I came to Belgium, and I am with the Lord. I did not want anything more.”
She has been granted asylum in Belgium and is grateful for a welcoming church family. Nearly every day of the week, Mary is in one meeting or another with church members, including a regular Friday lesson on the Dutch language with Janée.
“The Arabic church does not wait for people to come; we go and visit places. We reach out to Arabs here and invite them to come and listen to the ceremonies and book discussions,” Mary said. “We also visit the refugee camps and tell the refugees that we, as the Arabic church, are here to help you.”
Janée said she often takes Mary along as a translator when they visit Arabic-speaking women. When Mary’s language skills aren’t enough, she says that Mary will use hugs as her love language.
“I feel that Mary is my right hand in the service,” Hary said. “I really depend on her for many things. Since she has known the Lord in Belgium, we have a very great relationship. Mary has a great future in faith, and a brilliant future in building the church.”
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This article appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of fellowship! magazine, the quarterly publication of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Read online here and subscribe for free to fellowship! and CBF’s weekly e-newsletter fellowship! weekly at www.cbf.net/subscribe.