The war in Syria took his faith. God restored it.
A former atheist is going back to Syria to serve the Lord, thanks to the support of BMS World Mission
The shell killed every one of the children, and Yaccoub watched it happen. Some of them were as young as four, the oldest no more than seven. “I was walking home and a bomb fell on a school bus, right in front of me,” he says, in a matter-of-fact way that you get used to when talking to people who’ve seen war in their own countries.
Yaccoub’s country is Syria. He was about 14 when the war started, and not much older when he came face to face with killing. “The whole bus blew up and burned,” he says. “And all the children inside died.”
Today, Yaccoub is one of the most quietly inspiring people I’ve met. Softly spoken, but with a strength and kindness that shines through in his patience with my questions. He needs it on a hot afternoon in Beirut. He’s missing lunch for this. He’s sitting at a desk in a world-class theology college in the heart of the Middle East. A place for sending people out into the mostly Muslim world. Behind him is a geometric design in green, made of beautifully painted words in Arabic, which say: to see communities restored. By the time you read this, he will have graduated.
Yaccoub is ready to share God's love in Syria, where the war is still ongoing.
Yaccoub is committed to going back to Syria, he’s committed to making a difference in his community and he’s passionate about reaching out to seekers in love. He’s getting ready to be used by God in a country that desperately needs hope, but the road to get to this point has been hard. It started before the incident with the schoolchildren. Before the war.
“It was a very nice country, everyone lived in peace and we had a really good life,” Yaccoub tells me about growing up in Syria. “Then religion went into politics, which started the conflict, and it ruined everything.” Yaccoub grew up in an Orthodox Christian home and was just beginning to explore faith seriously when Syria’s civil war began. “That was the turning point in my life,” he says. “The war started, and for me there was no God. I became a total atheist.” He even got a slogan tattooed on his arm proclaiming that there was no life after death.
His disillusionment culminated in the experience of watching innocent children killed on their way to school. And yet it also left him hungry for a kind of clarity about what life might mean. “It reinforced my atheism, because I saw that God created those children and then he took their lives,” he says, and yet it also left him thinking: “that there was some kind of power at work,” but one he didn’t understand.
Yaccoub’s aunt invited him to church and he started meeting with an evangelist who, at one point, made Yaccoub so angry he threw him out of the house. “I went back to church convinced that there was no love there. But when I got there, the person I had kicked out of my house was the first person to greet me. And after the service he was the first person to come and hug me. This really touched my heart.”
Thanks to the prayer and love of his aunt and his own research into the Bible, Yaccoub came to Christ. “When I was intellectually searching for God I also had the life example of my aunt with me and that was the main reason that I decided to follow Jesus,” he says. And today he has a vision to take both the intellectual and the loving, life example to his generation back in Syria.
“Most of my friends are outside of the Church, and I was like them. I know how they think and I know why have this hatred inside of them towards God and towards religion in general,” he says. “My studies here have provided me with the tools to work with those people. It’s also helping me enlarge my vision so I can reach out to them in a correct way.” Yaccoub has a passion for reaching out with love rather than some of the rough treatment he encountered on his way to Christ. And he has a vision to use social media to impact people his own age. Yaccoub is 21 years old.
BMS provided four grants of £7,500 each over 2018 to pay for a full year’s study for students like Yaccoub. Every person who supports BMS, through prayer or giving, has been a part of his year of preparation for going back to Syria and serving God. You are an encouragement to Yaccoub and the other students like him.
“I want to thank the people who give without knowing us,” Yaccoub says. “In my opinion that is great. I would like to thank them for the opportunity they are giving us to study here, to let them know that we are being transformed at many levels, theologically, spiritually and in our characters.”
When Yaccoub goes back to Syria he’ll be starting an organisation that will help women whose homes have been destroyed by war in Syria to develop sustainable ways of supporting themselves. He’s also helping in a ministry to provide financial aid to university students whose studies have been interrupted by the conflict, and plans to start outreach based on Facebook, YouTube and social media platforms popular in the Middle East. He’s 21, he’s been through education and formation, and God is going to use him.
“We need leaders in our churches and our ministries,” Yaccoub says, “and people supporting us in this seminary are helping us to send out these leaders to areas where they are needed. They are sending prepared leaders.”
Yaccoub is not going back to a country at peace or that hasn’t been wounded. There has been far too much destruction and far too much death already. But we have hope in the resurrection. Be it in a faith that dies in the face of death and gets reborn, or a new hope in young people prepared and supported by their brothers and sisters around the world.
“The Body of Christ is united across different nations and we’re all connected somehow,” Yaccoub says. Thank you for supporting him. Thank you for being part of a new hope.
This story was originally published on the BMS World Mission website and is used with permission.