Destroyed by ISIS, a Church Reborn

14 November 2021

Dear friends,

Armenian Apostolic church, destroyed by ISIS, 2018
Dedication of the new church, 2021

We thank God for you all and want to share a story of redemption and hope from here in Raqqa, Northeast Syria. Raqqa was the capital of ISIS and, while they were here, ISIS destroyed this Armenian Apostolic church, along with the other death and destruction they meted out.

Now, by the help of God, caring friends around the world, the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Raqqa Civil Council and Arab, Christian and Kurdish volunteers, the church has been rebuilt and we celebrated a worship service here with Armenian Christian survivors of ISIS as well as those who helped rebuild the church. We thanked God together and prayed for people to be able to come back and worship here and we prayed for all our enemies.

I kept feeling that I was dreaming as I looked at the beautiful church that has risen from the pile of rubble. What ISIS meant for evil, God redeemed for good. There was a feeling of unity between the people here of different ethnicities and faiths. “This is not only a church for the Christians, it is a place of honor to God for all of us,” said one Kurdish leader.

“Christians gave us shelter when we needed it and now we are so glad to help them by rebuilding this church!” exclaimed the Arab sheik who supervised the rebuilding.

“This city is for all people of every faith and we stand with our Armenian brothers,” another Kurdish leader told the assembly.

“It fills my heart with joy to be part of this and I can’t find the words to describe my feeling at the opening of this church,” said Bashir, our Syria coordinator.

At the same time, outside this church there are still forces that want it destroyed and the church reconstruction was stopped twice by threats of ISIS attacks and the Turkish invasion. For the Armenians in particular, the Turkish invasion of Northern Syria was especially terrible as their forefathers had fled the Armenian genocide in Turkey and built this church when they moved to Syria. They then suffered the attacks and oppression of ISIS and now live in fear of new attacks from ISIS cells as well as further Turkish-backed invasions.

In spite of this there was joy today and new hope. It is asymmetrical warfare. People can destroy but with God’s help we can rebuild. We all have a choice to add to the beauty of this world and God will help us do that. 

I thought back to when we had first come to Raqqa after its liberation. We had come to provide relief and share the love of Jesus; with the help of Reload Love, we had built a playground in a damaged and debris-littered park across from the church ISIS had destroyed. We walked into the ruined church with concrete dangling from the ceiling, rubble all over. Unexploded mortars were buried in the concrete and the bones of people killed littered the ground. 

My daughter Sahale walked up to what once was the altar of the church, sat down and began to play her guitar, softly singing the song, “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel.”  She sang in a haunting and soft voice that brought tears to our eyes. I asked her why she chose that song and she said, “I sing that song because I felt like I want to bring God back to the church that these Christians made here in Raqqa. So that God can restore what He originally built.”

Sahale sings in the ruins of the church
FBR team praying in the ruined sanctuary

We put up two crosses that day, in the rubble of the church, and prayed. I asked God that this church would be rebuilt. But as I prayed, a doubt came to me: “There are probably no Christians left here. And who would come back? Why am I praying for people and funds to rebuild? It seems foolish.”  I told God I was sorry for this prayer and asked God how to pray. “Pray that same prayer, but this time with faith,” I felt God say.

Peter, Hosie and Denton put up a cross

I prayed again that the church would be rebuilt and believers could come back. After we prayed, I walked out of the church and a man came up to me. “What are you doing here?” he asked. I told him God sent us to help and pray, and he said, “I am trying to rebuild this church. I am an Armenian Christian. My name is William. I was shot four times by ISIS but I have brought my family back now. There used to be 5,000 Christians here but now we are 15.”

Meeting William, the Armenian who asked us to build the church

We were all amazed and prayed with him for help to rebuild this church.

Now a miracle has happened. The church is rebuilt, people are coming back and love grows here.

Thank you for being in this with us and with the people here. 

God bless you,

Dave, family and the Free Burma Rangers  

Karen gives William a Bible
The Arab sheik builder, along with Bashir, our Syria FBR coordinator, during reconstruction in 2019
Pastor Tae from Grace Church in Maryland prays at the dedication
Kurdish Christians from Kobani sing at the church during the program
Raqqa Civil Council, Armenian Christians, and our team on the front steps of the new church after dedication