Sadly, the conflict in Syria continues despite the attempts of the UN and their special adviser, Kofi Annan, to establish a peace plan. The conflict began in January 2011, as part of the Arab Spring, when protesters demanded the resignation of President Bashar-al-Assad and the overthrow of his government. In response the government has used the Syrian Army to quell the uprising and several cities have been besieged. It is estimated that 10,000 people have been killed, half of whom were civilians, including hundreds of children. Many more have been injured and imprisoned, and tens of thousands have become refugees in neighbouring countries. This month, for the first time, there have been suicide car bombs in Damascus.
Syria is a country with a proud history of power and influence in the Middle East. More than 2500 years ago Israel was dominated by Syria, which was the world super power at that time. In the Old Testament there is a remarkable story about how the supreme commander of the Syrian army, Naaman, came to know the true God. His soldiers raided villages in Israel and brought back slaves to Syria. One of them, a young girl, was taken to Naaman’s house and served his wife.
This young girl had a remarkable spirit of love and concern, even for her enemies. We might have expected her to be full of anger and hatred, but she was not. Although Naaman was a very powerful man, he had a big problem, he had leprosy. The young girl was genuinely concerned for Naaman and told his wife that she believed that her God could heal him of his leprosy. The young girl is an example of how we should respond to other people, even those who cause us pain. She knew and trusted God personally and understood that he loves people from all nations.
Naaman decided to go to Israel in search of healing. He was told by the prophet Elisha to dip himself seven times in the Jordan and he would be healed. Although, at first, he felt insulted and responded in anger to this command from God, eventually he did obey and was wonderfully healed. He experienced God’s amazing love for him and became a changed man. He said to Elisha, “I will never again offer sacrifices to any other god except the Lord.” Conflict and violence do not change hearts, but a personal experience of God’s gracious kindness always does.