Update from Mhardeh, Syria

In my recent article for Christianity Today, I described one of the strategies Middle Eastern Christians are employing to face the threat from ISIS: Fight.

Sometimes, though, talking isn’t enough. This reality has driven Syrian pastor Maan Bitar to urge his congregation to take up arms and fight. His Presbyterian congregation is among the 22,000 all-Christian residents of Mhardeh in Syria. Their city is besieged by Islamist militants.

Mhardeh is shelled every day, Bitar said, killing at least 50 civilians and injuring hundreds more. The city’s Christians, alongside government forces, have so far been successful in preventing the militants from entering the city.

“I know I have the right as a human being to defend myself,” he said, “but I try to give my people a Christian justification.… Still, if I kill someone I need to say to Jesus, ‘I know I have sinned. I have not met your perfection.’”

This above article is recently updated based on an email received from Rev. Bitar. Here is his message in its entirety:

The city is besieged by FSA and Al Nusra, who drove away the civilian population of the neighboring villages to take over Mhardeh and make it their stronghold to fight the regular army from Mhardeh.

Now Mhardeh is shelled everyday by the Syrian rebels and Al Nusra fighters who have given dozens [of] ultimatums [and] threats: Leave your homes. Mhardeh is ours. It’s Halal (permissible under Islamic Sharia to conquer).

Mehardeh has been hit so far by 1500 mortar shells and rockets. The death toll of civilians has exceeded 50, and there are hundreds of injured, among the deaths and injured [are] women and children. Sometimes rockets are deliberately launched when school children are leaving school.

The Syrian regular army, with Mhardeh civil defense and volunteers, has prevented them from invading Mhardeh and has driven them away, and now it is targeting their strategic positions in other farther towns. However, they number [in the] thousands and are intent on causing much harm and damage to [the] Mhardeh population and town.

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