Muslim Syria Full of Christian History

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The image of Christians sharing their faith in a Muslim-dominated country may come as a surprise to some, but Christianity has actually had its roots in Syria since early in the first century.

Following his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul established the first organized Christian church at Antioch in ancient Syria.

John the Baptist's head is said to be located in Syria's Omayyad mosque, which was a church at one time. And up the road from the mosque is the Chapel of Ananias, where locals say the Lord used Ananias to cure Paul's blindness.

"This is the place where the apostle Paul received his calling to share the gospel across the Roman world," a Syrian pastor said. "Today, Christians have the freedom to worship openly here. And we are proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ everywhere in Syria."

Christians make up 10 percent of the Syrian population. The majority are Muslims. Most of the Christians live in the cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Hamah and Latakia.

Click play to watch George Thomas' report, followed by analysis from CBN News Senior Editor John Waage on what Christians in the Middle East are facing today.

The Orthodox and Catholic churches have the strongest following among beleivers. There are also nearly a half a dozen evangelical churches.

Edward Awabdeh pastors a congregation on the west side of the capital.

"Less than one percent of the population are evangelicals in Syria. So we are a small minority," he said.

Still, the evangelical community is seeing some growth.

Ibrahim Samara pastors an evangelical church in the old city of Damascus.

"The church today in Syria is living in its Golden Age. We see a hunger for God among the youth. And many families are expressing openness to the message of Christ," he explained. "The church is also moving in freedom."

The Syrian constitution allows for freedom of religion. Although proselytizing is discouraged, the Christians CBN News talked to say they've never had trouble sharing their faith with non-believers.

"Obviously, we have to use some wisdom and discernment in how to best share Christ," one Christian leader said. "We especially have to avoid talking negatively about other religions."

One of the most effective tools of evangelism in Syria and throughout the Middle East continues to be the showing of "The Jesus Film."

"Over the years, we've had the chance to show the Jesus Film in a number of cities across the country," a Syrian pastor told CBN News. "And every time we show the film, 99 percent of those in attendance are non-Christians."

Today, the gospel is making its way back to the region. The Syrian Christians that CBN News spoke with said the changes that are taking place across the Middle East are part of God's plan for the sake of the church there.

"God is using these changes for the glory of his church," the Syrian pastor said. "We believe that we are living in the end times and that Christ's return is very imminent. God is giving an opportunity to the people in the Middle East to turn to him."

*This story originally aired in 2006.

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