In Homs, Syria, a Christian family finally goes home for Christmas

LIKE THE HOLY FAMILY on that first Christmas night, the Ghattas family searched long and hard for a new place to live. In 2012, mortar attacks had completely destroyed their home. For search for lodgings was long and hard. For five years after, the family’s district was occupied by armed groups. It was only in 2017, that Elias and Lina Ghattas were able to discover what remained of their home— there were neither doors nor windows, the power lines had been stolen, the sanitary facilities destroyed.

Effectively homeless, the family was able to benefit from an emergency program funded by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which provided the Ghattas with money for the rent of a temporary apartment. Today, finally, after seven years of wandering, the family gets to celebrate Christmas in their newly built home right on the spot where they have always lived. It is part of ACN’s reconstruction project.

Mr. and Mrs. Ghattas and their son Bashar

The occasion will be bittersweet. Where the family once had a large Christmas tree, there stands a small, borrowed artificial tree in the corner of their living room. And the sense of loss goes further. Says Mrs. Ghattas, “We miss all of the memories, family photos, and mementos from our ancestors, presents such was were received in the past at holidays.”

Still, the family will experience the miracle of Christmas. Exclaims Mr. Ghattas, “For me, returning home is like being reborn. I can’t even begin to describe the joy I am feeling. After so much suffering and uncertainty, I feel safe again. I am filled with hope for a better life. Christmas reminds me of the feeling of security that comes from being in a family.”

However, the couple’s joy is tempered by concerns about their two sons. Their eldest will probably not be able to spend Christmas at home. “He was doing his military service when the war broke out in 2011. Although the term of duty used to be two years, he has now been in the army for eight years. No one knows when he will be able to return,” explains Mr. Ghattas. The good news is that he is still alive – not everyone is that lucky. The younger son, Bashar, suffering the fate of many other young people in Syria; he is “very frustrated about the lack of work opportunities or future prospects.” His situation is even more difficult because Bashar lost an eye in a mortar bomb explosion.

Mrs. Ghattas smiles faintly and says: “We will go to church on Christmas Eve. There we will sing Christmas songs and pray with all the other people. Then we will return home and I will prepare the traditional Syrian meal of Kibbeh, which are oblong meat balls made with bulgur and ground meat. We will sit close to the oven and celebrate until late into the night.”

At this time, they will also think with gratitude about all the people who helped them in their time of need. Mr. Ghattas points to a square, sand-colored rock sitting under the mall Christmas tree; it bears the inscription “Jesus is my rock.” The stone was given to them by ACN foundation at the blessing ceremony that marked the beginning of the reconstruction of Christian homes.

Says Mr. Ghattas, “We have no words to express our thanks to ACN and all those who support it. They gave us hope and a new chance in this life. From the bottom of our hearts we hope that God will strengthen and support them in their efforts to continue to help those most in need and sow hope.”

Mrs. Ghattas nods her head and adds: “There are two more wishes that I carry in my heart and that I will also lay before God: that peace may reign all over the world and that my son will return home safe and sound.”