In Syria, a teen’s faith helps during civil war

PITER ESSA, 17, just graduated from High School in Aleppo, Syria. Piter, who is Syriac-Orthodox, tells Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) about some of his painful experiences during his country’s civil war:

In Syria, a teen's faith helps during civil war

“I’ve survived this awful war, and I live my life like I used to. My school didn’t close at all, so I was able to continue with my studies; I graduated from High School this year.

“I was separated from many friends who were forced to flee. I personally experienced violence in the forms of mortars and missiles, which did both physical and psychological damage. I tried to remain strong for my loved ones: I had their backs, and I told them that everything would be okay, but I didn’t fully believe that myself.

“I want to mention a particular incident, one of many similar incidents that happened during the war: one day, I was helping my dad with the groceries, and we were walking and chatting in peace until a huge cloud of fire appeared in front of me. It was a mortar explosion. I heard nothing but screaming babies and a sharp whistle; I saw nothing but bodies, and there was blood everywhere. My father and I ran without looking back and only stopped when we reached a safe zone.

“In that moment, I wasn’t angry or sad. I was terrified. I hadn’t seen anything like it before, except in movies. It was horrible, and it stays with me even now. Sometimes I dream about that day—the innocent people being killed for nothing, absolutely nothing.

“Our saddest moment came when we had to leave our home. There were too many mortars falling around us, and we could not continue to risk our lives. So we moved to another area.

“Prayers helped keep me going, as did my family’s support; they provided for me and allowed me to live the life of a teenager. My hobbies also distracted me from the violence: I listened to music all the time, as it offered an escape from what we were facing outside. And I wore a cross around my neck to remind me that, even when I felt lost, I was not alone.

“Today, I am feeling safe again. There’s been no mortars, missiles, explosions, or screaming, and my community is thriving. I’ve found true friends who understand and accept me as I am, and my family’s faith has endured. I love Syria and its history. I feel connected to it.

“I plan to study abroad and become specialized in the area of Artificial Intelligence. I will return to Syria afterwards. For me, the internet is an important communication tool: I use it every day, and I can see how other countries are reacting to our crisis. In my opinion, there are few countries that seriously care about us; many others only pretend to. I feel that most people aren’t responding.

“But I still have faith, and that was all that we had to survive. And I dream that, one day, we will all be able to live in our country, in lasting peace.”

From 2011, when the civil war in Syria began, through 2018, ACN has supported the pastoral and humanitarian mission of the various Churches in Syria with projects totaling more than $36M.

—Jony Azar