SAT-7 airs prayers for peace in city that became synonymous with cruelty and death
In early December, Middle East Christian broadcaster SAT-7 and associate ministry Light for All Nations (LFAN) Ministries filmed the first on-the-ground footage in Raqqa, Syria since so-called Islamic State militants left. The two networks co-produced the documentary, Al Raqqa: between Yesterday and Today, presenting a message of peace and praying over Syrians.
Charred, twisted vehicles lie upside down along the filming crew’s route. Pastor Nizar Shaheen, Founder and President of LFAN, says, “I’m astonished at the level of ruin and destruction, and the smells – death and fire. It’s a city of death.” Corpses are still buried beneath the rubble of crumpled buildings, and lying along the roadways, but the filming crew does not show them on screen. Their purpose is to spread a message of peace and hope, not terror.
Town centre atrocities
Standing in Clock Square, Pastor Nizar Shaheen solemnly says that for two years, it was the centre of human trafficking of Yazidi and Kurdish girls and women. Men bought girls and women at varying prices, based on their youth and beauty. Presenters Maysaa Saloum, Lena Mehana and Sona prayed peace and healing over the girls who endured this tragedy.
The same location was an epicentre for public executions and corpse displays intended to terrorise the local community.
Khalil, a local landmine removal volunteer, explains that until recently, the area was ninety percent covered by landmines. Some detonated with movement at a radius of three metres, others had cameras, and others detonated during rainstorms. He witnessed a fellow demining worker die in a landmine blast, but he is not deterred from his work by the danger.
Showing part of a detonation device while standing in Clock Square, Revd Shahin comments, “The devil brings the message of death, but Jesus brings the message of goodness and eternal life.”
At nearby St Mary’s Orthodox Church, so-called ISIS militants took over the building, removing the cross and using it as a weapons warehouse. They also took control of a hospital and used it for the same purpose.
How Christians can pray
Pastor Nizar Shaheen calls on the audience, “Lift up this nation in your prayers – that God will protect and bless and bring back goodness, return what was stolen and regain all the losses in this place.” He further prays, “We pray against the evil spirits, the spirits of destruction and demise. We pray for peace and love to overwhelm this country and every heart and for your light to shine everywhere. Let heaven’s blessings come upon this place in compensation for all pain and wounds with your healing.”
Hope for the future
George Makeen, Programming Director for SAT-7 Arabic Channels, believes there are already signs of hope for Syria’s future. He says, “Raqqa was the stronghold of ISIS, and the fact that a crew was able to visit and interview people, is by itself a message that there is a possibility for a future for war-torn Syria. By showing the amount of destruction and pain people went through, we aim to ask people to pray for rebuilding not just the city, but the lives that were shaken to its roots. While the war itself is finishing, the road to reconciliation hasn’t even started yet, and it is a long and difficult route that needs people, prayers and hard work.”