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Tawfic Issa with Lody and their children, Left to Right: Intissar, Ghaleb, baby Nasser, Sami, Nabil.

Photo courtesy Intissar Issa.

Syria

By Gabriel Katrib, and Melanie Riches Wixwat

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Gabriel Y. Katrib (B.A., Middle East University, Beirut, Lebanon) began his ministry in Syria in the 1950s, first as a teacher, then pastor, and later in 1968 was appointed president of the Syrian Section. He later moved to Lebanon as a pastor and departmental director for the East Mediterranean Field.  In 1979, Katrib and his family moved to the United States where he pastored in the Ohio and Pennsylvania Conferences. After retiring in 1995 he continued to serve in the Arizona Conference. Later moving to Loma Linda, California, Katrib served as a speaker and host for the Loma Linda Broadcasting Arabic Network and for the Al Waad Arabic branch of the Hope Channel. 

Melanie Riches Wixwat, B.B.A. (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan), currently lives in Beirut, Lebanon with her husband Michael, the treasurer for Middle East and North Africa Union (MENAU). She is administrative assistant to the president and the executive secretary of MENAU in addition to working as assistant to the regional editor for the ESDA project. One of her hobbies is studying Arabic and this has led her to be involved with one of the local Arabic Adventist Churches in Beirut.

Country History

Syria is a republic in the Middle East situated on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, bounded on the north by Turkey, on the east and southeast by Iraq, on the south by Jordan, and on the west by Israel, Lebanon, and the sea. It has an area of 72,234 square miles (187,086 square kilometers) and a population (2021) of 17,800,000. Arabs constitute the predominant group and Arabic is the prevailing language. Most of the people are Muslim, but there are also significant groups of Greek Orthodox, Syrian, Armenian, and Roman Catholic Christians. Damascus, the capital, is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.

Old Testament Syria (Aram) extended north of Palestine and eastward into the region of the great bend of the Upper Euphrates, probably as far as the Khabur River. Its territory included Haran, the home of Abraham’s kin. The most important of the Aramaean city states, Damascus, was often at war with Israel. The Aramaic language spread over the Assyrian Empire and became an international language, used from Babylon to Egypt. Adopted in place of Hebrew by the Jews after the Exile, it was the spoken language of Jesus.

After Alexander’s conquests, Syria came under the Greco-Oriental kingdom of the Seleucids and eventually became its center. In New Testament times Syria was a Roman province, which included Palestine much of the time. Late Syrian paganism blended Babylonian idolatry and Greek philosophical ideas into a universal sun worship that absorbed many of the older deities and spread westward; it was finally made the official imperial cult at Rome in A.D. 274. Early Syrian Christianity played an important role in the formation of the Eastern churches. Muslim Syria was an early cultural center of Islam.

In later centuries the country was impoverished by various wars and invasions. World War I freed it from Turkish rule and left it under a French mandate. World War II made it an independent republic. In 1958 it was united with Egypt in the United Arab Republic, but withdrew in 1961.1

Struggles continued over the next 60 years into the 21st century with a succession of coups, uprisings, and external and internal wars. The 1960s saw the rise of the Baathist party and the authoritarian power of Hafez al-Assad when army officers seized power and overthrew president Nur al-Din al-Atasi. In the 1970s the country was embroiled in external wars, first aligning with Egypt against Israel, and later, in the mid-1970s, interfering in the Lebanese civil war. They continued to intervene until forced to withdraw in 2005, following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in Beirut.

Instability continued during the 1980s as the Muslim Brotherhood instigated uprisings and riots in Aleppo, Homs, and Hama. In 2000 President Assad died and was succeeded by his second son, Bashar. In March 2011 antigovernment protests broke out in Syria, following a wave of similar demonstrations begun in December 2010 in other parts of the Middle East and North Africa. From the first days of the crisis, the Assad regime responded aggressively to break up the rallies which ultimately escalated into the Syrian Civil War that decimated the country for the next ten years.2

Early Beginnings

Not very much has been recorded about the earliest beginnings of the Adventist work in Syria. It is reported that in 1893 four people became Seventh-day Adventists in Aleppo during a visit there by Zadour G. Baharian, the pioneer Adventist worker in Turkey.3 H. P. Holster from the Central European Conference visited the group the following year. By 1897 a few more accepted the faith in northern Syria in Alexandretta, Beilan, and Aleppo,4 and in 1898, during one journey of a missionary, 13 more people were baptized.5 However, it was decades later when regular work was established in the present boundaries of Syria. The Syrian Mission was part of the territory assigned to missionaries from Europe—under the European Division (1913-1928), then the Central European Division.6

In 1909 Walter Ising, a German pioneer missionary, was appointed head of the Syrian-Egyptian Mission with headquarters in Beirut. He rented a home near the Syrian Protestant College (now American University of Beirut) and visited the campus often, developing a rapport with the students and engaging them in religious discussions. Ising began a regular Bible study class in his home on the prophecies.7 He noticed that the students from the Christian communities of northern Syria and Iraq were the most interested in religious matters and some of these students, already Protestants, became his first converts.8

When World War I began in 1914, Ising was taken into confinement in Malta and the handful of believers were scattered, most of them returning to their own countries. After the war he became secretary of the European Division and returned to the Middle East in 1923 to see what was left of the few believers. He planned his itinerary to visit the cities of Sidon and Beirut in Lebanon, and Damascus and Aleppo in Syria.

This was not an easy task as there was little to no contact with the few members remaining during the war years. Feeling overwhelmed and not knowing how to proceed, Ising spoke of the providential guidance in his efforts to find the scattered believers in these cities. He wrote in the Adventist Review how the Lord prepared the way for him. “The Lord has in so many cases just led these brethren to me. With no address in Damascus, a city of 500,000 people, with no means of tracing our Syrian brother, he just tapped me on the shoulder in the market at the moment I was contemplating what means we could employ to find him. Through him we also found our Armenian brethren.”9 Other members were found in Aleppo when Ising’s typewriter broke down. He took it to the Singer Company to get fixed, and there “by chance” met a man who knew something about the Adventists and helped Ising find one of the members.10

Five years later, in April 1928, Shukry Nowfel, the first Arabic Lebanese pastor and an experienced native evangelist in Beirut, was asked by the Syrian Mission to work with W. H. Lesovsky in Damascus for 18 months. When he returned to Beirut, he left a small nucleus of interested persons, two of them well known—an artist, Faris Dow, and a lawyer, George Shaghoury, who were both baptized in Beirut the following year.11

At the beginning of 1930, arrangements were made for Nowfel to assist a zealous local worker, Brother Steffan, in conducting a short series of meetings at Al-Husn in the Transjordan area south of Syria. At the end of the meetings 12 people, seven men and five women, desired baptism and asked to join the church.12

Nils Zerne, superintendent of the Syrian Mission, came for the baptism on May 8, 1930. There was not enough water in the vicinity, so they had to drive two hours to the Sea of Galilee. This was the first time in many centuries that a baptism had been administered in Galilee. For the women who had never left their village, let alone set eyes upon such a large body of water, it took much persuasion for them to venture into it.13

Subsequently, these 12 converts were organized into a company and Sabbath School, with the teacher as the leader. To establish those already received into church fellowship, and to strengthen those in preparation, Zerne arranged for another experienced native worker from Egypt to spend the summer months assisting in the Transjordan area as well as in Syria.14 At the end of the second quarter, baptisms were held in Aleppo (north Syria), Caramaniay (a Kurdish village in northeastern Syria), and at Al-Husn in Transjordan on the road to Lake Tiberias.15

Development of the Seventh-day Adventist Work in the 1930s and 1940s

In the early part of the 1900s, many people from Syria immigrated to the United States. Among those were three siblings: Moussa, Nema, and Boulos Al-Baroudi. They found refuge in Washington D.C. and while there met some Adventists and studied with them the teachings of the Church. Boulos was the only one of the three siblings who was baptized. He and Nema remained in the United States, but Moussa returned to Beirut in the mid-1930s and began to share the Adventist message, even though he never became a baptized member himself.16

Boulos (Arabic name for the apostle Paul) was on fire to share his new faith with his family in Syria. In 1936 he wrote to the mission in Beirut asking them to send someone to speak with his family. They responded by sending Nowfel and a self-supporting Adventist literature evangelist from Zgharta District, Lebanon, by the name of Hamad Obeid. In addition, Moussa donated his own personal money in sponsoring Obeid to sell books and evangelize all over the country.17

On their first trip together, Nowfel and Obeid traveled to Tartus, a city on the Mediterranean coast. There they met and studied with Moussa’s wife, who invited her sister Hanneh (Jana) Srour. She accepted the message along with her son Philipe and daughter Haifa and all three were baptized.18 Her other son, Chafic, who mocked them at the time, accepted the Adventist message a few years later. He subsequently attended Middle East College in Beirut and returned to Syria in 1943 where he spent many years as a pastor, preacher, and evangelist.19 A church group was established at Hanneh’s home in Duwair Taha and, from then on, many church groups were established at the hands of her children.

While in Tartus, Nowfel also met a young farmer and relative of the Srours by the name of Tawfik Issa. Hanneh Srour was the wife of Issa’s father’s cousin, Tannous Shahhoud/Srour. From her he learned about the Adventist message. Issa first became a lay preacher and later completed his education at MEC (mid-1940s) after which he returned to Syria as a pastor. He was a tireless worker who was responsible for carrying the Adventist message to Western Syria. He went first to Bezag (modern Rawda), where the first Adventist church in western Syria was built and, then later, to other parts of Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. As new converts returned to their family homes, the word of God was spread to many of the neighboring villages.20

After graduating in August 1943, Srour was sent to work in Oder [Adir?], Jordan. George Keough, president of the Syrian Mission, wrote in the August 1943 Review and Herald, “From time to time we receive letters from the countries of the Arabic Union Mission which contain items of news of the work there.” A letter from Srour said: “I have been working for the past four months in Oder [Adir?] and the interest is good. There are eight people who are interested in the truth and I hope that all of them will be buried with their Saviour in baptism.”21 A letter from Najeeb Azer, another young man who graduated from MEC, told of preparing a number of people for baptism in Al-Husn, a large village in northwestern Jordan. At the same time the work was growing in other parts of Syria as Nowfel baptized four from Mazra’at al Afandi in the region of Tartus.22

Even though the work was continuing to make progress in many parts of the country, it was not flourishing in the large city of Aleppo in the north of Syria near the Turkish border. With a population of 200,000, there were no trained workers who were willing to go there, and the Syrian Mission had no idea how to respond to what they perceived as the “Macedonian cry.” At the end of World War I, some Armenian Adventists settled in Aleppo, but they soon left for more convenient locations.

Towards the end of 1944, the mission decided to remove Srour from Transjordan and sent him to work in Aleppo. It was not long before the fruit began to appear. Two young men and a man and his wife were baptized and there were 11 more in the baptismal class. This was cheering news to the administration.23 George Keough wrote: “The prospects everywhere are always as bright as the promises of God, even in the most difficult places, and good news from Syria is like ‘cold waters to a thirsty soul.’”24

In a letter written by Srour in October 1945, he describes the meetings he held in the homes of the people every night except Friday, when meetings were held in his own home for new members. From 60 to 130 people attended the meetings. He used a projector in his services. Wrote Srour: “Many thousands, including doctors, lawyers, businessmen, officers, rich and poor, have heard the truth.” He made the acquaintances of many high-ranking men, among them many Muslims. “I spend every morning in prayer, reading, and meditation. In the afternoon I visit the people in their shops. Sometimes I take my wife with me to the homes of the people. They are surprised by our teachings of the second coming of Christ.” Srour was hoping to hold a big effort in the city soon, but he needed help. In Aleppo the priests were angry and commanded their members to not allow the pastor into their homes.25

In the spring of 1946 B. J. Mondics, superintendent of the Lebanon-Syria Mission, traveled with Srour as he held a series of evangelistic meetings in the area near Tartus. He wrote: “I am glad to report that our work in Syria is making progress. During our spring vacation I went with our worker, Chafic Srour, who was trained at our college in Beirut. He is holding meetings in several villages north of Tartous.”26

Srour and Mondics took a car from Tartus where they drove about six or eight miles north, and from there traveled along a pathway near the side of the road. They walked up the hillside for a long distance until they could see the villages of Bazaq, Daher Safra, and Douer Taha nestled between the steep hills.

Several meetings were held in a schoolhouse in Douer Taha, but it was too small to accommodate all the people. Deciding to search for a new location, they left the school house one evening, only to find 100 villagers waiting outside to follow them. Small groups of people joined along the way until they reached a building with only an open courtyard along the side of it. There were no seats, so everyone stood the entire time. At least 300 were in attendance that night.27

After each meeting the donkeys were saddled and loaded with the battery and projector to be taken to the next village for another meeting. Two lectures were given on the same subject each night: the regular sermon from the Bible and a lecture on the same subject with the projector. The audience enjoyed both. Srour reported that when the people in the villages heard the dogs barking, they got ready to attend the meetings.

At the conclusion of the meetings, Mondics and Srour returned to Tartus where there was a delegation waiting at Srour’s home asking them to visit on Sabbath. Two men were Adventists and the third was the mayor of the village. The mayor asked that they conduct the meetings on the hillside outside of the village due to some internal opposition. Forty-five people attended the meeting.28

Wrote Srour, “The people are deeply interested in the truth and ask us to tell them more about these things. Because the people are so interested the government has not stopped us in spite of the church not being recognized.” In every village baptismal classes were requested by the people so they could become further grounded in the truth. In every village people also requested that a church and school be built.29

The Syrian government recognized the church in 1946. Even though the license was subsequently cancelled in 1951, and the one church building that had been built was closed, the next decade witnessed many people accepting the Adventist message. As a result of the tireless efforts of Pastors Zaki Hannawai, Hanna Kebbas, Maurice Katrib, Chafic Srour, and Tawfic Issa, among other faithful witnesses, the message spread quickly as meetings were held in homes and in other locations.30

Among those baptized were Rahmeh Habib, her mother Maryam and father Jabra. Others baptized included Michael Haddad, Tawfic Yousef, and Fares Kebbas. Members remained faithful to the Adventist beliefs despite opposition. Every now and then the police would question some and either let them go or take them to prison for a short time.31

One member, Michael Haddad, sold melons and watermelon in a tent, but would close his business every Sabbath as his testimony. After his death his son, who wasn’t an Adventist, continued to keep the tent closed on Sabbath. He earned the nickname “Bassam el Sabty, the Adventist.”32

In 1947 came an encouraging word from Mondics. The government officials in Damascus were interested in the SDA work and expressed the wish of their government to establish a hospital in Tartus, Syria. There was a small village nearby where about 100 families lived and in which 70 people had recently died because they had no place to go for medical care. A wealthy Muslim man agreed to personally help the government to establish a hospital in the near future. However, efforts to establish the clinic were eventually frustrated.33

The government continued to give the Adventists a permit to preach freely.34 Many people were baptized and within a year there were plans to organize three churches in the Tartus area.35 Fifty people were added to the membership in the Tartus area and by the first quarter of 1948, two churches had been organized, one in Tartus and the second one in Mazra’at al Afandi. But there were no church buildings in which to meet. In the summer they would meet on the hillside near the sea to sing praises to God and study His word, but in the winter in the rainy season they were forced to meet in the home of one of the believers.

Between 1930 and 1938 a kindergarten was operated in Damascus and in 1949 a church school was opened in Bazaq. The church also served as the headquarters for the Voice of Prophecy and Health Ministry, which was operated by Esther Katrib (wife of Maurice Katrib).36 The third church group in Syria was formed, consisting of 30 members who were mostly men, and a chapel built in Bazaq in 1950.37 Ever ready to talk about their new-found faith, these members carried their Bibles with them wherever they went.38

The Voice of Prophecy, selling the Hope magazine, made good progress in the area. Whenever permits were obtainable, student colporteurs circulated SDA publications, especially the health books, in the large cities of Syria.39

Members continued to witness for their faith despite persecution at times. The report was given of a young Adventist serving in the army in 1949 who asked to be released from the duty of bearing arms and working on Sabbath. Issa and Srour met with the commander-in-chief to explain the Adventist beliefs and principles, but the commander refused to grant the request. The young man was subsequently persecuted and put in prison where he began giving Bible studies to the other prisoners. He was taken out and put in a very small holding container where he was unable to sit. The soldier began singing until finally he was taken back to the commander-in-chief who gave in and said “Go, keep the Sabbath.” Everyone in the camp knew this soldier was a faithful Adventist who kept true to his beliefs.40

In April 1949, the Middle East Messenger reported that a new town had been entered when Issa moved from Tartus to Homs to begin planting a church there. A number of young people showed keen interest in the study of the Bible and attended Bible studies even though meeting with considerable criticism and opposition from relatives and neighbors. Srour wrote: “This evidence of interest in the teachings of the Bible and determination to break the fetters of tradition in order to walk in the light of truth is certainly very encouraging.”41

Issa was given a couple of assistants. Zaki Hannawai, who had completed his education at Middle East College and was to be mentored by Issa in Homs, and George Raffoul who was an intern and was heading the School in Bazaq in one of the member’s homes.

Gabriel Katrib (cousin to Maurice Katrib) was one of Raffoul’s students. After graduating at the age of 17, he took on some of the teaching responsibilities until arrangements were made for him to study theology at Middle East College. Upon his graduation Gabriel was asked by the union to return to Syria as a pastor. However, he was required first to serve time in the army. Refusing to carry arms or serve on Sabbath, he was persecuted until the officer in charge allowed him to serve as a nurse for two years in the military hospital.42

From time-to-time false accusations led to the repression of the Seventh-day Adventist Church by the government. By 1949 persecution along the coast was beginning to escalate. When Srour discovered that a former teacher of his had climbed the political ladder and secured himself a very influential position in the government, he asked Issa to accompany him to a meeting requesting the government to acknowledge the Church and stop the persecution.43

At that time Syria was participating in the Arab-Israeli war (1948). The government disagreed with the call for pacifism they felt the Church was teaching and issued an order to pursue all Adventists. In 1951 the official church license was revoked. Meetings were forbidden as well as all evangelistic and outreach programs. SDA periodicals, correspondence lessons, and Sabbath School supplies were interdicted, workers were sometimes imprisoned, and the school and church in Bazaq were subsequently closed.44 Despite all these setbacks, lay missionary work prospered, membership increased, and interns continued to come in for training. Gabriel Katrib took over the work in Homs while Hannawai moved to Allepo. Hanna Kabbas then took over the work in Safeeta.45

Growth During the 1950s and 1960s despite Obstacles and Persecution

After much persecution, Srour and his wife were transferred to Egypt in 1950. In 1960 they accepted a call to Lebanon where he worked as the union evangelist and later as the division evangelist until 1967 when he became president of the Lebanon Section.46

In Homs and all across Syria, Issa and other members began to encounter ever mounting persecution. They were often beaten and thrown in jail. Issa had to deal with many investigations, detectives, and private investigators. Secret agents and intelligence agency representatives harassed him all the time, taking him in for interrogations both day and night. Issa often spent many hours and days in court appearances, convincing authorities to release jailed church members.

Finally, after repeatedly answering many interrogations and written requests for more information and documentation regarding the beliefs of the Adventist church, the director of investigations, Bahaa Ed-Deen Al-Refai met with Issa. After a thorough defense, Mr. Bahaa was pleased and expressed his intent to grant the Adventist Church full freedom to worship in all the Syrian provinces.47

When the matter went before the supreme director of the National Bureau of Investigation, Shawki Bek Al-Dakkak, he also acknowledged that the Church should have no further harassment from his department and advised Issa to pursue his efforts in retrieving the permit that was withdrawn in 1951. Officials from Lebanon came to verify the accomplishments and met with the authorities. Those present were Roger. A. Wilcox, Middle East Division president; Ed D. Gammun, Middle East College president; and Salim Noujaim, president of the mission in Beirut.48

For many years Lebanon and Syria were combined into one local mission. But in the first quarter of 1959, administration of the work in Syria was transferred from Beirut, Lebanon, to Damascus, where the Syria Section was organized. Tawfik Issa was appointed as director and Ibrahim Hanna as treasurer.49

Even though persecution continued, membership exploded as baptisms became more frequent. Youmna Ya’qoub, mother of Issa Kharma, and her children, and Mikhael Deeb and his family, Nadheera and Faris Dawu, and Youmna Bshara were among many that accepted the Adventist faith.50

When church growth was at its peak, Tawfik Issa accepted a call in December 1962 to pastor the Bishmezzine SDA Church in northern Lebanon. Maurice Katrib replaced him as president.51

Shortly after Issa’s departure, any permits given were revoked again and all the churches and the school were shuttered. Many of the believers emigrated to Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, the United States, Canada, Australia, etc. They continued to carry their faith wherever they landed and became missionaries from Syria as they took on positions of leadership in education, medical services, business administration, and many liturgical positions within the Adventist Church around the world.52

Membership throughout the country continued to grow despite the shuttered churches. Katrib reported in the Middle East Messenger: “In Syria we have no church buildings, no hospitals, no schools, and no physical facilities to aid us in spreading the message. Yet each year members are added to the church. The faithful laymen are in their quiet way able to accomplish a work for God in spite of obstacles.53

The lack of a church or school did not prevent the Syria Section from having Vacation Bible Schools. More than 50 boys and girls used to come to Maurice Katrib’s home in Damascus. In western Syria, Zaki Hannawi conducted three Vacation Bible Schools in the fields, under the trees and sky.54

Another active program and a highlight for the young people during this time was the Missionary Volunteer (MV) program among the youth all over Syria. Young people met regularly in their respective towns and villages to complete their honors requirements. It had been a decade, however, since members were able to gather together for a general meeting. On Friday evening, August 13, 1963, 150 people gathered at the shores of the Mediterranean Sea for an investiture service for 40 young people. Elder L. A. Skinner of the General Conference Missionary Volunteer department and Elder Anees A. Haddad, Division MV department secretary, joined in the service. Pins were awarded to 77 young people in recognition of accomplishments in the various MV classes. Katrib describes the investiture as the most joyful hour ever lived by some of the young people who were there for the first time in their lives, given that the last investiture was held ten years previous.55

On December 25, 1963, history was made for the first time during the existence of the church. A large delegation of prominent military and civil personalities representing His Excellency, Major General Amin Hafez, president of the Syrian Revolutionary Council and prime minister of the republic, visited the residence of Maurice Katrib (president of the Adventist Church) to offer Christmas greetings. After questions by Colonel Badawi concerning the principles and activities of the Church, Katrib pointed out that although the Church was recognized by most Arab countries and was active in humanitarian service, there was one Church in Syria that was closed even though the members were considered to be some of the best citizens in the country. Katrib requested the officials to allow the SDAs in Syria to participate in serving the needs of the society through their welfare, spiritual, medical, and educational work. Commenting afterwards on the visit, Katrib wrote: The Syrian members are pleased today because their prayers are being answered.”56

Construction of the Damascus Center

Later, following this visit, the Syrian government gave permission to open a prestigious center in Damascus, although it was stipulated that this building was not to be used as a church. Katrib reported that leading officials of the Syrian government promised support for registering the land and securing the building permit.57

When the building was finally completed in 1966 and ready for dedication, Roger Wilcox, president of Middle East Division wrote: “The Damascus center is nothing less than a modern miracle of God’s power in a troubled land.” Located in the city’s finest residential area and not too distant from the traditional place of Paul’s escape over the old wall, the large building housed facilities for worship, section headquarters, church activities, and worker residences.58 It was also used as the headquarters for the Voice of Prophecy and Health Ministry.

In 1968 Maurice Katrib was appointed by the General Conference to be secretary of the publishing department for the Middle East Division. He was replaced by his cousin Gabriel Katrib (ordained in Beirut on December 23, 1967) who was named by the Middle East Division Executive Committee on July 11, 1968, to be acting president of the Syria Section.59 At this time the SDA Church in Syria numbered approximately 200 members. The section had five organized churches and additional smaller companies.60 Katrib’s wife, Hanni, became the director of the Voice of Prophecy and Health Ministry, distributing thousands of books and magazines throughout Syria.61

Many amazing stories are told of people where seeds of the message were planted in their lives which even fire and passing time could not kill. In the Middle East Messenger, Lebanon Section president, Chafic Srour, told the story of Maroun Khoury, a mayor in a Syrian town many years ago:

At one time in his life Khoury was preparing for the priesthood of another denomination but had to drop out due to family reasons. When pastor Zaki Hannawi was distributing literature in his city, he was arrested and charged with heresy, and his books and papers were confiscated and burned. Khoury, the mayor, accompanied the authorities to see Hannawi and forbade him to continue his work. Hannawi remained serene throughout the ordeal which greatly impressed the mayor.

Many years later, in the summer of 1966, Khoury came across a friendly, prosperous man and learned that he was a Seventh-day Adventist. He had not heard that name since the burning of the books and was curious to investigate the religion. He learned that the man was a teacher at Middle East College (Jad Katrib) who directed him to visit field secretary Robert Darnell. Khoury talked in length and Darnell asked Professor Ignatius Yacoub (MEC) to give him Bible studies. The result was the subsequent baptism of Khoury who eventually became associate to evangelist Harley D. Bresee. Wrote Srour: “God help us all to be full-time evangelists, ever ready to plant, to water, and to harvest.”62

Challenges of the 1970s and 21st Century

During the reorganization of the Middle East Division in 1970, Syria became part of the East Mediterranean Field. In 1993 it became administratively part of the East Mediterranean Field, with headquarters in Lebanon and is still functioning in that capacity (2020).63

The program of Seventh-day Adventists against alcohol, tobacco, and drugs began to receive increasing interest and support in Syria. A Five-Day Plan to quit smoking was held in early 1973 in Damascus, to which over 5,000 people attended. The meetings were extensively covered by radio and TV, which resulted in many people calling in for further information. The director of the TV program estimated that close to 30,000 people had been influenced to stop smoking as a result of the Five-Day Plan.64 On July 4, 1978, the Afro-Mideast Division temperance director, Jack Mahon, lectured to a large group of Syrian doctors and dentists in Damascus, prompting many to give up their habit. In addition, more than 20,000 school children were brought in several busses to the central auditorium to listen to the lectures that were presented in both Arabic and English.65

Because of increasing number of challenges, misinformation, and false accusations regarding the teachings of the Sabbath, organized work in Syria came to a halt in mid-1970. Several of the laity were imprisoned and the Damascus Center was closed and has remained closed to date (2020). For several decades now the Seventh-day Adventist Church has been banned in Syria. The situation has created a diaspora as members of the Adventist faith community are unable to function as an established Christian church.

From March 5 to 10, 1997, Bert B. Beach from the General Conference Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department, visited Syria and established friendly relations with several Christian leaders in Syria and defused the existing anti-Adventist climate, which was based on faulty information. Beach wrote: “The Adventist Church should not only be recognized as an established Christian church in Syria, but should be able to contribute to the well-being of society through expertise in health care and development.”66

Since the late 1960’s, ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency) has been serving the people of Syria by helping with the rebuilding of housing, assistance with schools and education, providing food security, and other services for this war-torn nation. As of 2021, ADRA continues to operate in most of the governates of Syria with many opportunities for the Adventist workers to witness to their fellow indigenous non-Adventist workers.

Outside of Syria there are millions of refugees due to the civil war. As they settle in other countries, many reach out to our Adventist churches and Centers of Influence (COI), which have in turn helped thousands to heal from the trauma of war. Those who embrace the Adventist truths are sharing it with their scattered families around the globe. There are more Syrian Adventists than ever before. Most of our new believers wish they could freely return to their homes and find peace and freedom to share their new-found faith with their families.

Leaders of the Middle East and North Africa Union continue to pray for Syria in the hopes that one day the Church may be able to once again operate in this nation.67

Administrators

W. C. Ising (1910-1912); H. Erxberger (1915-1918); Nils Zerne (1923-1924); George Keough (1924-1925); Nils Zerne (1925-1930); W. C. Ising (1930-1937); O. Schuberth (1937-1938); George Keough (1938-1942); E. L. Branson (1943-1945); B. J. Mondics (1947-1951); R. H. Hartwell (1952-1955); W. E. Olson (1956-1957); R. H. Hartwell (1958-1959); Tawfik Issa (1959-1961); Maurice Katrib (1971-1972).68

Sources

“Au Revoir Silhouette. ” Afro-Mideast Impact, November 1972.

B. E., Pfeiffer. The European Seventh-day Adventist Mission in the Middle East 1887-1939. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1978.

Brauer, C. V. “One Thousand Enroll in Vacation Bible Schools.” Middle East Messenger, September to October 1963.

“Church Official Builds Bridges in Syria.” ARH, April 24, 1997.

“Division Day.” Middle East Messenger, Fourth Quarter 1962.

“Foreign Fields.” ARH, Sept. 20, 1898.

General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist, Office of Archives and Statistics. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook 1959, Syria, Middle East Messenger: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist, 1959, (First Quarter, 1959).

Ising, Walter. “Baptism in the Sea of Galilee.” ARH, August 28, 1930.

_____. “The Guiding Hand.” ARH, April 12, 1923.

_____. “Reaping the Harvest.” ARH, September 4, 1930.

“Katrib Cousins Get New Posts.” Middle East Messenger, July-August 1968.

Keough, George. “Arabic Union Mission.” ARH, August 12, 1943.

_____. “Our Work in the Middle East.” ARH, June 21, 1945.

“Lebanon-Syria Mission.” Middle East Messenger, April 1949.

Mondics, B. J. “A Moslim Convert.” ARH, January 9, 1947.

_____. “Progress in Syria.” ARH, May 23, 1946.

Nazirian, Manoug. The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Lebanon: 1897-1997. Beirut, Lebanon: East Mediterranean Field of SDAs, 1999.

Nowfel, Shukri. “A Synopsis of the History of Seventh-day Adventism in Lebanon and Syria.” A study requested by George J. Appel (President of Middle East Division of SDA from 1951-1958), April 1951, private letter, currently not cataloged, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Archives, Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A.

“72,270 Overflow Offering for Damascus Church Center.” Middle East Messenger, Jan-Feb 1964.

Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia (SDAE). Second revised edition. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996. S. v. “Syria.”

“Suria.” The Middle East Messenger, July-August 1968.

Srour, Chafik. “From Aleppo, Syria,” Of Special Interest, ARH, October 4, 1945.

_____. “Preaching in the Lebanon and Syria,” Middle East Messenger, April 1948.

_____. “Ready to Die…But not to Break the Commandments,” Middle East Messenger, February 1949.

“Syria Profile—Timeline,” BBC News, January 14, 2019. Accessed March 3, 2021. https://www. bbc. com/news/world-middle-east-14703995.

“Syrian Adventists Meet.” Middle East Messenger, Sept-Oct, 1963.

“Syrian Government Delegation Greets Church Leader.” Middle East Messenger, January-February, 1964.

“Temperance Impact on Arab World.” ARH, February 8, 1973.

“The Maroun Khoury Story.” ARH, March-April-May 1968.

“The Syrians.” ARH, Sept. 21, 1897.

“Two Churches Organized.” ARH, March 25, 1948.

Wilcox, Roger. “On the March in the Middle East,” Middle East Messenger, 15, no., 1, (1966).

Notes

  1. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia (SDAE), rev. ed., (1996), s. v. “Syria.” 

  2. “Syria Profile—Timeline,” BBC News, January 14, 2019, accessed March 3, 2021, https://www. bbc. com/news/world-middle-east-14703995.

  3. Ibid.

  4. “The Syrians,” ARH, Sept. 21, 1897, 10.

  5. “Foreign Fields.” ARH, Sept. 20, 1898, 12.

  6. SDAE, s.v. “Syria.”

  7. Manoug Nazirian, The Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Lebanon: 1897-1997 (Beirut, Lebanon: East Mediterranean Field of SDAs, 1999), 13.

  8. Pfeiffer, The European Seventh-day Adventist Mission in the Middle East 1879-1939, 69.

  9. Walter Ising, “The Guiding Hand,” ARH, April 12, 1923, 14.

  10. Ibid.

  11. Shukri Nowfel, “A Synopsis of the History of Seventh-day Adventism in Lebanon and Syria,” a study requested by George J. Appel (President of Middle East Division of SDA from 1951-1958), April 1951, private letter, currently not cataloged, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Archives, Silver Spring, Maryland, USA, 3.

  12. W. K. Ising, “Baptism in the Sea of Galilee,” ARH, August 28, 1930, 19.

  13. Ibid.

  14. Ibid.

  15. W. K. Ising, “Reaping the Harvest,” ARH, September 4, 1930, 24.

  16. Gabriel Katrib, Personal knowledge for being a pastor and president of the Syria Section from 1967 till the church was officially banned in approximately 1979.

  17. Tawfic Issa, unpublished biography, sent to Melanie Wixwat by daughter Intissar Issa, February 22, 2021. The biography is currently with Intissar Issa.

  18. Ibid.

  19. Gabriel Katrib, Personal knowledge.

  20. Nowfel, “History of Adventism,” 3.

  21. George Keough, “Arabic Union Mission,” ARH, August 12, 1943, 10.

  22. Ibid.

  23. George Keough, “Our Work in the Middle East,” ARH, June 21, 1945, 17.

  24. Ibid.

  25. Chafic Srour, “From Aleppo, Syria,” Of Special Interest, ARH, October 4, 1945, 24.

  26. B. J. Mondics, “Progress in Syria,” ARH, May 23, 1946, 17.

  27. Ibid.

  28. Ibid.

  29. Ibid.

  30. Gabrial Katrib, Personal knowledge.

  31. Ibid.

  32. Personal Interview by Melanie with Ibtisam Jbara, January 11, 2021. Ibtisam was born in Syria and her parents were one of the earlier converts.

  33. SDAE, s.v. “Syria.”

  34. Chafic Srour, “Preaching in the Lebanon and Syria,” Middle East Messenger, no., 3, (April 1948), 46.

  35. B. J. Mondics, “A Moslim Convert,” ARH, January 9, 1947, 16.

  36. Gabriel Katrib to Farid Khoury, March 24, 2021, Letter, currently in possession with Farid Khoury at Middle East University.

  37. SDAE, s.v. “Syria.”

  38. “Two Churches Organized,” ARH, March 25, 1948, 16.

  39. SDAE, s.v. “Syria.”

  40. Chafic Srour, “Ready to Die…But not to Break the Commandments,” Middle East Messenger, no., 2, (February 1949), 3.

  41. “Lebanon-Syria Mission,” Middle East Messenger, April 1949, 8.

  42. Katrib, Letter, March 24, 2021.

  43. Tawfik Issa, biography.

  44. Ibid.

  45. Tawfik Issa, biography.

  46. “Au Revoir Silhouette,” Afro-Mideast Impact, November 1972, 6.

  47. Tawfik Issa, biography.

  48. Ibid.

  49. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook 1959, (Syria, Middle East Messenger: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist, 1959), (First Quarter, 1959), 6.

  50. Tawfik Issa, biography.

  51. General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist, Office of Archives and Statistics, Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook 1959, (SDA Yearbook 1956) (Syria, Middle East Messenger: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist, 1959), (2nd Quarter, 1959), 6.

  52. Tawfik Issa, biography.

  53. “Division Day”, Middle East Messenger, Fourth Quarter 1962, 2.

  54. C. V. Brauer, “One Thousand Enroll in Vacation Bible Schools,” Middle East Messenger, September to October 1963, 1.

  55. “Syrian Adventists Meet,” Middle East Messenger, Sept-Oct 1963, 9.

  56. “Syrian Government Delegation Greets Church Leader,” Middle East Messenger, January-February 1964, 1.

  57. “72,270 Overflow Offering for Damascus Church Center,” Middle East Messenger, Jan-Feb 1964, 2.

  58. Roger Wilcox, “On the March in the Middle East,” Middle East Messenger, 15, no., 1, (1966), 5.

  59. “Katrib Cousins Get New Posts,” Middle East Messenger, July-Aug, 1968, 3.

  60. “Suria,” The Middle East Messenger, July-Aug, 1968, 8.

  61. Katrib, Letter, March 24, 2021.

  62. “The Maroun Khoury Story,” Middle East Messenger, March-April-May, 1968, 6.

  63. SDAE, s.v. “Syria.”

  64. “Temperance Impact on Arab World,” ARH, February 8, 1973, 24.

  65. Ibid.

  66. “Church Official Builds Bridges in Syria,” ARH, April 24, 1997, 22.

  67. Darron Boyd, President of East Mediterranean Region (2018 to current).

  68. SDA Yearbook, https://www.adventistyearbook.org/.

×

Katrib, Gabriel, Melanie Riches Wixwat. "Syria." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. May 19, 2021. Accessed October 16, 2021. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=9E01.

Katrib, Gabriel, Melanie Riches Wixwat. "Syria." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. May 19, 2021. Date of access October 16, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=9E01.

Katrib, Gabriel, Melanie Riches Wixwat (2021, May 19). Syria. Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved October 16, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=9E01.