Dear Friends, this is Author David Telbat. With Valentine’s Day upon us, I wanted to capture both the character of the Persecuted Church, as well as the heart of true romance under a strained setting. With so much loss in the world and so little care for God’s view of marriage in today’s culture, will Christians remain steadfast on God’s principles of love? The following story, “Matchmaking in Syria,” may relate only a little to some of us, but it examines the conditions that exist in Syria. I also hope this story serves to lighten a heavy heart. Let’s cling to God who gives us hope under all circumstances!
Matchmaking in Syria
by D.I. Telbat
Deep underground in the decimated city of Aleppo, Syria, twelve young women hushed themselves as they waited in the candlelight. The sub-basement level had once been a storage room for ancient Christian artifacts, but during the ISIS occupation and devastation, the room had become a bunker. During pitched battles on the surface of the scorched city, the women had huddled and prayed to God Almighty, in the name of Jesus Christ. They were Christians. They were survivors.
Wande, at the age of sixty, was their house-mother. She was from Tanzania, and had come to Syria at the beginning of the Arab Spring years earlier, knowing things would end in ugliness for those who were often mistreated in the Syrian culture. As a Christian, Wande had begun to harbor the women when they were just girls, taking them in one by one. Many had been kidnapped early-on by ISIS, their families murdered. All of them had been abused, but Wande had opened her heart to the otherwise discarded girls. They’d become her daughters.
The women had moved their bedding across the room against the wall. The peddle sewing machines and laptops had been cleared away, and tablecloths now covered the rickety tables. Their shelter of six years was transformed into a banquet hall, and each of the young women wore their finest dresses, made by their own hands.
Peering at her daughters, Wande noticed they all clutched their worn Bibles. The new Books had come years earlier, smuggled inside a shipment of fabric, sent by French Christians through their Damascus network. The outcasts hadn’t wasted their time in the shelter. Each of the girls were now strong Christians, devout in prayer, and diligent students of God’s Word.
A clanging sound from above startled the room of women. A door opened and slammed. In past months and years, noise from above had signaled danger. Whole days had been spent in total darkness as Wande had whispered prayers and assurances to the girls. But today, the noise from above brought promise—the promise of suitors, acceptance, and even love.
The family of sisters whispered and giggled, each waiting to be approached by a prince in their royal ballroom. And shortly, a brown face emerged from the corridor stairway that connected them to the world above. It was a man’s face, and even in the dim candlelight, Wande saw the kindness in his eyes. Emil was once a school teacher in Iraq. Now, he was an operator in the Christian underground across the Middle East, with a base in Damascus.
Emil moved into the room and approached Wande. He nodded a greeting at the waiting ladies, having seen them over the years during supply runs. Twelve young men followed behind him, silent and uncertain, wearing their finest suits.
“You’re late,” Wande said as she and Emil embraced. They were the same age, often alone in their separate ministries, but bound as a team in their care for God’s people. “Any trouble?”
“Just a roadblock.” Emil grinned. Wande recalled that he’d once been married in Iraq, but the tragedies of war had made him a widower. “Nothing a little faith in a Mighty God cannot overcome.”
He moved to her side, and they naturally held hands as they examined the room, now filled with awkward silence. The young women remained against the far wall, and the young men milled about in small groups, casting shy glances at their counterparts.
“Your boys have grown up nicely,” Wande whispered. “They were barely clothed and fed last I visited your home in Damascus.”
“There were just three boys then.” Emil inhaled with pride. “Now, look at them. They are strong men. We don’t have much food, but at least they have nice suits—thanks to your daughters.”
“How long do you think it will take my girls to realize the men are wearing the very clothes made for their future husbands?”
“It was a fine twist to your matchmaking.” Emil chuckled. “Only God could bring together such broken lives and make them so complete in one another.”
“Some of my daughters have been crying with concern that they won’t be desirable for your sons after all they’ve been through when they were captives.”
“Ah, but my sons are true men with hearts for God. They all have pasts themselves, some of them unspeakable histories. Now, their hearts are on a future of Christian service. They care more about having a strong Christian wife than what happened in bygone days. I’ve spoken to them much about this, and not one of these men have drawn back. God’s love is inside each one of them. Besides, your daughters seem much more refined than my rowdy sons!”
“Well, my daughters are trained. Each of them can read, write, and type now, and some even play instruments. All are able to sew, obviously, and they’ve memorized many Scriptures, in case their Bibles are one day confiscated. They’re very disciplined and studious. Whichever young man each is matched with, she will be a good helpmate.”
“Yes, they’ll make fine matches.” Emil suddenly frowned in the candlelight. “But it seems my sons are cowards at the moment. After all the training—”
Wande pulled Emil back as he started forward.
“No, Emil. Let them find their own way now. Let God drive their hearts. After all, He’ll be the One who drives them in the days to come. If they can’t find one another now, they’ll never support one another as they continue Christ’s work together.”
“Ah, it is that wisdom that indicates to me what fine daughters you have raised.” Emil’s smile returned. “But what will we do, now that our children will be married off? We’ll be alone again.”
“Not for long.” Wande sighed. “There are other outcasts, new orphans, more boys and girls to raise up to be strong men and women for Jesus. Look!”
From the group of men, one tall gentleman was the first to approach the line of women. He walked stiffly up to a tall young lady and introduced himself, then asked for her name. Wande gasped and clung more tightly to Emil’s hand. It was all so wonderful to her old heart, and terribly sad at the same time. Within hours, her daughters would be married and gone. But at least they would have brave Christian husbands, providers, and servants. No longer would they live inside an old basement, hiding and afraid.
The rest of the young men surged forward, surely not wanting any of the young ladies to be chosen last. The silence of the shelter disappeared as quiet laughter and conversation began. One of the women inspected her gentleman’s suit and alerted her sisters. The din rose to a deafening level as the suits were finally understood to be some of the very clothing the young women had produced. Glances were cast toward Wande as her daughters smiled and acknowledged her subtle handiwork in the matchmaking in Syria.
The sons of Emil and the daughters of Wande had never met before, but they had been prepared for years for this very day—to connect and serve Christ together.
Within the hour, the matches were settled, with no fuss or complaining, and Emil performed a once-for-all marriage ceremony. Twelve sisters and twelve brothers were married at one time. The daughters became wives, though they’d always be Wande’s daughters. And the sons became husbands, though they’d always be Emil’s sons.
The marriage banquet followed. Their provisions were few, but none of the newlyweds were much interested in eating, anyway. They were more interested in sharing stories of their years in hiding, of their secret schooling, hidden away from ISIS, or introducing their sisters to their new husbands.
Most of them understood that when they departed the shelter that night and left Aleppo, they wouldn’t see one another again until they entered eternity. Some would suffer and die in their service, but their fear was disrupted by a deep faith that their God was mighty and sovereign, and that even in death, God would resurrect them into His loving arms.
Emil blessed each of his sons by name, and told many stories that drew laughter. And Wande blessed each of her daughters by name, telling many stories that drew tears. It was the saddest, happy day Wande could remember in all her years of service to Christ.
The hour of departure finally arrived. From the corridor, the sons fetched backpacks, and from along the wall, the daughters collected their belongings. One at a time, the couples left the shelter to begin their new lives in assigned cities and livelihoods prearranged according to the skills of the men. Their ministries, and even their families, would grow naturally. They had all been equipped to love God and one another.
By midnight, Emil and Wande were alone in the basement. A couple old sewing machines remained, and a few mattresses leaned against the wall. The emptiness of the room that had been filled with love and voices for so many years, made Wande weep fresh tears. Emil held her, as he had as a friend in years past, and he prayed for them both. The next generation of forgotten boys and girls needed to be raised up, but for now, the two workers for Christ comforted one another.
It was during that time of closeness that Emil startled Wande with a marriage proposal of his own.
“But, we’re so old already!” Wande answered him.
Emil only smiled broadly and said, “Have we witnessed so much young love lately that we’ve become sour at the prospect of aged love?”
“Love?” She frowned and touched her hair, suddenly self-conscious. “For a matchmaker, I’m not much of a match, Emil.”
“It’s just like God, in His wisdom and perhaps His humor, to match together for Himself two matchmakers.”
“You would really have me?”
“I would be delighted to have you as my wife.”
Wande embraced him tightly. She’d been so focused on raising her daughters that companionship for herself had never dawned on her. It seemed the perfect blessing from God to complete her years of sacrifice. Emil was a fine man.
“I accept,” she said.
Gathering her few belongings, Wande joined Emil and they departed the Aleppo shelter while it was still dark outside. No longer would they work separately for Jesus, but together now, for God had been busy matchmaking in Syria as well!
Enjoy another short story of true sacrificial love in, “Homeless Heart,” Christian Fiction by D.I. Telbat. Visit our Short Adventure Stories Page for more inspirational stories, as well as this page for his longer stories.
Prayer Prompt: Pray for true Christians in Syria, some who have chosen to stay behind to reach their fellow countrymen with the Gospel (article by Open Doors).
COMING UP: Join us next time for David Telbat’s Author Reflection, “Spiritual Coffee Cup.”