The 12-year-old son of “a ministry team leader” was among those murdered last month by militants of the Islamic State group, missionaries confirmed.
A mission director who trained the native Christian workers had urged them to flee the region, but they apparently refused to leave.
“Every time we talked to them they were always saying: ‘We want to stay here – this is what God has told us to do. This is what we want to do’,”the official added in a statement released by the Christians’ mission group Christian Aid Mission (CAM).
“They just wanted to stay and share the Gospel,” said the official whose name was not revealed amid security concerns.
Relatives said Islamic State militants captured the Christian workers in a village in the Aleppo area on August 7. Several weeks later they
were asked if they had renounced Islam for Christianity. When the Christians said that they had, the militants demanded that they
return to Islam, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
However, “the Christians said they would never renounce Christ,” CAM told BosNewsLife.
The 41-year-old team leader, his young son and two “ministry members in their 20s” were questioned at one village site where Islamic State
militants reportedly summoned a crowd. The team leader was targeted as he presided over nine house churches he had helped to establish. His son was two months away from his 13th birthday, Christians said.
“All were badly brutalized and then crucified,” the mission director explained in remarks seen by BosNewsLife. “They were left on their crosses for two days. ‘No one was allowed to remove them.”
CAM said the Christian “martyrs died beside signs” the militants had put up “identifying them as ‘infidels’.”
Eight other team members, including two women, were taken to another site in the village on August 28 and were asked similar questions in front of a crowd, Christians recalled.
The women, ages 29 and 33, reportedly tried to tell the Islamic State militants they “were only sharing the peace and love of Christ and asked what they had done wrong to deserve the abuse.”
Islamic militants then publicly raped the women, who continued to pray during the ordeal, leading the Islamic State militants to beat them all the more furiously, missionaries said.
As the two women and the six men knelt before they were beheaded, they were all praying, according to witnesses.
“Villagers said some were praying in the name of Jesus, others said some were praying the Lord’s prayer, and others said some of them lifted their heads to commend their spirits to Jesus,” the mission director recalled. “One of the women looked up and seemed to be almost smiling as she said, ‘Jesus!'”
After they were beheaded, their bodies were hung on crosses, the ministry director said, his voice breaking, according to a transcript obtained by BosNewsLife. He said he had trained all of the workers for their evangelistic ministry, and he had baptized the team leader and some of the others.
CAM expressed concern that at least hundreds of other former Muslims in Syrian villages are in danger of being captured and killed by the Islamic State group, which is fighting to establish a caliphate in which apostasy is punishable by death.
“The underground church in the region has mushroomed since June 2014” when the group “began terrorizing those who do not swear allegiance to its caliphate, both non-Muslims and Muslims,” CAM added. “Consequently, the potential for large-scale executions has grown along with the gains in Islamic State-controlled territory.”
Local missionaries assisted by Christian Aid Mission are providing resources and trying to find ways to evacuate targeted families by other routes.
Yet many Christian workers also remain in Syria. CAM said it helps local Christian workers who do not or cannot leave with the means to survive and operate their “outreaches”. Even those who leave, however, may encounter Islamic militants and other “criminals in refugee camps”, said the leader of another mission group that CAM assists.
He spoke of a Muslim from northern Syria who, like all men in areas that Islamic State takes over, was coerced into joining the caliphate or being killed.
The man fled the country after his brother was killed in the fighting. Disillusioned with Islamic State but still adhering to Islam and its teaching that Christians and Jews are unclean “pigs,” he went to Amman, Jordan, as he had learned that relatives there were receiving aid from Christians, CAM said .
The Muslim, whose name was withheld for security reasons, went to a Christian meeting with the intention of killing the aid workers gathered there, a mission director said.
Yet something kept him from following through on his plan, though, “and that night he saw Jesus in a dream,” the director added in a statement to BosNewsLife. “The next day he came back and said, ‘I came to kill you, but last night I saw Jesus, and I want to know what are you teaching – who is this One who held me up from killing you?'” the director added.
“He received Christ with tears, and today he’s actually helping in the church, helping out other people,” the official added. “We’re praying for lots of such Sauls to change to Pauls,” the director said, referring to the Biblical Apostle Paul whose name was changed after he ended persecuting Christians.
The sorrow of the team leader who lost 11 co-workers and one of their children last month has been deep, but he hopes their faithfulness could help change the hearts of persecutors.
“They kept on praying loudly and sharing Jesus until their last breath,” he said. “They did this in front of the villagers as a testimony for others.”
He said he asked Christians for prayer for surviving family members and for himself. “These things have been very hard on me,” he stressed. “What wrong did those people do to deserve to die? ”
Yet, there is hope, he said. “What is happening is more and more people are being saved. The ministry is growing and growing – in the past we used to pray to have one person from a Muslim background come to the Lord. Now there are so many we can barely handle all the work among them.”