Mike* was a typical university student. As a fourth-year English literature student at Aleppo University in Syria, life was busy, full of classes and late night work on assignments and papers. It was the usual hectic schedule common to students on campuses across the world.
One fateful morning, life as he knew it turned upside down when soldiers and military vehicles showed up in the city. There was gunfire and shouting in the streets. Aleppo University was hit with a devastating mortar attack, killing nearly 100 people.
His parents, pastors in a small church in the city, quickly sent him to Beirut to avoid being drafted into the Syrian army.
Mike took the last flight out of Aleppo International Airport before it was closed due to security concerns. He landed in Beirut, Lebanon where he stayed with Christian friends of his parents, who had remained in Aleppo. His goal was to immigrate to Canada as a refugee along with his parents.
While in Beirut, some of the local churches felt God calling them to bring blankets and food to the Muslim refugee camps in the north. Mike felt this was a call for him to leave his ‘safe zone’ and step into the ‘danger zone’ of his faith. His life would be in danger doing this, but the call was clear. Later, he described this missions work as a time when his Christian faith became powerfully alive to him.
Living in Beirut also brought him into contact with The Navigators, through whom he learned of the exciting ministry happening among Syrian families in the coastal cities of his home country. The Navigators helped him grow in his understanding of and relationship with God. His three years in Beirut were a wonderful season of spiritual growth for him.
While living there, he also met and married his wife Angela*. Only a few days after their wedding, Mike was notified by the Canadian embassy of a flight leaving for Calgary. In early September he landed in Calgary to join his parents, who had arrived several weeks earlier.
Mike and I first met after he contacted me through Navigators in Beirut. I invited him to come and share his story with our University of Calgary Navigator student group. You could’ve heard a pin drop during Mike’s talk to the students. It’s not often our Navigator group hears a first-hand account from a fellow student who survived a warzone. Afterwards we all prayed for his wife’s safety, who is still in Beirut awaiting refugee status. The mid-November ISIS bombings in Beirut occurred in Angela’s neighbourhood, but fortunately she was at the local university at the time.
Mike has a heart for investing in the lives of students himself. If there was anything he learned from his Navigator mentors in the Middle East, it was the value and worth of every individual. This truth was foremost in his mind during those days of ministering in the refugee camps. “It’s very cold in Canada”, he tells me. “But people here have been very friendly to me.”
*Names have been changed for privacy and protection