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Jobs for Syrian Christians: 'Jesus was a carpenter--you can be one too'
"That's the only way we can fight emigration and halt the exodus of faithful from the lands where the faith was born."
By Joop Koopman
NEW YORK—“Jesus was a carpenter—you can be one too.” With these words the Melkite archbishop of Aleppo, Syria recently urged on reluctant candidates eligible for a professional formation course offered by the local Church in Syria’s second city.
Even as fierce fighting between the Syrian regime and opposition forces continues to rain down death and destruction on the city, Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart speaks with determination about his vision for life after his country’s bloody civil war. That vision has taken the form of the “Build to Stay” program, an ambitious initiative that aims to lay the groundwork—both practically and spiritually—for the enduring presence of the city’s local Christian community, its numbers cut in half to some 75,000 since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
“We have to do all we can to make sure Christians can stay in Aleppo and return from exile once the fighting stops,” the archbishop told international Christian charity Aid to the Church in Need. The leader of the city’s largest Church community believes the end of war is in sight. “If the Syrian government regains full control of Aleppo,” he argues, it will have won the struggle for Syria. The regime, the prelate said, is winning, with rebel forces pushed out to the city’s suburbs and bombing the city indiscriminately—wanton violence he considers to be acts of desperation and frustration.
The “Build to Stay” program currently has some 150 trainees, in such areas as plumbing, heating and refrigeration, steel-work, brick-laying, and carpentry—but also more female-skewing trades such as nursing, clothing design, and even that of the beautician. Nurses are in high demand, particularly to care for elderly residents and for city-dwellers convalescing from their wounds. A particularly humble trade, carpentry has proven a bit of a hard sell, hence the archbishop’s reminder that Christ plied that trade. A modest stipend for trainees is now serving as an incentive.
Aided by bankers, teachers and business leaders who have remained in Aleppo and who are spreading the word among the city’s shell-shocked Christians, Archbishop Jeanbart has a staff of some 30, most of them volunteers, to run the training program he believes is key for the future of his Church in Aleppo. Its success in that city would make it a model for other Syrian communities, large and small, he believes.
“People's fear of an invasion by ISIS or other radical Islamist groups” is abating, said Archbishop Jeanbart—“the people are beginning to have some hope.” He continued; “The Church has to capitalize on this glimmer of change and make sure that we are ready to give people the means to make a living” once peace returns to Syria.
“That’s the only way we can fight emigration,” the archbishop concluded,” and halt the exodus of faithful from the lands where the faith was born.”
Archbishop Jeanbart greets trainees of his "Build to Stay Program;" ACN photo