Karim Yaghleji is a Syrian-born Christian who is living in Minnesota.
“Actually my last name is Turkish,” said Yaghleji.
Many years ago his family fled Turkey to avoid the persecution of Christians in that nation, and they ended up in Syria.
Christian persecution again became a reality this time in Syria, and so Yaghleji again fled.
“My mother was afraid I would be kidnapped or killed,” said Yaghleji, who visited the Belview area July 9 and presented his story to the Our Savior’s and Rock Dell Lutheran churches.
At the home of Pastor Andrew Soule, he again shared his story.
Coming to the United States was not as challenging for Yaghleji, as he had visited in March 2012 for a conference. So, his visa was still good when he made his return trip that December.
As an English teacher in Syria, Yaghleji recognized what was happening all around him, and he knew people, especially Christians, were being killed.
So he left his family and the city of Aleppo, the place he had lived, behind for a new life in the United States.
Yaghleji said he was a member of the Syrian Orthodox Church, which he said has a storied history in the Middle East.
“It is the oldest Christian church in Syria and one of the oldest churches in the world,” he said.
At one time not that many years ago, 10 percent of the population of Syria was classified as Christian, which he said meant there were about 2 million Christians in that country.
“That number is about half today,” said Yaghleji.
Arriving in the United States, Yaghleji settled in Joplin, Mo. where he lived with a friend. It was during that time when Yaghleji made a decision to answer the call to ministry, which led him to New Ulm where he started his studies of the Christian faith, including the languages of Greek and Hebrew.
“I applied to be an ESL teacher in Missouri,” he said.
However, he knew that was not what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
So, he opted for something completely new and different.
“Taking on a second career is not easy,” said Yaghleji, who is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity degree at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato.
Having just finished his first year of seminary, Yaghleji said he has three years to go and three years to discern where God wants him to serve.
“How I am used in the future is not up to me,” said Yaghleji, adding he is waiting to see how God will use him. “What I end up doing is God’s will.”
That, he said, could mean serving in a community with an existing Syrian church, or it might mean going to a new city and helping to establish a new Syrian congregation.
Of course, he agreed, it could also mean going back to Syria and serving there.
Things continue to be challenging in Syria, said Yaghleji. He said just recently he was able to speak with his mother who told him the electricity had been giving them trouble.
“In a country where it can be 115-120 degrees not having electricity is a big issue,” he said.
Yaghleji admitted he fears for the safety of family and other Christians in Syria, adding it does not appear improvement is happening.
“Things seem to be getting worse and worse,” he said, and he believes that likely is not going to change any time soon.
It may take up to a decade for change to occur in Syria, he surmised, adding after that it will take many more decades to rebuild all that has been destroyed. There are still millions of people who are suffering as part of the Syrian conflict that has been going on for a number of years, and millions of people have been displaced.
Yaghleji said many of those refugees are in Europe today, and he believes that is a much better long-term solution than bringing refugees to the United States.
For those Syrians, Europe is still close to their homeland of Syria.
Yaghleji believes those Syrian refugees who come to the United States and Canada may never return to Syria, and he believes it is critical for the people of Syria, especially those of the Christian faith, to return there one day to help rebuild the nation.
Yaghleji said he would love to see more outside intervention in Syria, especially from the United States, as he believes that kind of influence can help put an end to the unrest and begin the process of rebuilding.
He believes a cooperative effort made up of many nations is the best way for an agreement to be reached.
“I pray for that to happen,” Yaghleji said.
The Christian influence in Syria is dwindling, said Yaghleji. The Christian church in other parts of the world can play a part in helping through prayer and support, and Yaghleji said the best way to send support is through the established churches in Syria.
That, he added, can guarantee any support is being used to help the people in the best ways possible.
Yaghleji said he remains optimistic for Syria, but he knows it is going to be a long process before this nation that has seen so much devastation can ever be healed.
That, he said, will take God’s doing and Christians as a whole doing their part to help determine the eternal solution for the nation.