Photo courtesy of Syrian Orthodox Church

Bishop Selwanos Petros al-Nemeh of the Syrian Orthodox Church stands in front of a wall riddled with bullet holes at the evacuated orphanage at the Syrian Coptic church in Homs, Syria.

AKRON, Pa. – An armed opposition group is positioned behind the orphanage located on the grounds of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Homs, Syria. The opposition trades shelling with the Assad government forces in front of the church.

The orphanage and the church are caught in the middle.

In January, 20 orphans, ages 6 to 18, were evacuated from the orphanage, where they had regular meals, structured activities and tutoring and where they received spiritual and emotional support from the priests and the house mothers.

Bombing caused the church roof to collapse in early June and damage continues.

The Syrian Orthodox Church and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), who supported the orphans at the orphanage through its Global Family education sponsorship program, continue to provide for them by supporting their relatives who are now caring for them indefinitely.

In many cases, these are the same family members who turned the children over to the orphanage because they struggled to care for them, said Sarah Adams, MCC representative living in Lebanon and overseeing MCC program there and in Syria. She is from Westerville, Ohio.

“A big concern is that they’ve lost their support system and what’s familiar to them. The church is their home. The orphanage is their home. The one place they felt safe became the same place they heard shooting,” she said. 

“The whole country has lost a sense of security, but for kids, it’s very real,” Adams added. “They were moved once. Then they were moved again and separated from their friends.

“Living with families outside of the city is safer than staying in the orphanage, but the violence has now begun to spread beyond the city,” she said.

Bishop Selwanos Petros al-Nemeh, who used to live at the church, is keeping in touch with them through their relatives and provides for their needs.

The orphans are just one group of people in the Middle East affected by the violence in Syria. MCC is appealing for $500,000 and contributions of relief kits to replenish the supply sent to partner organizations throughout the Middle East. MCC partners provide humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees and, in Lebanon, build at the community level.

Donations can be made at MCC offices, marked “Middle East Crisis” or online at For more information about assembling relief kits please call the nearest MCC office or visit

Linda Espenshade is news coordinator for MCC U.S.