From terror to living a dream

Recently arrived in Australia, pianist Mark knows who to thank for surviving Syrian warfare

When daily bombings in Aleppo brought constant fear into the life of Syrian teenager Mark Antonio Bonja, his piano became his sanctuary. The talented pianist would practise for hours after school to relax and not think about the pain of loss.

“Music is everything for me. When I play piano I feel I’m happy and I forget my pain and everything,” the recently arrived refugee tells Eternity.

Mark was never sure that he would make it home.

As rocket strikes and car bombs besieged his home town, Mark took his life into his hands every day on the way to school. He was never sure that he would make it home. During his Year 9 exams there was a heavy attack right next to his school and he had to duck for cover.

“The most painful moments were when I saw people in pools of blood … Very painful, I can’t forget that; and they are shouting for help. I can’t help them because the bombs are exploding,” says Mark, who is now 16.

So when a bomb made a direct hit on his home while he was at school, it was the destruction of his piano that Mark felt most acutely.

“It wasn’t just people who died in the war. The dreams of many people died too.”

“Terrorists blew up my piano,” was how the young refugee expressed it at Parliament House in Canberra in June, when he was addressing a reception to mark World Refugee Day.

Mark was the headline attraction among a contingent of recently arrived Syrian and Iraqi refugees. They are all members of Sydney churches, and travelled by bus to attend the event.

Despite having barely touched the piano for two years, Mark made a deep impression by playing two fiercely virtuosic pieces to an audience that included the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.

Mark told the gathering of what he had lost: “It wasn’t just people who died in the war. The dreams of many people died too. I was one of those people.”

“My dream is to become a pianist in Australia, in the world.”

After the family escaped to Lebanon in 2015, Mark was unable to continue his piano studies, which he had excelled at since the age of five.

“Life in Lebanon was very hard for me. I didn’t go to school or a piano institute because I had to work every day,” he told the Canberra audience.

But since arriving with his family six months ago under a special humanitarian visa, his dream of becoming a professional pianist has been reignited. He hopes to be accepted into the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

“My dream is to become a pianist in Australia, in the world,” he tells Eternity, while taking a break from work experience at Theme and Variations Piano Services in Willoughby. “I’ll continue my studying in the piano in the school to be better at piano.”

Mark doesn’t forget who is really responsible for his rescue and new life.

While Mark is grateful to the Australian government for offering his family freedom, he doesn’t forget who is really responsible for their rescue and new life.

“Jesus means everything for me. He is doing everything, every time he does, every moment he’s with me and all people. He help us to come to Australia and [be] still alive.

“Of course, every day I pray too much to Jesus because he helped us very much. He died for us on the cross. And he’s the way.”


Some prayer points to help

Pray that recent arrivals to Australia, such as Mark, will be welcomed, supported and encouraged in their new phase of life.