Date: April 23, 2014
Lebanon (IMB/MNN)– The following update and call to action regarding Syrian refugees is written by Eden Nelson of International Mission Board:
As Lebanon registered its 1 millionth Syrian refugee in early April, the United Nations labeled it a “devastating milestone.”
Four years after opening its borders to Syrians fleeing war, Lebanon struggles to hold the weight of the new population that calls it home. The small nation alone holds nearly half the 2.5 million registered refugees who have fled from Syria to five neighboring countries: Lebanon, Turkey, Cyprus, Jordan, and Iraq.
And 2,500 new names are being added to the total in Lebanon each day, but that does not touch the total of people affected by the war. The UN estimates that a total of 9 million refugees–documented and undocumented–have fled Syria, with 6.5 million displaced within the war-torn country.
*Rick Gladson, a Christian worker serving among Syrians in Lebanon, said concerning the latest headlines, “The key word is ‘registered,’ meaning registered with UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). I think everyone in the country would tell you there are many more than 1 million Syrian refugees here.”
“It’s likely that every fourth person in Lebanon is Syrian,” he said. “I think people are starting to recognize that there is no ‘reset’ button for the Syrian crises. If the war miraculously ended tomorrow, the likelihood that the millions of displaced Syrians would just return home is slim to nil. In many ways, this conflict has permanently altered the shape of the region.”
Describing what a country roughly the size of Connecticut is like with such a high number of refugees, Gladson explained that every major intersection has a few Syrian beggars moving from car to car “with an outstretched hand” hoping to sell an item or receive help.
*Don Alan, a Christian worker living in the region, said that in Lebanon, Syrian refugees live everywhere and anywhere–in places that people in the West would condemn and places “that you would never imagine anyone living”–and not just one or two, but dozens.
In the midst of that, relief agencies struggle to keep up with the vast need. The UN’s World Food Programme has cut its food aid to Syrians by a fifth because of lack of funds, according to BBC News.
As refugee agencies and NGOs work to determine how to meet the devastating need of Syrians in Lebanon, Christian workers are also determining new strategies with hopes of reaching hurting people. They are partnering with local congregations to provide humanitarian relief, making visits to families to distribute aid, hearing their stories, and sharing the Gospel with them.
“They want to be heard, they want their story told, and they need the help that is being offered them,” Alan said. “So many of them don’t know the deeper need they have for a Savior, but it shows on their faces as they deal with the hardships that life has put before them.”
He said he hears stories of families who had to leave their homes behind, families whose children sleep fitfully each night from memories of bombs. He also hears stories recalling the loss of loved ones and the heartbreaking ways it has affected their families.
And as Alan sits with hurting refugees and senses their burden, he often feels overwhelmed.
“Humanly speaking we are unable to respond adequately, yet God is very clearly opening the door for His Church to respond and step into refugees’ lives that have been shattered to bring hope and purpose and most of all a real peace that the world cannot give,” he said. “May we be faithful to what our Father is calling us to do.”
Gladson said he senses that the vast majority of Syrians have come into a deeper, more personal understanding of the depravity of the human race.
Syrians, he said, pinned their hopes on the Arab Spring to bring about a better Syria–a “salvation of sorts from injustice. [But] over the course of the past three years, they have lost all confidence in man.”
“In the end, it’s obvious that neither side in this conflict has the power to reshape a society for the better,” Gladson said. “Both sides are trying to bring about change from the outside in, with brute force and violence. Christ changes a society from the inside out by making dead hearts alive to Him.”
Gladson said his prayer is that God would call a group of Syrians to Himself in Lebanon and that they would love Him and live out His commandments. He hopes one day “the refugees will go back into Syria and represent redemption in a land that has seen so much suffering.
“One thing is certain: we have never seen so much openness among Muslims than what we’re experiencing with our Syrian friends in Lebanon,” Gladson said.
With rising opportunities to share the Gospel, there are ways Christians around the world can get involved directly in meeting the desperate needs of Syrians in Lebanon.
Gladson believes first and foremost that Western believers can pray for Syrians by bringing “their suffering, their needs, their plight, and their salvation before the loving Father that created them–in a sense, sharing in their suffering.
“It brings me much joy and my Syrian friends even more to be able to tell them that there are people thousands of miles away, who will probably never set eyes on the Middle East, who pray for them,” he said.
Another way to get involved, Gladson said, is to contribute financially to the Baptist Global Response Syria Crisis Fund.
“This money goes to providing refugees with food parcels and hygiene kits delivered by messengers of the Gospel.”
As the number of refugees increases each day, Christian workers in the Middle East ask that the global Church not give up fighting for Syria through prayer and support.
“Remember that these people are not just a number–1 million–but people with stories, hurts, and needs,” Alan said. “Don’t give up on Syria. Pray that God would awaken in us a burden to lift up these families impacted by the ongoing conflict.”
The refugees are not just faceless strangers: they are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles feeling “unimaginable suffering and hardship,” he said.
“Each person has at least someone who has been lost in this tragic war,” he said. “Each one is loved by the Father and is one for whom He sent His Son to bring them to Him.
“With great displacements of people, God is doing something that we must join Him in.”
Eden Nelson is a writer for the IMB based out of the Middle East.