By a Global Outreach Commission member and partner to the Middle East
For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat—Isaiah 25:4 ESV.
When we pulled up to the refugee camp, the first thing I noticed was the lack of shade. The mid-day sun beat down oppressively, and there was no relief from its rays. Looking out over the Mesopotamian plains, I couldn’t see a single tree taller than a shrub. Hearing the crunch of our cars’ tires on the gravel, children began to run to greet us. When I stooped down to greet them on their level, I couldn’t help but notice that many of their young faces were chapped and peeling from the intense sun. Rows and rows of low grey tents were their homes now. As I walked the rows of tents, I was overwhelmed by the hopelessness of the situation. These people had nowhere else to go; surely if they had anywhere else to go, they would never have come to this desolate place.
The war in Syria has stretched on for four long years, with no end in sight. The conflict has claimed more than 220,000 civilian lives. Approximately half of Syria’s population has been forced to flee as refugees, either within Syria or in neighboring countries. Thousands risk everything and board overcrowded smugglers’ boats in a desperate attempt to escape to Europe. Even if they make it across the border, refugees face myriad challenges many of us have never had to face. More than 70 percent of Syrian refugee children are out of school. Adults in the workforce are often preyed upon because of their illegal status. Young girls can be forced into arranged marriages or prostitution. The Syrian conflict’s division along sectarian and ethnic lines means that refugees face the prospect of never returning to their homes, even if the conflict ends.
Yet there is hope. In the midst of the largest movement of people since World War II, God is calling people to himself. All across the region, Tenth’s partners are reporting spiritual breakthroughs. This year, a portion of Tenth’s Easter Sacrificial Offering supported a Lebanese church’s work with Syrian refugees in Beirut. Lebanon is particularly crucial: one in five people in that country is a Syrian refugee. Having lost everything, Syrians there are turning to Jesus. Our partner church is reporting an unprecedented openness to the gospel. Elsewhere, the Holy Spirit is awakening ancient Christian populations of the Middle East, galvanizing them to compassion for their Muslim neighbors. In one Middle Eastern city, the local Assyrian Christian congregation has led the way in meeting the needs of thousands of Muslims and Yazidis who have fled the terrors of ISIS, loving them in Jesus’ name.
What is our role in this? From our place of privilege, the conflict may seem distant and impersonal. Yet these people are on the heart of God: if we are seeking God’s heart, will he not guide us to the things that matter to him? The children of our church are learning about the world that is on God’s heart this summer through our Wide Open World program during the evening service. Every week they hear a report from one of Tenth’s global partners and learn how they can be praying for their work among the nations. Throughout the week, they collect “passport stamps” to raise money for Syrian refugee children in Beirut. As the body of Christ, we are called to boldly proclaim his message of mercy and hope to a dying and weary world, a calling not lost on our covenant children.
I got a taste of the hope of Jesus that day in the refugee camp. As I played with the children, one of the mothers approached me and shared her story. Fleeing the fighting, she had moved her family repeatedly within Syria before crossing the border to a neighboring country. Yet there was something different about this woman. She held herself with poise and dignity; a sparkle in her eyes showed that she had not yet given up hope. She asked me if I was a follower of Jesus. When I told her that I was, she broke into a huge smile and explained that she too was a Christian—Jesus had appeared to her in a dream while she was on the run in Syria. Now she was identifying as a follower of Jesus in that desolate camp. Pray for her and for thousands like her, that in the midst of turmoil and violence, many would turn to the only Living Water who will never leave us thirsty even in the harshest of circumstances. Brothers and sisters, let’s not be weary in doing good—God is at work in our world today!
The work of our global partners and Wide Open World is funded by the Outreach budget.
© 2021 Tenth Presbyterian Church.
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