NEWS | Ava Thomas & Eden Nelson (Baptist Press)
Aman* used to be a banker in Syria, but that’s a life he can hardly remember anymore.
Now three years on the other side of a harrowing escape from his war-torn homeland, he’s stuck in a bleak job market, washing dishes for 10 hours a day to feed his starving family.
And worst of all, he’s starting to wonder if it’s ever going to end.
It’s an exhausting life for Aman and the 3 million other Syrian refugees who have flooded surrounding countries, Don Alan*, a Christian leader in the region, said.
Think back to a day when you missed a meal, or a night when you weren’t sure you were ever going to get home, Alan said. “Multiply that by 100 or 1,000, and that is a portion of what the Syrian refugee feels.”
Alan hopes Christians in the West will take up the cause of their Syrian brothers and sisters and persist in holding them up.
“Pray that we would not become weary of this crisis,” Alan said. “Some of them have been refugees for more than three years. We must persevere in supporting them.”
Aid funds from government organizations are drying up, he said, and Syria’s neighbors are bending under the burden of refugees spilling over their borders.
Lebanon’s tallies indicate that by year’s end, one third of the tiny country’s population will be refugees from Syria. Ross Mountain, the U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator, called it an “existential crisis” for Lebanon. More than one million refugees have amplified the country’s water shortage into a serious problem.
Refugees are also straining the country’s economy, accepting jobs for less pay than Lebanese, Mountain said.
To the north of Syria, many Turks are also growing weary of absorbing more and more waves of their neighbors.
Though the Turkish government has extended health care and other continuing aid to Syrian refugees, in a January poll 55% of Turks indicated they would like to see the borders closed to fleeing Syrians. Going further, 30% of those wanted to send back the Syrians already living in Turkey.
“Surrounding countries continue to seek ways to find stability in the midst of such a crush of refugees,” Alan said.
Those countries also face fresh challenges, thanks to the emergence of the Islamic state spanning parts of Syria and Iraq, he said.
The militant group ISIS, which recently declared the Islamic state, is exacerbating the region’s refugee problem at an extraordinary rate through broad violence and religious persecution, Alan said. Iraqis are now joining their Syrian neighbors in pouring over the borders – especially Christians.
In mid-July, ISIS gave thousands of Christians in northern Iraq an ultimatum to leave the region or face execution. As a result, Christians are being forced to leave homes and villages where they have lived for centuries, Alan said.
Thousands have fled, and many people are asking if this signals the end of Christianity in Iraq (see sidebar).
The ramifications of the Middle East’s refugee crisis will be “felt for decades to come,” Alan said. It’s a bleak situation, he said, but he hopes Christians around the globe will pray that in the midst of the darkness God will do “something new in our day.”
“Pray that we would be courageous and bold. The Gospel is one of peace, even in the midst of pain and turmoil,” he said. “Pray that we would respond with open hearts and open hands. There are ways we can help today by giving, praying and speaking of the hurt of those fleeing this conflict.”
When the Bible is so clear about helping the marginalized, Alan said, how can Christians not respond to “one of the greatest crises of our time?”
“The question to you and me is will we catch His vision for what He is doing?” Alan said. “As Jesus reminded us, if we do it to the least, the one most forgotten, then we do it to Him.”
Baptist Global Response is providing food and hygiene kits to refugee families. For more info, go to www.gobgr.org
Ava Thomas and Eden Nelson are writers for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. Story excerpted from Baptist Press.