International (MNN) — One of the big questions that people have when they hear about the refugee crisis is: “How did this suddenly get so big?”
If you start with Syria and the Arab Spring (now called the Arab Uprising) of 2011, you can see where the spark began. Syrians joined in the protest against the authoritarian regime of President Bashar Assad. He responded with brutality, which fueled the flame of rebellion, which eventually became a civil war.
While fighting continued in Syria, another group–a militant Islamist group–rose up in Iraq with plans to re-create the Caliphate (a Muslim government under the supreme rule of the Caliph, a direct descendant of Muhammad). Within weeks, they rolled across parts of Iraq and Syria and called the territory they controlled the “Islamic State.”
About half of Syria’s population–11 million people–have been displaced, either inside Syria or have taken refuge in other countries (mainly Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan). They were joined by hundreds of thousands fleeing ISIS in Iraq. Add in those fleeing the Taliban, al-Qaeda, ISIS chapters, and other militant groups, and you have 60 million people who have been displaced because of war, conflict, and persecution.
According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, that’s the highest level of displacement in the world’s history–exceeding the numbers for the first time since World War II.
ISIS declared war on all Christians, who are among those millions who have fled to places like Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. The Kurdistan region of Iraq and Egypt have been remarkably generous, too. Together, they have taken over 7 million refugees from Iraq and Syria. There are so many that the demographics of the countries have changed. 25% of the people in Lebanon are Syrians. it’s 10% in Jordan, parts of Turkey, and elsewhere.
Domestic public services are overloaded. Water and sanitation systems are overwhelmed. There’s not enough room in schools and hospitals. Because of the competition, social tension is at an all-time high. So, they escaped death, only to survive as refugees, forced to rebuild their lives from nothing.
Yet even in the midst of such darkness, the hope of Christ is shining brightly. The humanitarian crisis wing of Global Advance is Alpha Relief. Global Advance’s David Shibley explains, ”They have been involved in ministry to the persecuted church for a number of years. We are very grateful to be partners together in ministry. They have very strong contacts in the Middle East: a particular pastor in Jordan, another one in Lebanon.”
Alpha Relief partners with men like these to provide emergency extraction, refuge, and relief aid to those in desperate need. Shibley acknowledges the needs are bigger than they can support alone. However, “We simply need to respond however we can, the best we can. Though we cannot do everything, we CAN do something. That’s what we’re doing. We’re bringing humanitarian relief through the ministry of Alpha Relief.” Christian families have infiltrated predominately-Muslim controlled areas with the love of Christ, evangelizing and discipling Muslim converts in a new faith in Jesus.
Alpha Relief supports missionaries equipping new believers and secret house church gatherings, which spread the gospel message to extended families and neighbors. Here’s how, says Shibley: “All of our giving to relief outreaches is in cooperation with pastors who are on the ground and who know the condition of their flock. Many times, they’re mobilizing their church to assist.”
He can’t emphasize the need enough. The pastors he’s talking about are personally involved with reaching out to the refugee communities in Lebanon and Jordan. The challenge: “Often, they simply run out of food, they run out of blankets, they run out of bottled water, and just the very basic needs.” Alpha Relief can stand in the gap with resources. More than that, “We do that within the context of personal prayer and ministry that is provided by these pastors and others, so it’s not simply giving them the humanitarian aid that they need, but also in ministering to their spiritual needs.”
On top of basic survival needs, there are special safe houses which offer counseling and rehabilitation for former Muslim radicals and those persecuted by Muslim family members after their conversions. Many guests at the safe houses are equipped to return to their communities as undercover missionaries and house church planters.
The crisis has been going on for a long time. Many of the aid projects from the United Nations are perpetually underfunded. Some programs are out of money. Until there’s a face with a name put to a situation, that’s not likely to change much. Shibley says that’s why they’re bringing in two pastors (from Lebanon and Jordan) for their Global Summit next month. Part of their purpose is to provide respite for church leaders who desperately need rest. Part is that these pastors are among 52 other church leaders who are the movers and shakers in this world. “We want to get a first-hand report from them and to assess from them the situation that they are close to every day.”
Through Alpha Relief, Global Advance also educates churches in the U.S. about areas of intense persecution and acts as a conduit for support and involvement. The ministry believes in following the example of Jesus Christ who demonstrated compassion to those in need.
Click here for a list of MNN partners who are assisting with the refugee crisis.