Lebanon (MNN) — Where does a group as extreme and violent as ISIS recruit fighters? Unfortunately, recruiters often target the poor and vulnerable, and refugees make perfect candidates.
Marginalized people groups like Syrian refugees have very few options ahead of them. Some can’t get jobs, most can’t access education, and refugees – by definition – have been displaced from their homes. Refugees are often blamed by locals for contributing to Lebanon’s financial and political struggles. And in the face of desperation, an extremist group’s offer may seem tantalizing, even when those groups caused the violence that displaced the refugees in the first place.
“If you don’t have an opportunity to share Jesus with them, there are really no opportunities,” says Tom Atema of Heart For Lebanon.
Recruiters will enter refugee camps and offer families somewhere around $500. “When you live in extreme poverty, and you have nothing and your kids aren’t at work, and the authorities are against you, and they don’t want you and they’re blaming you for every problem the country has, what would you do?,” says Atema.
The catch? Anyone who takes the money needs to move into an ISIS compound, where they and their children could be recruited to fight. If they are recruited, they’ll be sent to Afghanistan or Iraq – far enough away that fleeing and returning home becomes incredibly difficult. Others will become victims of child labor slavery or human trafficking.
Atema hopes that Heart For Lebanon can offer an alternative. They start with what they call “access ministries,” providing food, hygiene items, bedding, and other basic necessities. Some refugees can enter a Bible-based educational program that teaches scriptural values alongside basic education that some may be lacking.
But that’s just the beginning. “It builds into a relationship, and that relationship then draws people into a conversation about Jesus Christ.” As people in Heart for Lebanon’s programs become more and more engaged in learning about Jesus, they can be placed into small group programs tailored to their stories and needs. Currently, Heart For Lebanon operates 22 of such programs.
“We’re not a relief agency, even though we do humanitarian aid. We’re not an educational ministry, even though we do education. At the end of the day, our mission is to make disciples and I’m very proud to say of the team, we’re doing that each and every day.”
Help Heart For Lebanon expand their reach by supporting them financially and pray that their work will continue to offer refugees an alternative to despair.
Header photo courtesy of Unsplash.