Syria (MNN/CAM) — A possible reprieve in Syria has come up that will allow nearly everyone to “save face.”
For as much saber-rattling, warning, threatening, and posturing has been going on since an alleged chemical attack in Syria, it seems that there’s a potential out that could avert an attack on Syria.
Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should hand over all of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next seven days in order to prevent an American-led military strike.
Even though Kerry later said the statement was a rhetorical argument, the offer was welcomed and formalized by Russia, the Syrian government’s most important backer.
Meanwhile, over two million Syrians have fled. Half of the refugees are children, and their upheaval makes Syria the world’s worst refugee crisis since the 1994 genocide of Rwanda. All things remaining constant, the Sunni vs. Shia fighting threatens to destabilize the entire region.
The threat of destabilization means everyone is a target and no one is actually the “good guy.” However, there’s a special place for Christians in that pecking order. “Typically what you’ll find is that the Christians have no militias, they have no protection. They’re vulnerable. They are the ones who are targeted. If there is any kind of a strike, I believe that you’re going to have strikes all over the place. It’s going to be a real bloodbath.”
Faced with that possibility, hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled. They blend into
a swelling current of people crossing into Lebanon and other neighboring countries. According to a ministry leader in Lebanon, 16,000 Syrians crossed the border into his country in a single day. “Several of the refugee families I visit have received even more relatives, with 15 to 20 people living in the same small room,” he writes.
However, most of the refugees just want to go back home. They’re “safe” for now but often live in a country that can ill-afford to feed more mouths. Syria’s refugees are also running into discrimination, often for receiving resources sorely needed by the host country’s poor.
Christian Aid Mission, your link to indigenous missions, got involved by coming alongside this ministry leader and others like him. CAM’s Steve VanValkenberg says it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the numbers. “There are not a lot of things that a person can do for all of them, but there are things that can be done for smaller groups.”
VanValkenberg explains that the relationship aspect their small groups can provide meets more needs than just the physical. “One thing that ministries we help there are doing is reaching out personally. A large entity can give out food, but they need to have somebody that comes alongside and not only give them food, but also to sit with them and hear their story about their families, members that have been lost, and to pray with them in the name of Jesus Christ.”
In other words, the ministries CAM helps are living out Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Listening to the survivor’s stories often involves hearing about the life they’ve left behind in Syria, a father’s struggle to find employment, a mother’s worries about their children’s future.
VanValkenberg adds that there is no “agenda” when listening to people’s life stories. Because the relationships forming are real, he says, “There is amazing openness. The Muslims fleeing Syria have seen Muslim-on-Muslim fighting. Typically when they flee, the countries that they’re going to are not really helping and reaching out. They find that Christians are the ones reaching out.”
In fact, he shares, “I was talking to an overseas leader. He was talking about in one meeting, they had just food. They had 200 refugees there and they shared the Gospel, and basically, all of them said, ‘We want to follow Christ.'”
Native ministry leaders are urging their Gospel co-workers to focus on one life at a time. “This type of personal involvement is what is needed with thousands of refugee families,” a Lebanese ministry leader said. “It is more than just giving out food to the multitudes. We demonstrate Christ’s love by personally interacting with them.”
Following the pattern of Christ who chose only 12 men to disciple, ministry leaders have chosen to concentrate on a relatively small number of people.
Instead of becoming flustered by the amount of work to be done in the fleeting hours of
each day, native missionaries are taking the time to sit and love the person in front of them–engaging in a personal encounter that means so much to someone lost and scared in a strange place. In this quiet way, lives are restored, hope is renewed, and the gospel goes forward. Against the backdrop of darkness, lights are appearing one by one.
What do these lights look like? Like the Syrian widow in Lebanon who gave her life to Christ when a native missionary discovered her a month after losing her husband in the conflict. Subsisting on a meager income by tending animals on a farm, she and her three little boys slept on a single mattress inside a concrete storage unit. Sharing the gospel message and the love of the Savior, the missionary provided her with three additional mattresses and warm bedding–resources that were purchased with funds sent by Christian Aid donors.
VanValkenberg puts the situation into perspective. “We see bombs and bullets as being power, but we know, as Christians, that ultimately, the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. The greatest power is when lives are changed by Jesus Christ.”
It’s dangerous work. Please pray for grace, guidance, and stamina for native missionaries working to share Christ’s love with Syrian refugees.