Lebanon (MNN) — Collateral damage is defined as injury inflicted on something other than an intended target. But to one man working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon, the term has a name – Tarek. Due to the nature of his work, the man’s identity is concealed. He works alongside Food for the Hungry as the ministry continues to serve refugees.
Unlike its neighboring countries, Lebanon does not have formal refugee camps. There are an estimated 1.5 million refugees who have fled the ravages of war struggle to find housing.
In the northern part of the country, tented settlements similar to shanty towns have been established. But in urban areas, the worker says, “They’re living in substandard housing, unfinished buildings, garages, shipping containers.” In order for someone to work legally in Lebanon, they must be officially registered with the government and they need a sponsor – a Lebanese business owner who will verify the need for the Syrian employee.
According to the worker, “A lot of people can’t afford the $200 it takes to be officially in the country. They lose the ability then to actually have employment, so a lot of people are working illegally. They do a lot of agriculture and construction jobs and some housework jobs that are really low, unskilled labor, and maybe they get 10 days of work a month.”
Meeting needs – physical and spiritual
Even a good month of 15 days worth of work can’t begin to provide for Syrian refugee families living in Lebanon. Ninety-three percent of all Syrian refugee families are food-insecure. That’s where the work of Food for the Hungry comes in, working alongside partner ministries to provide assistance, training, and education.
“One of the things I’m proud of being able to work with Food for the Hungry is the personal touch and the unique care and love that the church is able to provide to families,” shares the worker. “A lot of times, that means visiting families in their homes and finding out their needs, and just loving them and getting to know them, inviting them to church, inviting them to Bible study groups. We have a food voucher program, we have a milk and diapers program, we’re able to provide in the winter some supplemental items like mattresses and blankets and stoves and fuel for the cold areas. We also help churches run education and psycho-social support programming for children. So instead of us being an NGO, we’re empowering the Church to do that, and so as they’re loving and getting to know these families, they’re also able to meet the physical needs of the family and then come alongside and meet the spiritual needs of the family.”
Caring for the children
Providing for spiritual needs includes providing for the emotional well-being of both parents and children. Tarek is one of those children – he and his mother were found in a shipping container in Beirut, with no water or electricity. “They fled from Syria, their house had been bombed and he got third degree burns all over his body,” says the worker. “His little eight-month old sister died while next to him. So that was one of the moments that caused their family to flee. When I met them, they had been in the country for a month and they came with nothing. When people say, ‘Oh, collateral damage, it’s just a part of life,’ you know, that little boy and his scarred body is what collateral damage means to me now.”
Through Food for the Hungry and its ministry partners, Tarek has been provided psychosocial support through the local church and its education services. “We have different child-friendly spaces in Lebanon that allow the kids to work through some of the trauma. They’re trying to get the kids to express what’s in them and help them deal with that trauma that a little child doesn’t know how to process on their own yet. That helps them to feel safe. They’re stunted in their ability to move on emotionally, and that affects them in their schooling, it affects them in their home life.”
The support is provided in a number of ways, from counseling to therapeutic play. And the churches are equipped to create other forms of care, from after-school programs to tutoring and basic literacy and numeracy education. The goal is to help the children heal in every way.
The worker says one desire is constant with the Syrian refugees he’s visited with. “Whenever hostilities cease, in whatever way they do, their joy is to go back to their home to rebuild and remake their lives. So many of them share about a life that was beautiful, a life that was peaceful, where their children could grow. They want to get back to that. They see where they’re at as very transitory even though it may be for years, and they really want to get back. And so when that happens – it may not be with Aleppo. You know, the Western media really focuses on Aleppo, there’s a lot going on in Syria besides Aleppo. It’s not to reduce the tragedy, but when I talk to Syrians, they say that the news networks are really one-sided and they really don’t show the whole picture of Syria and what’s happening all over.”
“Pray that Christians can love Muslims”
He asks for continued prayer for the families and the ministries like Food for the Hungry that offer hope and help. “Pray for families to not lose hope, pray for families to be able to work through the trauma the war has brought them, pray for them to be able to find some sources of income. It’s really critical. Pray for their children. Pray for the war to end.
“Pray they can find Christ in Lebanon. The Church should always tell its message and tell about the love of Christ and the opportunity for salvation, but part of bringing the Kingdom is bringing the love and the care for people, no matter what their religion or ethnicity or gender. Pray that God’s Kingdom would move forward and that Christians can love Muslims no matter if they’re going to become a Christian or not – that the Church can continue to show the love of Christ.”
Join Food for the Hungry in its continued efforts to provide care for Syrian refugee families living in Lebanon. Your prayers and provision make a difference!