Lebanon (MNN) — The expression goes: when Syria sneezes, Lebanon catches a cold.
Relief has been widespread over the deal to hand over the arsenal of chemical weapons to avoid a US-led strike. Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA says, “From the Syrian Christians that I’ve met with and talked to, it was a good thing. They were very concerned about the U.S. tipping the battlefield in favor of the rebels who, for the most part, are radical Sunnis who the Christians see as a very real danger to them.”
The main concern was that such action would serve as a catalyst to a Sunni-Shia conflict or fuel the struggle between Hezbollah and Israel.
Despite the sigh of relief, Lebanon can’t afford to celebrate yet, he goes on to say. “The rebels are not going to give up their fight. Assad’s government is not going to hand over power to the rebels, so this basically maintains the status quo which is basically a country that is at war with itself.”
The country is still trying to extricate itself from proxy-war and deal with tens of thousands of refugees spilling over from Syria. Lebanon, a country of four million, has taken in more Syrian refugees than any other country – with more than 700-thousand Syrian refugees. That means nearly one out of every five people in Lebanon is Syrian. If it continues at this pace, the United Nations estimates that by next year, there will be as many as 2.3 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
To say that Lebanon has felt the magnified effect of Syria’s conflagration is an understatement. They can provide improvised shelter, but don’t have sanitation, electricity, enough food, or clean water in the camps. Healing can’t begin until the fighting stops. “It’s an ongoing wound. You have situations where family members have been kidnapped, where women and even girls have been sexually assaulted. You have places where their entire villages that have been occupied or destroyed.”
That’s becoming the concern. Emotional and spiritual trauma is beginning to crop up in the refugee community. If left unaddressed, how will the unseen wounds fester? Nettleton says it’s likely to go into a cycle of conflict. “I think, potentially, the continuation of hostility, the continuation of the war, the inability to come about with any kind of peace agreement that everybody can live with at peace. All of these things are the repercussions of this that I think we’ll see in the coming years.”
However, he goes on to add that the church leaders just aren’t equipped to deal with that kind of hurt. “We went to meet with Syrian Christians to see what is going on in the country. But, they were there for a time of trauma training and talking about how people deal with trauma, and how we, as the church, can help them. How we can come alongside them and encourage them and help them work through some of those emotional wounds.”
The trauma training was a breath of fresh air. It gave church leaders tools to help in a time of crisis. “Those believers said ‘this has been great, this is what we need to take back to Syria and help the people in our churches and help the people in the surrounding community.'”
Nettleton notes the timing wasn’t a coincidence. God is at work. One of the VOM contacts told the team about an area in Syria where 18 months ago there were only 12-13 Christians.
Today, there are more than 70 Christian families. As has happened in other areas (Iran, Egypt), people are seeing the true face of Islam and it is generating a real openness for the things of Christ. “They live in a country that is at war”, he says. It seems obvious, but, ” We need to pray for God’s protection over them, not only that physical protection, but that emotional protection, to be able to deal with all the trauma, to be able to represent Christ in that culture and in that community.”
The Church is growing, which also means persecution is on the uptick. Right now, new converts from Islam are most worried about how their families will respond. That is where the first line of persecution is happening. It’s also coming from the authorities.
Please pray for the Christians in Syria, and pray for VOM international staff as they seek to support and bless the church there in spite of the danger and the upheaval. “The church is being strong, and because of that, the church is growing. The church is being Christ’s representatives in Syria, but it’s coming with a cost.”
Syria’s is a century’s old conflict that has the potential to spread like a virus to everyone nearby. Church leaders are standing in the gap, fortifying where they can. They are also the ones absorbing the pain and distress. Often, they are physically exhausted from trying to help in overwhelming circumstances. That kind of stress leads to burnout. Nettleton asks you to pray for church and ministry leaders. “They live in a country that is at war. We need to pray for God’s protection over them, not only that physical protection, but that emotional protection, to be able to deal with all the trauma, to be able to represent Christ in that culture and in that community.”