Lebanon (MNN) — Friday marks the eighth year of the Syrian refugee crisis. What began as pro-democracy protests in March 2011 quickly evolved into a full-scale civil war. Today, there’s no end in sight. More from BBC News here.
Why has the crisis dragged on for so long? “Everything in the Middle East is complex, but the Syrian War is really complex,” replies Heart for Lebanon’s Tom Atema. “For every question that’s asked about the Syrian refugee crisis there’s 20 answers, and every one of the answers is correct.”
Is the Syrian refugee crisis a never-ending disaster, or an unprecedented opportunity?
Atema chooses the latter. “We don’t have to wait for the war to be over with before we can start changing the face of the Middle East,” he explains.
“This is our opportunity to reach Muslims with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And, I’ve got to be honest with you, I don’t understand why more people aren’t involved.”
Syrian refugee crisis: a summary
While totals vary, an estimated 11- to 12-million people inside and outside of Syria need humanitarian aid. The Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon is deteriorating, and the number of people living on less than US $3.84 a day has risen from 30- to 70-percent.
A majority of Syrians – more than 80-percent – live below the global poverty line. Over 85-percent have little or no access to clean water and healthcare. Children and young people make up about half of the Syrian refugee population.
Syria – what remains of it, anyway – holds little prospect for those who return. Multiple bombings flattened entire villages. Only half of the country’s health facilities are still functioning. The ongoing war poses a continual threat to safety.
“It’s really a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and the [Syrian] people are caught in the middle,” says Atema, referring to the conflict.
“I don’t think this thing will end anytime soon. I don’t see any country in the world having the ‘want to’ to help get in there and end [the Syrian war], never mind the funds to rebuild Syria.”
The silver lining
The future may look bleak, but the Syrian refugee crisis holds a silver lining. Every physical need gives Heart for Lebanon’s staff an opportunity to begin conversations with refugees. Those conversations turn into friendships, and friendships provide a platform for spiritual discussions.
“It’s all about God’s compassion and love, His love for us,” says Atema. “When you show that to the refugees, they ask questions.”
Authorities are taking note, too. Recently, at an informal weekly briefing, one United Nations leader said, “Out of all the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in Lebanon that are working with Syrian refugees, Heart for Lebanon is the only one that is consistently caring for the people and is willing to have conversations with them.”
Now that you know, what will you do? Prayer is an easy and effective place to start, but don’t stop there.
First, pray for an end to conflict in Syria. Our God directs the affairs of men, and He can do what seems impossible. Pray Heart for Lebanon’s team will have strength and endurance as they help Syrian refugees. Pray the Gospel will reach those who need to hear it.
Then, ask the Lord where He’d like you to direct His finances. If He leads you to support Heart for Lebanon’s work, you can donate here.
“We have all this information, we have all this data, we have all this proof that this is our opportunity, this is the need. But… God’s got to open the hearts of people to respond to it.”
Header image courtesy of Heart for Lebanon.