Lebanon (MNN) — The UN recently reported that as January 18 transitioned into the 19th, 13 Syrians froze to death while trying to enter Lebanon. At least two of the 13 were children. Why?
Syrians Still Entering Lebanon
“The legitimate legal border crossings for Syrians to get into Lebanon are closed to Syrians coming into Lebanon. That does not mean they’re not coming, though that’s what the news reports. They are coming, they’re coming over the mountain,” Heart for Lebanon’s Tom Atema explains.
“I think it was four or five children and moms were frozen to death on top of the mountain coming over into Lebanon just this yesterday [January 19 to 20]. There’s another storm surge coming tonight as we’re doing this interview. It’s not going away; it’s only going to get worse.”
Lebanese authorities are still looking for people who have been reportedly trapped in the freezing mountain. The fact that these people were willing to risk their lives in extreme temperatures, entering a country teetering on the brink of a proxy war, should tell us just how bad conditions are at home.
That said, fleeing to Lebanon isn’t a solution to these refugees’ fears. It’s a way of surviving. Once they arrive in the new country, many of them still don’t know where their next meal will come from; most are forced by their conditions to live at or below the poverty line in Lebanon. And nearly all Syrians face an unwelcoming attitude in the country.
Despite the Lebanese government’s reports that there around 1.8 million registered Syrian refugees living in the country, Atema shares this number is closer to 2-2.2 million. Regardless of the exact number, Lebanon is at its breaking point.
“The country just can’t handle it anymore. And so, you have this growing tension and the army just last week moved two of the tent settlements that we work in…150 feet to the left just because they wanted to, just to make life miserable,” Atema explains. “And they were so bold as to say that to the people we serve and to our staff.”
These conditions have refugees living in total despair. Yet, it’s when people are in this despair that the Church has the obligation, responsibility, and privilege to show Christ’s compassionate heart. And when this is done, many refugees begin asking questions like, ‘Why are you doing this?’ and ‘Who is Jesus?’
“The more you have a conversation with them, the more you bring them in, the more hope they receive, and their eyes light up. And eventually, they come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior,” Atema says.
Pray for Refugees
Just last year Heart for Lebanon planted two churches amongst Muslim believers. And last week one of these churches fasted and prayed for the Kurdish Muslims they support in Syria; they prayed for their safety, their help, and for them to encounter Christ’s transformative and healing love.
“We know that we are born for significance and these people are significant people. God died for them. They were born into a part of the world [where]…they’ve been persecuted, they’ve been harmed, they’ve been mistreated and they’re fleeing for their lives. What I would really like American Christians to do is number one is to pray. Pray for them,” Atema urges.
“Pray that God would really give them safety and peace and that in his sovereignty they’d intersect with the faith-based community in Lebanon, Jordan, or wherever they end up. Once again, the majority are coming to Lebanon.”
Pray also for the refugees to respond to the Gospel message and for their despair to turn into everlasting hope.
Heart for Lebanon’s strategy for bringing hope in the middle of despair includes three areas:
- Humanitarian Aid & Education: addressing the physical needs of the refugees through humanitarian aid and education for children
- Relational Engagement: building relationships through home visits, faith-based programs, and children’s activities
- Reconciliation through Spiritual Discipleship: deading refugees into a relationship with Jesus Christ
Want to tangibly help Heart for Lebanon share hope with Syrian refugees?