Lebanon (MNN) — Lebanon’s central bank is lowering interest rates to try and reduce the country’s financial crisis. The government is struggling to restructure amid ongoing protests. To a Syrian refugee, Lebanon’s tension can be unsettling; Arab Spring protests in 2011 triggered a series of events that displaced millions.
Unexpected emergencies add a new layer of trauma the refugees need to process. Heart for Lebanon’s Tom Atema says a tent fire last week did exactly that. “This was in a tent settlement right alongside our new Hope Ministry Center in the Bekaa Valley,” he says.
“We saw the fire and smoke start to come out of a tent and quickly spread to other tents. About 17 tents were destroyed…[representing] 18 families; 149 people were displaced again, lost everything again,” Atema explains.
“The trauma from this is pretty bad.”
Woodstove + canvas tents = tent fire
Without tents, refugee families must face the elements. Winter temperatures in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley typically average between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit during the daytime and can dip into the 40s once night falls. Seasonal rainfall delivers an additional chill that quickly penetrates the thin canvas walls of refugee tents.
As described here, relief tents like those distributed by UNHCR offer enough room for entire families, but are “difficult to heat.” Many refugees rely on wood-burning stoves to ward off the cold, along with preparing family meals. Authorities blame one of these makeshift “heating units” for triggering last week’s inferno.
“They believe it was a woodstove in the middle of the tent that caught on fire and spread from there,” Atema says.
Heart for Lebanon staff was among the first responders to the tent fire. “The first thing we did was go in and clean up the burnt debris and make the ground level again, build new tents,” Atema says.
“Then, [we provided] them with carpets, pillows, cooking supplies and a heater, shoes and winter coats… at the moment, we’re still doing follow up visits and having lots of conversations, and providing those essentials necessary for surviving life as a refugee in the Bekaa Valley.”
As Heart for Lebanon’s staff meet affected families and provide physical aid, pray it leads to Gospel opportunities. “The majority [of refugees] have never heard of Jesus. Maybe some have heard of Him as a prophet or a man or heard the name someplace, but they have never really heard why He came,” Atema says.
“Christmas…gives us another golden opportunity” to talk about Jesus and the salvation He offers, he adds. Pray refugees who hear his message will accept Christ as their Savior and Lord.
You can also give to help Syrian refugee families through Heart for Lebanon. “$29 a month helps us restore one of these families for the entire year,” Atema says.
Header image courtesy of Heart for Lebanon.