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Alaska church brings laughter and God’s love to Syrian refugees

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The paper accordion hit the ground and Kareem* burst into uncontrollable laughter. His mother rushed in from the next room to see what the commotion was about. Micky Kendrick,* the paper accordion maker, looked up at her from his seat on the floor and asked if something was wrong. She said nothing was wrong, but she couldn’t believe her young son was laughing. He hadn’t laughed in over five months.

Kareem hadn’t laughed since his family fled Syria and he became one of the 2 million children uprooted by violence in Syria and placed in various countries throughout the Middle East.

Kendrick looked back at the still-laughing Kareem. He’d never met anyone who had gone that long without laughing, especially not a young child. Kareem was only five or six years old.

Kendrick said, “I didn’t know that I was going to really affect someone’s life.”

But he did. He brought laughter back into a home.

Kendrick, a teenager from Fairbanks, Alaska, traveled to the Middle East with the goal of sharing God’s love with Syrian refugees. Since the war began in 2011, an estimated 4 million refugees have fled the country, and Kendrick’s church sought to help by visiting families and distributing relief supplies.

On the edge of a faded rug covering the cement floor in Kareem’s living room, Kendrick sat beside his sister, Amelia,* as they sorted craft items to make bracelets with Kareem and his siblings.

For the past three years, Amelia had raised money by cleaning the church and working through the summers. Originally, she was raising money to attend an Acteens camp, but when the camp was cancelled, she then looked for an overseas trip.

 “I had my heart set on China,” she said. “I really wanted to go to China. My dad went when I was younger, and since then I really, really wanted to go to China. I also wanted to work with children.”

But all the invitations to serve in East Asia were for college students, not teens.

Then one night at church, Amelia listened to a couple share about the Syrian refugee crisis. She learned that millions of Syrians had fled the explosive clashes between Syrian soldiers and rebel forces. She saw photos of families crossing the desert, some walking for days just to reach the closest border.

In the time Amelia shared with Kareem’s family, Syrian refugees became more than a cause, they became her friends. She learned that refugees need more than a handout. They need people to come alongside them and listen to their stories, their pain.

Amelia said, “People see [Syrian] refugees as a humanitarian effort, that they need help. And listening to secular news you hear of refugees and that they need physical help. You don’t hear [about] their spiritual need. That really changed when I came here.”

Amelia said, “I guess God’s been teaching me that no matter how people look on the outside — not in appearance, but in manner — that if they don’t know Him, they’re still broken.”

*Name changed

Evelyn Adamson is a writer for IMB