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Living Like Death


Looking down at the dying bird carried in by her children, Ghufran* said, “We’ve become like this bird here, and the bird is better than us.” 

The despair in the room was palpable, a despair that only hell on earth can bring to a human. 

A despair that made everything in me squirm and not sure whether to break down weeping or run away to the corner. 

I was unsure of how to sit in this place, in their shoes and their home — the home that this Syrian family was being asked to leave. 

When we walked into the house, the poverty was evident — paint peeling from the walls, visible patches of mold and the smell of mildew in the air. 

Stepping inside and slipping our shoes off, we walked into a stark room where a few mattress pads were laying on the ground. Children were sleeping on them, children we had seen earlier that morning playing on the streets, each under the age of 5. 

As we sat down and introduced ourselves, the mother, Ghufran, started to tell us what had happened in her life the past few days. 

With tears pooling in her eyes until she was weeping, she shared the news that the local homeowner who allowed her, her sister and their families to live in this shabby apartment had told them they must move out. 

“The war has destroyed us completely and the house owner, she wants us out,” Ghufran said through tears. “I was begging her and I said, ‘Please have mercy on us, look at our situation. Why are you doing this?’” 

“Why, God, are you doing this to us? 

Ghufran’s family has lived in this apartment for three months. Her husband and her sister’s husband have been trying to find work like many other Syrian refugee families who have fled to neighboring countries. They are hoping to find work and willing to do anything, but when there is no income, paying rent and buying food and essential items becomes impossible. 

Lack of income has forced these two women to send their children out onto the streets to attempt to sell packages of tissues to cars that pass by. 

Ghufran’s 10-year-old daughter is tanned from peddling her wares in the sun, but she smiled at me as we sat together. The smile on her face seemed to ignore the fog of despair that filled the room. 

She and I exchanged glances and comforting smiles occasionally through the conversation as her mother shared her heart. 

“I can’t talk more than this, because my heart is full of sorrow. I sleep crying, I wake up crying. If I am not crying, my heart is crying,” Ghufran said. “We are living, but we are not living, because we are living like death.” 

“I need to be dead not alive,” she said. “I wish that a big bomb would come on me and we will be dead.” 

In her sorrow, Ghufran felt no shame in mourning. Circumstances have stripped her of her identity and status, so from the bottom of her pit she made her despair known. 

I have heard so many stories, heard so many people share their heart with me and share their needs — but I have never heard a story like this woman’s. I have never felt someone’s pain like I did this day. I have never stared into the eyes of such hopelessness. 

As Christians, we know that Jesus is our only hope, that He is the only thing we need in this life, but sometimes we struggle to feel the real depth of our need when we seem to have everything: jobs, houses, cars, cellphones, friends, community and family. 

But when you lose everything, when you have no work and no home, when you have lost family members to a war and have seen war destroy everything you have built on this earth, when you plead with God to take you from this life — then you know what hopelessness really feels like. 

Imagine feeling that rock-bottom despair and having no comfort in Jesus, no hope that one day He will wipe away all of your tears. No hope that He is with you in this suffering. No Holy Spirit ministering to your heart, helping you breathe, helping you speak, holding your hand to enable you to walk through the darkest moments of your life. 

When you don’t have that hope, you have nothing. 

And that is what I was sitting in. 

A room filled with despair. Hurt. Sadness. Depression. And there was no hope. 

So how are we to respond to this, when there are many stories like this woman’s and her family’s, so many people who have never heard of the hope found in Jesus Christ? 

They haven’t been told how He can transform their mourning into peace, how He hears every lament spoken, how He has bottled up every tear they have cried. 

Even though physical circumstances may not change, His Spirit ministers to the core of our beings to enable us to endure, persevere and press on in this life with the hope of His presence and the hope that one day we will see His redemption for eternity. 

Jesus is hope in the darkest nights, and how can we hide this light, this hope, and this peace under a bushel? 

How can we, as the body of Christ not boldly proclaim this to those who are in sorrow? 

I pray for this family, that they will find Jesus in their sorrow and hurt. That they will call upon His name and feel His presence in undeniable ways. 

May you, my brother, my sister in Christ feel for a moment this despair, the sorrow and the hurt, and for a moment sit in what a life without knowing the hope of Jesus Christ looks like. 

And as you sit there, for just a moment: 

May you be led to pray for the people of Syria, the people that God has created and knows every hair on their head. 

May you be led to share boldly the hope that is only found in Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. 

“I will remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Psalm 27:13 NIV

Eden Nelson is a writer for the International Mission Board based in the Middle East.

*Names changed for security purposes.

Ways to Respond:

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