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Volunteers from Texas meet Syrian crisis face to face

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By Brian Andrews

Lucy Stephenson* and Naomi Hansell* entered the Syrian family’s tent, distribution kit in tow. Unable to find a home outside of the refugee camp, this family of 12 crammed themselves into two UNHCR tents. Even the children were ashamed of their poverty.

The mother thanked the ladies through tears for the gifts. Lucy, also crying, simply responded, “Praise God.” She and the mother embraced and kissed cheeks.

“This was the moment for me when the Syrian war I had been reading about for four years became real,” Lucy said.

As they left, the mother pleaded with them, “Please don’t forget; please don’t forget us. Remember us.”

This woman’s face now seared into her mind, Naomi longs for the world to see these refugees as she does. Instead, the Syrian crisis remains, at best, a distant problem for the world at large.

“I think Syria is a special case where it’s like the story of the good Samaritan, you know, like, people keep passing them by and treating them like they’re invisible.”

The team came from their church in Texas for exactly this purpose. They wanted to bring the Syrian crisis close to home. Tyron Hawley,* one of the team leaders, said, “You hear terrible stories, but the reason we came is because we wanted to meet people face to face.”

They spent the week visiting Syrian refugees in their homes and distributing relief packages. For many on the team, this was their first time in the Middle East. Students, mothers, a professor and a businesswoman made the trip.

“I think it’s great that our team is so eclectic, that we have young to old, and everyone has a different story, and we’ve been able to connect at each house differently,” Stella Goddard,* a mother of two, said.

One Syrian mother particularly stood out in her mind. She had eight children ranging from 7 months to 18 years old, and her husband suffered a broken hip. A ceiling had collapsed on him in Syria, and he still could not walk. The mother had to take on the majority of the parental responsibilities alone.

Stella could relate to the hardships of having an injured spouse. Her husband had recently healed from some major back issues. She shared with this Syrian mother how God had answered their prayers and brought healing to his body.

Her time with this woman showed her how intimately and personally God loves people. “I had so much in common with this mom that I knew God sent me to meet her and share with her,” Stella said.

They also bonded over talk of teething babies and the struggles of child rearing. Stella realized this woman was just like her: a mother deeply concerned for her children. She wanted to see her children happy and healthy.

“Her face will always be in the back of my mind. When I think of my children, her face comes to mind.”

Christy Loftus,* a professor of social work, saw God’s intimacy and intentionality in her visits, as well. She remembers one woman who described her family’s arduous journey from Syria. She and her husband walked many long miles with young children, only taking what material possessions they could carry.

Initially, Christy could think of nothing to say. Then she remembered the stories of Abraham and Moses. These men also endured great journeys full of hardship, but in those trials they uniquely encountered God.

“I told her that God also wanted to have a personal encounter with her and her husband on this difficult journey that they were living out, and that He wanted to be present with them and show Himself to them as a God of love,” Christy recounted.

This pattern repeated itself throughout the week. Christy often found herself without words as she heard the hurts, fears, desires and hopes of the Syrian women she encountered. In each situation, though, she found that God gave her an encouraging illustration or thought.

Naomi sees moments like these — visits, crying together, telling stories — as God at work. “Even bringing His presence into these places, I think, like, that’s Him moving.”

Thinking back over the week, she sees God’s eyes have not wavered from the broken, hurting and afflicted. She hopes the church will follow God’s gaze to the invisible of the world.

“I think that it’s our turn to start looking at them and start giving what we can.”

Brian Andrews is a writer for IMB based in the Middle East.

*Name changed

Pray

  • Pray for peace in Syria.
  • Pray the Syrian refugees will fully know God’s love, and experience His joy and peace.
  • Ask God to provide for their physical needs.
  • Pray more volunteers will be available to help Syrian refugees.

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