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Christians minister to Syrians fleeing violence in their countrycomment (0)

May 3, 2012

Christians minister to Syrians fleeing violence in their country

Muhammad, two of his sisters and an elderly uncle sit on the floor of a rented house beside a trash-strewn gully in a town near Jordan’s northern border with Syria.

The uncle fingers his prayer beads and looks into space as a mosque nearby sounds the Muslim call to prayer. Children of various ages trek in and out of the room, playing games to stave off boredom. 

A little boy clutches a stuffed teddy bear; a girl admires her reflection in a pink hand mirror. The women hastily cover their faces when a visitor’s camera appears — not for modesty or religious reasons, but for fear of the long arm of the ruling Assad regime in Syria.

Life for this Syrian refugee family now consists of sitting and waiting. But it’s better than the hellish existence they endured for months in Homs, the besieged city across the border they fled in March. Much of Homs, one of the centers of the year-old Syrian uprising, has been shelled to rubble by Syrian military forces bent on crushing the widening rebellion.

“Homs is a city of ghosts now,” Muhammad said, sipping tea with his visitors. “There is no value to a human life there.”

Syrian refugees streaming into Turkey and Lebanon have garnered most of the international media attention. But more than 90,000 Syrians, mostly Sunni Muslims, had crossed into northern Jordan by early April, according to one unofficial government estimate. More slip across the desert border each night, walking secret routes to avoid the guns of Syrian soldiers — or bribing border guards to let them pass. Some are injured. Some carry elderly family members and small children. Most are traumatized, terrified and enraged by what they have experienced. At best, they face an uncertain future in Jordan, where housing is cramped and expensive, and jobs are scarce. 

But the overwhelmingly Muslim refugees who come to this part of northern Jordan have found an unexpected local friend: Nour, a Christian pastor who leads an evangelical church. 

“This is our call, to reach out,” said Nour, a softspoken man with a neatly clipped graying mustache. “Our door is open to Christians or Muslims anytime.” 

Nour has become a one-man clearinghouse for aiding Syrian refugee families. He helps them find places to live (so far, there are no official refugee camps in the area). He and his church members deliver food, blankets, mattresses, medicine and other basic supplies. He coordinates assistance from a variety of other churches and Christian groups. He cooperates with the local Islamic aid society, which refers many refugees to the church. Most of all, he listens. 

The church, which started out helping about 30 refugee families, now coordinates regular assistance to more than 270 families, at least 1,000 people. Nour estimates more than 1,000 refugee families live in the area — with many more on the way if conditions in Syria don’t improve soon. 

Along with area Christians, Southern Baptists are attempting to help by reaching out to the Syrians fleeing the violence.

“BGR (Baptist Global Response) and its partners have been responding to needs of refugees flooding out of the country,” said Jeff Palmer, executive director of BGR, an international relief and development organization. To date, Southern Baptists through BGR have provided about $160,000 of relief supplies, he said.

“The World Hunger Fund reserve is low, and we will only be able to respond to about half of [new requests],” Palmer said. “Jesus told His followers to ‘work while it is day,’ and right now we have the opportunity of daylight with these refugees. As volatile as the region is, night may be coming and no one will be able to work. We need people who care about people in need to take advantage of the daylight, so the love of God can be demonstrated for these families in crisis.”

EDITOR’S NOTE — Names have been changed for security reasons.  (BP)

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