Syrian refugees who miss being home embrace hope of a future heaven comment (0)
August 8, 2013
Syrians miss being home. The sense of identity and refuge they find in being around family and friends was sacrificed as many escaped to safety once civil war broke out.
“At the end of a visit, having read a story in the Bible or shared the gospel, I ask [Syrians] what specific needs they have,” said Paul Matheson, a Christian leader who works among Syrian refugees. “Sometimes it would be prayer for healing, and yes they have immediate needs, but without exception, they all ask that they will be able to return to their homeland.”
In an effort to aid those who have fled their homes, the International Mission Board and others have provided Syrians food and resources.
“To our dismay,” said Ruth James, a Christian worker in the Middle East, “we find ourselves overwhelmed by their vast material needs — as well as spiritual and psychological needs — and lacking the resources, both financial and personnel, to seize this unprecedented opportunity.”
According to the United Nations, more than 10 million Syrians and counting will need humanitarian aid by the end of the year. But as fear and worry for family and friends takes a toll, an old hope gives newfound peace.
Before the Arab Spring, “there was so much fear and so much suspicion that people were rarely willing to express their true opinions or ask questions that could be perceived as seditious,” James said.
“Any time we spoke of Jesus with people, there were a few answers that were almost word for word memorized by seemingly every Muslim,” she said. “There was no wrestling with faith and questions about God — the general complacency and hardness seemed impenetrable.”
But now, James said, the door is wide open.
“Access to people who were once seemingly impossible to reach with the gospel is now as simple as walking down most major streets in countless cities in Lebanon or Jordan,” she said. “So many refugees who have received food or blankets or diapers and milk for their babies have been even more desperate to hear about the God who sees them, who knows them and who has not abandoned them.”
The number of evangelical Syrians is still very small, James said, but the believers they know in the area have been “heroic” through the turmoil, she said.
“Though they have lived in Lebanon for many years, they have continued to make regular trips into Syria in order to distribute funding coming from outside, through food, hygiene products and [meeting] other needs they encounter,” James said. “They continue to come and go at great risk to themselves and are finding Syrians, both Christian background and Muslim background, desperate for the hope they offer in the name of Jesus.”
Many Syrians are gathering together weekly to study the Bible, and most of them were not believers before the conflict, she said.
Matheson said a Syrian woman, after hearing a local pastor speak in her home, began asking questions. “Most people say in the name of a prophet, ‘Peace be upon him,’ so she asked about that and why we don’t say ‘Peace be upon Him’ [about Jesus].”
“The local pastor told her because our Lord is the Prince of Peace, we don’t say ‘Peace be upon Him’ because He’s the one who gives peace to people,” Matheson recalled.
At this house church meeting, the woman gave her life to the Prince of Peace and continues to tell others, as well as host weekly Bible studies.
As the gospel spreads, James and Matheson said they pray for more helpers, for boldness in servitude to God and for the doors to remain open, both physically and spiritually.
“We’re not seeing a great number, and that’s what I’m praying for, to see a harvest of souls coming to know Christ among the Syrians,” Matheson said.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Names have been changed for security reasons.