In the valley to the east of Beirut, Syrian refugees are living in fragile dwellings made from whatever they can find: plastic sheeting, scraps of wood, pieces of metal. The homes can’t protect families from harsh conditions. On two different occasions I’ve heard reports of children who died from the cold. The news was heartbreaking.
In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul refers to his body as an earthly tent—a reminder that our fragile bodies can’t provide protection from pain and vulnerability. He laments, “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling …” (verses 1-2, NRSV).
I think the refugees in our churches can relate. They left their homes, familiar communities, and loved ones because they had to. Yet if you’re a refugee in a new place, you’re not always received with compassion or even pity, but often with scorn, apathy, and mistrust.
Many refugees have made comments to me that go like this: “We are tempted to return to Syria. It would be better to die quickly there rather than die slowly as a refugee.”
Not long ago, my wife, Seta, met a woman named Nyla*, who is a Christian woman from Iraq. She and her husband and their two children recently arrived in Lebanon after enduring years of violence in their hometown. Nyla’s husband narrowly survived three explosions, and their children often begged her not to go to her job, fearing that they might never see her again.
Today, Nyla’s family no longer fears bombs, but being in a new place is far from easy. They share their apartment with another family, and her husband can’t find work. They are alive, but they long to live. Nyla says, “Right now I am living for my children.”
The children, in 5th and 3rd grades, attend a Nazarene school and are settling in fine. Seta teaches their kids in the school chapel. They live in the neighborhood, and they are invited to Sunday School at the Nazarene church. Nyla says she is thankful for the spirit of the Nazarene school, which treats her with compassion and respect.
Healing Broken Relationships
In Walking With the Poor, Bryant Myers describes poverty as broken relationships—with God, with self, with others, and with systems. If poverty is broken relationships, then the response is reconciliation. God is at work reconciling all of these relationships—and has asked us to join in this ministry of reconciliation. We are ambassadors for Christ. Reconciliation is our game. We can do this.
In fact, in Beirut and other communities throughout the Middle East, the church is already doing this:
- In Jordan, a church hosts a meeting each Friday for 100 Syrian families. They receive helpful information, some encouragement, and a big bag of cleaning supplies. And people are being reconciled to God and their family members. One woman did not know how to pray like a Christian, but she shared the need to hear that her daughters were safe. She hadn’t heard from them in months. The church prayed, and when she returned home that night both of her daughters called to say they were alright.
- In a community where Christians are being persecuted, a Nazarene church is providing food each month for 2,000 families, and a clinic the church started sees patients for free and provides medicines whenever it can.
- In a war-torn country where families have been displaced, the church helped build toilets near the places where families have found housing. The church’s youth are distributing bags of food as well.
- In Beirut, Lebanon, a church started a distribution center where refugee families can get clothing, mattresses, blankets, and crisis care kits. And Nazarene schools in the next year will provide education and stability for 600 children affected by war. That ministry extends to the children’s families, too. A woman covered in black shared that if she returned to Syria, she would be killed because she belongs to the wrong sect, and on the streets of her new home, she is eyed with suspicion—but in the church while she is waiting for her child to finish kindergarten classes, she is loved and respected as a child of God
- Also in Lebanon, a woman named Yaminah* worships God with her daughter and her new church family. The church helped her find a job and taught her English, and her daughter is one of the brightest students in the first grade class at the Nazarene school. That’s a lot of reconciling going on there.
The question for us is this: Can Christ’s love continue to compel us to know God deeply and to live the compassion of Christ to a broken world?
*Name changed for protection.
To learn more about the church’s outreach to refugees around the world, visit ncm.org/refugees.