Families from areas of the Middle East are fleeing their homes when violent extremists invade their towns—because the other option is to stay and die. When they arrive as refugees in neighboring countries in the region, they most often assume a life of poverty with very little opportunity and, often, very little hope. Their neighbors resent them for coming and putting stress on limited resources, and they have trouble finding community and stability. Refugee families grieve the loss of their past while struggling to see even glimmers of hope for the future. Many refugees utter thoughts that go something like this: “We are tempted to return to the place we left. It would be better to die quickly there rather than die slowly as a refugee.”
There, in communities overcome by despair, God is present through the hospitality and practical expressions of love found in Nazarene churches.
Danil* came to a Nazarene school in the Middle East midway through the 2014-2015 year. When extremist militants attacked his hometown, his family witnessed terrifying persecution firsthand and quickly fled to their new country. Most Christians left his town because, in the end, the decision was between death or conversion to another faith. No more than 4 years old when we met him, Danil had seen more tragedy in his few years than most people do in a lifetime.
When he arrived around Christmas, he was exhibiting responses that suggested post-traumatic stress disorder. A camera’s flash sent him into a trembling fetal position, and he didn’t talk to anyone for the first few months. By the end of the school year, though, he started opening up. He seemed to be searching for a sense of safety, and he found that in a teacher who would spend time quietly listening to him. By the the end of the year, Danil was smiling and joining in with the rest of the students. He even said how much he loved coming to school.
This family is from a minority group in an area where Christians and other minority are heavily persecuted and attacked. They, along with their Christian neighbors, fled when extremist militant entered their city and threatened their lives. They found shelter in an unfinished building located in a remote village. The building is packed with people who needed a place to live.
A ministry team from a nearby Nazarene church found these families and delivered food packages to them. “When our ministry team arrived the first time,” the pastor said, “these families had nothing to eat. You cannot imagine the joy on their faces when they saw us. We thank God because He gave us the privilege of reaching out to them.” The Nazarene church has started a Sunday School for children and an education ministry for adults. One night, 25 women who had escaped captivity attended the church’s prayer service and came to faith in Christ.
*Names changed for security and protection.
This blog comes from an article in the upcoming winter issue of NCM Magazine, which will be out in November. To read more about the church’s ministry to refugee children (and other stories from around the world), sign up for a free online subscription at ncm.org/magazine.
Children shouldn’t have to pay for the decisions that grown-ups make, but that’s exactly what’s happening in the Middle East. This year’s NCM Christmas Project will provide education and support for children who have been displaced by violence and persecution. To learn how you can help give a child the gift of a future, go to ncm.org/Christmas.