Syria: Embracing Muslim Refugees
Over four million Syrians are living as refugees in countries neighbouring Syria. The biggest group fled to Lebanon. We met with Pastor Jamal*, a pastor of a small church in Lebanon currently giving shelter to thousands of Syrians.
Could you describe what you see in your country?
“Over one-and-a-half [million] Syrians came to our country—a country with just over four million inhabitants… They create a very big burden for our economy. They are seen as taking our jobs, that is why the people don’t want them. I see that many Lebanese are not helping them. That means they end up living in tents in the camps, in garage boxes, or three or four families together in a small apartment. Many knock at our door for help, begging for whatever help we can give in their difficult situation.”
Image: A refugee camp in Lebanon.
You act different, can you say why?
“We have a different perspective on refugees. Where everyone sees a problem, we see the big opportunity. We see they are needy, they need to see the love of Christ; many of them never had the chance to hear the gospel. We step in with the message of hope, the message of love, the message of Christ with both hands—spiritually and physically. This has a big impact on them; many are coming to Christ. Often they had a wrong idea of Christians. They are deeply touched by the love of Christ.”
What drives you?
“We as Christians are the ambassadors of Christ. Our message for us as believers is to reconcile with God. We see the open door we have at this moment. We should put them in relationship with God. Then all will be turned into good after all the evil they have seen. Before we didn’t have this attitude as Lebanese. We have a history with Syria—they occupied our land and destroyed everything, creating a hatred in our hearts towards Muslims and towards Syrians. The love of Christ has changed this attitude. We are now trying to approach these people.”
Image: Syrian girls in a refugee camp.
You are a small church, how do you do it?
“We believe that the smallest light can penetrate the greatest darkness. We believe we are here with a specific purpose in this area. We’re at the right place at the right moment. Every one in our church now is at work. This changed everything in the church. We started with our own members. We saw many of the refugees coming to Christ. Now 70% of our workers are Syrian refugees themselves.”
How many families do you serve?
“The number always changes, but it is between 2,500 and 3,000 families.”
Image: Families about to receive food packs.
Could you list what you and your people are doing?
“Every time I try that, I risk forgetting something:
- We have the Educational ministry. We have a school with 300 children and are now starting two new schools for another 300 children. • We have a sewing class, we offer English lessons, and we teach some carpentry and offer training in cosmetics and training for nurses.
- We have a distribution team—they do the food distribution but also distribute the other items like led-lights, milk, diapers, winterisation material like mattresses, blankets, stoves and fuel.
- Teams of medical doctors come to visit the camps to check the health of the people.
- Sports ministry. They go to the camps and the schools to gather children for sports activities.
- The Bible clubs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for Syrians divided over different groups. A total of 3,000 children attend.
- Bible Discovery groups. We now have up to forty groups among the refugees. Discipleship groups follow the Bible Discovery groups. We have them every Sunday in different levels.
- We are now trying to start a charity shop and we would like to start some laundry projects where the Syrians from the camps can wash their clothes. We have so many ideas.”
What does this emotionally do to you all?
“We hear heartbreaking stories, every one has such a story. But we know that we have a Healer, the Lord’s Spirit, encouraging us. Yes, many of my team sometimes cry when they share what they saw or what they heard of the refugees. I keep encouraging them, praying with them. We sometimes have counselling seminars.”
Image: A refugee camp in front of snowy mountains.
What kind of awareness you want to raise?
“I would like to try to open the eyes of the brothers and sisters in the rest of the world, to show them we are living in a very special time. We see broken people running away from Islamic extremists. They seek help. This is the time to show them the real love of Christ. Many have never had the chance to hear the gospel. We as Christians in the Middle East don’t want the world to evacuate the Christians from the Middle East. We need everyone here to testify. Don’t be afraid for Islam. We see miracles happen every week, every week people are coming to Christ.”
What would you say to the people who pray for you, who support this kind of work?
“Thank you. Without your support we could do nothing. I think the money is going to the right persons, to the right places. We can’t save the whole world, but every dollar makes a great difference. I thank them, their reward will be big in heaven. Abundant blessings. It’s making a big difference.”
*Names changed for security reasons.