Serving, not Solving, Near Syria

11/19/2015 .
Sarah Cruz  .  Storyteller

I’m sitting on a thin mat on the hard, dusty ground, an hour east of Beirut. We’re in the middle of farmlands, just miles from the Syrian border. Beneath my mat is an ornate, yet filthy persian rug that stretches across the room. It’s hot...so hot that I can feel a bead of sweat dripping down my back. I look down at the small glass of tea in my hands, amber-colored and scalding hot. It is thick with sugar and was just made by the woman who now sits across from me. She kneels on the ground, her long robe gathered around her feet, hiding all but her hands and face.

I take a sip and as I look up from the glass, her voice comes back into focus. The Arabic language sounded harsh and guttural to me when I first arrived here in Lebanon a week ago with the PEACE Relief team, but now it sounds soft, and I know I’ll miss it when I eventually go home. She continues to speak as she gestures to the plastic tent stretched over our heads, and I glance at the interpreter.

“She is saying that she was forced from her home in Syria. She and her family lived in a two story house there, but ISIS began bombing her neighborhood. Her two-year old niece was killed by ISIS soldiers. She had to leave with almost nothing. This rug is all she has from her home in Syria.”

The next day I spend several hours sitting with Muslim women, one by one, at the distribution center. They are refugees who have come to receive a 60-pound bag of food, but more than simply caring for their physical needs, we want to offer them spiritual care. Not all of them are comfortable with receiving prayer, but those who accept the prayer timidly come into the room and sit across from me. Each woman looks into my eyes as she shares her story. I am undone by what I hear.

I sit with Amani, who shares a story that makes my eyes sting with tears. The interpreter turns Amani's soft words into English, “She says that she has a three-year-old son, but she only sees him once a week because her husband, his father, will not allow more than that. She became pregnant with twins, but he told her he didn’t want them, so it was her problem.”

Tears begin to roll down Amani's face as she continues, and the interpreter’s voice conveys my own shock as she translates these words: “She took medicine to induce an abortion, but only one of the babies died. She gave birth to a son, but he died shortly after birth because he became very ill. She says that she wanted a divorce, but her husband said that, if he gave her a divorce, she’d never see her three-year-old son again. So she went to a bridge so she could commit suicide. She was getting ready to throw herself off the bridge, but the soldiers came and dragged her away.”

I ask her if we can pray for her. I wish it was culturally acceptable to hold her in my arms while asking for God’s mercy on her life. But I have to resign myself to praying with as much compassion as possible. I pray that she would know that God sees her and loves her, that he has not forgotten her.

The tragic thing about the refugee crisis is that these stories aren’t exceptional. They’re the norm. Official reports say there are 1.5 million displaced people in Lebanon, but locals in Beirut say it’s much closer to 2 million. And of those roughly 2 million, nearly half are children. There is a whole generation of children whose hope for the future is crumbling with each passing day in which they have no access to education and resources. They will be lost if we do not help them.

Before my trip, I was plagued with the question of effectiveness. I’m one woman. My journey to Lebanon doesn’t make a difference, does it? And then God brought this verse to my mind “Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)

I did not go to Lebanon to solve the crisis, but to serve the refugees as I would serve Christ. When we serve even one person, we are serving Christ himself. The Saddleback PEACE Relief ministry’s motto is “We come to serve, not to solve.” In the wake of natural disasters and humanitarian crises, PEACE Relief teams are on the ground to minister to the immediate physical and spiritual needs of those in crisis. So while our actions may be small in the face of such staggering violence and loss, every action matters. Every bag of food, every touch, every prayer matters. After all, hope is most often given through a thousand small acts of mercy. I no longer ask myself if my trip was effective. I ask myself how I can serve others as I would serve Christ. That's what matters most. 

There are three ways for you to get involved in serving the displaced and suffering people from Syria and Iraq:

1. You can PRAY for the refugees and those who persecute them.

2. You can GIVE to the PEACE Relief ministry by clicking HERE (the PEACE Relief ministry is funded entirely by the financial gifts from our church family and community).

3. You can GO serve the refugees. Trips are currently being formed to serve displaced and suffering people in Beirut and Eastern Europe. You can also serve refugees locally through Voice of the Refugees

To learn more about joining a trip, or to receive a prayer guide for the refugees, email relief@saddleback.com.

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