The atrocities in Syria, like most major events, fade in and out of focus for many of us. We so often rely on what our favourite news organisations tell us the most important stories are. The most recent surfacing of Syrian news made me pause though. The other day I woke up to a Twitter feed full of starving Syrians.
As the first video auto played, I sat, horrified by what I was seeing. Here are two of them.
Saddened doesn’t even describe how those videos made me feel, distraught might be a better fit. It got me thinking that whilst I know bits and pieces about what is happening, I don’t feel that informed about what exactly is going on. I realised this was my opportunity to find out more, to see what sort of help the people are receiving. I was aware of the big organisations such as the UN helping but who else is contributing?
I didn’t know how the troubles started in Syria so took to the web to find out more. This video helped me understand the different groups within the conflict and who is fighting who. I apologise if you are already clued up.
This was made before the Paris attacks, hence no mention of them. Those attacks were instigated, as most of us know, by IS, or as they are currently being called, Daesh which is the Arabic word for the terror group. Now that we know some of the basics we can move forward and find out about some of the agencies that are trying to help. As a Christian I particularly wanted to know what Christian charities are doing to help and what I could do to help. I have divided the charities I have looked at into three categories.
Those helping Syrian refugees in surrounding countries:
Those doing both internal and external work with Syrians:
Those working in Syria
In some way or another each of these charities are working to serve and love God’s people. Here is a little insight into what they are doing.
MECO International (Middle East Christian Outreach) are working through eight mission partners in surrounding countries such as Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan to help those fleeing the war in Syria and the violence in Iraq. This is their Refugee Ministry Fund which can be given to on the site. MECO’s work isn’t primarily disaster relief. They work alongside Christian communities in the Middle East to help train and equip leaders, to assist the people with church planting and serve them in whatever way they need.
To be servant-hearted is a big biblical principle, Jesus Himself was servant-hearted to those around him. One of the ways he displayed this was washing the feet of his disciples, an action that was not seen as becoming for a Jewish man to do. The Middle East is where Christianity started, Syria is where one of the biggest church growths happened (you can read about this in the Bible book of Acts), one of the many reasons why charities such as MECO are working in that area of the world. MECO also has created a seven day prayer plan for people to follow, click here to see it. This however was created a little while ago and doesn’t include the most recent events to pray about but is good as a starting point and focuses on the bigger picture.
Another of the charities that aims to mobilise prayer is Open Doors. Their ministry is serving persecuted Christians and churches all around the world. Part of this is supplying bibles and study materials, training Christian leaders, livelihood support and advocacy support. The website is very helpful in providing a few prayer points for each of the locations with persecuted Christians and provides background information of each of them (see link above). The ways in which Open Doors is working in Syria are varied. Through partnerships with local churches they are equipping the people to help their communities. They are distributing bibles for children and Christian books. They are providing relief aid to many displaced Christians and providing rehabilitation programmes and trauma counselling. They are providing training for youth leaders and church leaders and helping to build positive communication between the different types of church in Syria by sponsoring conferences that all Christians are invited to. By doing this they are able to do a lot more together for their communities.
Christian Aid is also harnessing the power of local people to reach those who are in need. They have partnered with many local charities both in Syria and Lebanon and Iraq, where many Syrian refugees have fled to. Christian Aid’s aim is to provide practical help where it is needed most. In Iraq they are doing this by working with Asuda who support women at risk from violence and REACH who work with refugees living in the Kurdish region of Iraq who are the most vulnerable. More than 248,000 Syrians have escaped to Iraq even though it faces its own violence.
Lebanon now has more than 1.1 million refugees, a staggering amount considering their own population is only 4.5 million. Christian Aid have partnered with three organisations here: The Lebanese Physically Handicapped Union who help Syrian refugees that are disabled, Mouvement Social who hive Syrian children the opportunity to continue their education and Association Najdeh who are helping Palestinian refugees from Syria.
Within Syria they are working with their alliance sister agency, The International Orthodox Christian Charities who have been working in Syria for several years. The provide essentials like hygiene packs, food, shelters, and bedding. They also give pre and postnatal treatment to mothers and emergency nutrition to newborns who need it. Education helps to keep a routine for children so classes are provided for those who have left their homes in search for safety.
The education of Syrian children is one of the issues World Vision are concerned with. Their website says that nearly 2.3 million children are out of education is Syria and more than half of refugee children are without any form of schooling. In response to this they have set up safe spaces for children to play and be informally taught so that the as many children as possible have the chance to continue learning. Children and their families are what World Vision are working to protect and nurture in Syria and the surrounding countries that are hosting their refugees. Much of what they do is providing basic essentials for sustaining life like food, warmth, clean water and sanitation. In addition they strive to protect children from exploitation such as prostitution and recruitment into extremist groups. They aim to empower these children and young people.
Empowering young people is one of the things our final charity does. Tearfund invite them to peace building workshops in order to train them to become ambassadors of peace in their own communities. They feel they are called to follow Jesus where the need is greatest. They too work though Syrian churches and distribute the life sustaining resources we spoke about just now.
Whilst it difficult to know the very precise actions these charities are taking I do now feel better informed about the programmes they are involved in. All of them provide of giving on their sites (which is great) but the ones that include prayer points are so helpful. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the need and not know where to start so specific points help focus attentions. That being said just getting more informed has helped.
Much of the work carried out in Syria and Iraq is risky and dangerous. Whilst sometimes it is done by people who are from elsewhere much of it is done by the local people who see the worth in risking their lives to help others. For the Christians in these situations, I’m fairly certain their strength and motivation comes from Jesus and knowing that He has conquered death.