The civil war taking place in Syria has been in the news since it erupted during the Arab Spring of 2011. We often see video of bombed-out buildings and people in ragged clothing trailing along war-torn streets, carrying their possessions as they flee the ongoing violence.
What we seldom see is the rest of the story: how God is working in the lives of displaced people and refugees of war.
When 10-year-old Reem crossed the border into Lebanon with her family, she suddenly found herself in a refugee camp controlled by a Muslim sheikh. All of the children in the camp were required to attend Islamic school each day and study the Qur’an. And each day the tyrannical sheikh would make an appearance in the classroom to shout at and physically abuse the students with the lowest grades.
It was a radical departure from life back home, and the environment in the camp was both disorienting and oppressive for Reem.
Things changed one day when a team of Syrian Christians gave Reem the Book of Hope – a New Testament resource developed specifically for children living in Muslim regions. The team also shared a story from the book about a man who was robbed and left for dead. The book’s colorful pictures illustrated each scene of the parable of the Good Samaritan, helping Reem remember the story even after the team left the camp.
She then began to read the book – over and over. As she did, the message about Jesus’ love for His enemies touched her heart.
“I knew that Jesus was the right path,” she said later. “I started praying and going to Sunday school. I thank Jesus for the chance to know Him and I will preach His name among all people.”
John was a Sunday School teacher in Syria. He loved his home and the church he attended, and didn’t want to leave. But as the situation grew more dangerous by the day, he reluctantly decided to go across the border into Lebanon.
Even in the refugee camp, he continued to pray that God would use him to minister to children. God quickly answered his prayer, bringing John into contact with a group of Christians working in the camps with Syrian children. He volunteered to assist them and soon found himself involved in a clown and puppet show.
At the close of each show, he and other team members would give each child a Book of Hope and share the love of Jesus with them.
“There are risks on the road,” John said, “and the situation of the camps might be really bad. But thank God that He speaks through us and gives us strength to deliver His message to the kids.”
Fourteen-year-old Iazim enjoyed a peaceful, predictable life. She lived with her family in a nice apartment, attended school, and had many friends. But when war broke out, everything changed.
Forced across the border, into a Lebanese refugee camp, she felt traumatized, fearful, and alone.
Then a neighbor in a nearby tent began to invite her to attend church. Iazim went and learned about God’s love for her as expressed in the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. The more she heard, the more she wanted to know.
One day a team came to her school and performed a puppet show and skits about the Jesus she had been hearing about. They also gave her the Book of Hope.
Iazim read the book and decided to commit her life to Christ, praying for her sins to be forgiven.
“God loves all people,” she said after this experience. “We should open our hearts in order for him to get in.”
Even in the midst of destruction, physical and emotional distress, and the most desperate of circumstances, God is present and continues to speak and minister through His Word.