EDITOR’S NOTE: Please note that the first paragraph now reflects that Syria entered its fifth, not fourth, year of conflict in March. Edited April 21.
LONDON (BP) — Syria entered its fifth year of conflict in March with the grim report that an estimated 220,000 people have been killed since fighting began in early 2011. In addition, registered refugee numbers soon will hit the 4 million mark, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Amid such trauma, Christians continue to have unprecedented opportunities to share the Good News.
“The worst humanitarian crisis of our day is opening doors among peoples we have never had access to before, and we are finding not just broken lives but open hearts,” said James Keath*, IMB strategy leader for North Africa and the Middle East.
Keath and other Christian workers live in the midst of the Syrian refugees’ daily suffering, but they are passionate about the reality of God’s love and an openness to share that love.
Thousands of Syrians, weary from violence as well as dwindling food and medical supplies, continue to flee their country for a safer life elsewhere. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have set up camps along their borders.
Many relief agencies, however, have seen donations take a steep drop, as the world seemingly becomes callous to the stream of horrific tales from refugees and refugee agencies.
Throughout the conflict, Baptist churches from the United States have worked in various ways to help Syrian refugees have access to lifesaving aid and to advocate for them both in the U.S. and overseas.
New Bethel Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Miss., for example, has taken generous steps to ensure they are doing their part to demonstrate God’s love to Syrian refugee families.
Seeing detailed reports about the religious and ethnic violence within Syria and Iraq last fall, New Bethel took action. Instead of collecting a Sunday morning offering for their new building project, New Bethel opted to send the money through Baptist Global Response so refugees could be supplied with food, blankets, medicine and shelter.
“I just really felt a burden that the folks in Iraq and Syria — those persecuted Christians and minorities — needed food and water and shelter and medical care more than we needed our building, even though we do need our building,” New Bethel pastor Curtis Pace said.
Many pastors in Syria elected to remain within the country in order to minister to the millions of internally displaced Syrians.
With war and the self-proclaimed Islamic State encroaching on their homes, Syrian pastors fix their gaze on the seemingly endless needs of suffering people and plant their faith firmly in Jesus Christ.
One Baptist pastor said, “I am staying … I am staying for the church, to keep the message of Jesus as a light for the lost and frightened. [And] I am staying because the harvest is plentiful.”
The pastor quoted the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, “‘Oh that my head was water and my eyes were pools of water, that I may cry for the dead of my people,'” then added, “Even though we are living in difficult times, let us not stop being faithful to our Lord.”
Through organizations like Baptist Global Relief and Global Hunger Relief, Baptists around the world are able to help feed, clothe, house and provide medical care for refugee families in Syria and across the Mideast.
“We have a God-given moment in history,” said Don Alan*, a Christian worker in the region. “Will we be cowards and shrink back or will we play the role that God is calling us to? I pray that you [the church] will stand with us as we respond to this window of opportunity that we have been privileged to be a part of.”
For more information about sharping hope with Syria’s refugees, go to 10 Ways to Help.
For an interactive in-depth timeline of the Syrian crisis and how God has used Southern Baptists to minister amid the upheaval, click here.