Syrian life gives volunteers new perspective

SYRIA (BP) -- Lisa* never wanted to have anything to do with the Middle East. She felt that way even though her husband William* dealt with the region at his job and kept telling her how wonderful it was.

"No," she'd say, "it's a desert, it's a forsaken land and I want nothing to do with it."

IMB
But after she watched a documentary on Syrian refugees, and she saw the camps they lived in, her heart began to change. She began to pray that the church would rise up and do something to help those who are being forced out of their homeland.

At first she thought the solution was the church in the Middle East rising up in obedience. But she said the Lord responded to her, "You are the church."

Lisa said at that moment she knew she had to go to the Middle East "because the Lord put it in my heart that He loves these people and He wanted me to go and be His hands and feet."

When Robert*, a member of her Sunday school class, asked Lisa to go on a trip to work among Syrian refugees, she said yes.

Robert had gone to the Middle East for the first time six months ago after a friend shared with him that he believed Christians had a "brief window of time to do something" to engage Syrian refugees, to get the Gospel to them in a way not previously possible.

On a vision trip, Robert experienced what life was like for the Syrian refugees, and that experience ignited a passion in his heart.

"It was very humbling to sit in a house that was 15-by-15 cinder block with 15 Syrians living it in -- no showers, no bathrooms, no kitchens, no nothing," he said.

When he returned from this trip, he immediately recruited a team of five from his Southern Baptist church in Florida to return to volunteer with Syrian refugees. He and Lisa, William, Michael*, Rosie* and Micah* all have different journeys that brought them to this point.

Micah served in the military for more than 10 years on various tours throughout the Middle East. When he heard Robert share his passion for Syria, he felt like it was time that to go to the Middle East in "an entirely different role" and see the place and people through different eyes.

"Knowing some friends who did not make it home, you have the impression that every one of these guys (in the Middle Eastern country) could potentially be a bad guy," he said. "I wanted to change what I've been taught, what I've known for the past 12 years."

Micah went to the Middle East and accepted the invitation of Syrian refugee families who welcomed him and the rest of his group into their homes to share meals and coffee.

On the first visit, Micah said, he witnessed something that will stay with him forever. He sat down for a visit in the home of a man who had a long beard.

"I would have seen him 10 years ago and I would have thought one thing and I never would have taken my eyes off of him, never sitting and talking with him, never getting to know him," he said.

Micah soon discovered the man in the long beard was just a family man -- a man who was once a day laborer in Syria who desires to work to care for his family.

"As we were talking to him, his daughter just cuddles up to him like he's a big teddy bear," Micah said. "That began to break down my mind and my heart for these people.

"The homes I went into, they all poured their hearts out to me and it has changed my mind and it has changed my heart," Micah said.

Each member of the group was impressed and shocked by the way families who had nothing were so willing to share with them what they had.

"It's humiliating when all the prejudices that I have are challenged by the love that these Muslims have when we come into their homes," Robert said.

Lisa shared how one of the families they visited had a son who was killed, and the family was dealing with a lot of difficult things. This family graciously opened their home up to the team and served them tea and a meal, she said.

The group shared stories, laughter and the Gospel, and they prayed over the family in the name of Jesus Christ.

"On both sides of it you find out that we're just people," Michael said. "We are all just people and God loves us all."

William said he found the people are full of love and they want the basics that every human wants. Many have lost nearly everything they had, and they are all searching for home and asking questions they have never asked before.

"I would encourage people in the States to consider getting out of your comfort zone ... and be available to come over and to see what the Lord is really doing throughout this entire situation, because He's definitely moving," William said.

Rosie also believes that more people need to come over to the Middle East to work among Syrian refugees. Those who come to visit will be changed forever, she said.

"God has a heart for these people too, just the same as He does for everybody else," she said. "They will maybe get one chance in their life to hear about Christ. We've got to do something, and you should do it now. There is no time to waste because you never know when this opportunity is just going to be gone."

To learn more information about how you or your church can partner with IMB and become involved in helping Syrian refugees contact love4syria@pobox.com. Stay up-to-date with the latest stories, videos, resources and prayer requests for Syrian Refugees by clicking here.


Eden Nelson is a writer for the International Mission Board based in the Middle East. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).