“Be careful! Slow down!” I call to the young Syrian refugee girl as she dashes after her friend, stumbling over rocks and trash as she goes. Not that she could understand my English; they all spoke only Arabic.
We’d had an interesting time explaining the game of “Duck, Duck, Goose” to the group of 20-plus refugee girls without a translator. They seemed to have caught on well, though, even if we did have to play the game standing up instead of sitting. There wasn’t enough room to sit between the tents, and the ground was littered with trash and sharp rocks.
My husband and I were with a Syrian VOM partner, “Samir,” at one of the schools they had opened for children in a refugee camp. My husband took the boys and I took the girls, and we played games until their lunch arrived. For many of them, I was told, the school-provided lunch was all they would eat that day.
The girls’ high-pitched laughter was contagious as they continued around the circle. “Daa, Daa, Gahh!” It didn’t quite sound like “Duck, Duck, Goose,” but throughout the rest of the afternoon, the girls had a great time patting each other’s heads and yelling “Gahh!” For a moment, they seemed to have forgotten they were refugees, that they have constant runny noses, dirty clothes, and have seen and experienced far too much for their young age.
On our way to the camp earlier that day, we passed multiple checkpoints. Samir told us that a month earlier a suicide bomber had blown himself up at one of those checkpoints. He explained that even though the Syrian refugees are now away from the immediate danger of Islamic State and other radical groups, they are still not in a good situation. The children aren’t allowed to go to the country’s schools, the adults aren’t allowed to work and, being so close to the Syrian border, they are still exposed to kidnappings and other violence.
Samir then told us that all of this has provided an opportunity for Christians to reach out to Muslims with the love of Christ like never before. That’s why they have opened a school in the refugee camp. The school welcomes both Muslim and Christian refugee children, giving them the only sense of normalcy they have in the camp, even if “school” is in a tent. They are taught the Good News of Jesus, and Muslim parents and guardians who see Christians as the only ones caring for their children also become curious, asking Samir to meet with them and tell them about this Jesus.
I left the refugee camp knowing one thing for certain: God’s light is breaking through the darkest places, and He is doing it through His church — the body of Christ of which we’re a part. I’m honoured to be in the same family as some of these incredible men and women of God. They value their pursuit of Christ’s calling over their safety or security. Samir knows he puts himself and his family at risk every time he goes to the refugee camp, boldly sharing the love of Christ with Muslims.
With everything we have heard about the Syrian refugee crisis, with everything we are hearing about terrorism and about IS, it’s important for us to remember that our God is never in crisis, that Jesus’ kingdom never falters or is afraid. Samir and his wife believe that when Jesus said, “Go and make disciples” that this is what He meant. “How could I not go?” Samir asked pointedly.
I could have left that trip wondering if I should even call myself a Christian compared with someone like Samir. But instead, I was inspired that this is who we are called to be as Christians, to “go and make disciples.” We are all a part of this kingdom; we are all ambassadors of Christ’s hope, love and freedom. When the world cries in confusion, turmoil and despair, we can remain steadfast because we know that our God is bigger, that His love is stronger than death and that there is always victory in Christ … even in a dirty refugee camp.
Brooke Parks works for VOM USA.
I’m your average young American. I grew up in a house with four bedrooms and plenty of food to eat every day. I worked hard in high school to get into a good college, and my parents taught me to treat others with kindness and respect. I love going to the movies, coffee is an everyday necessity and I spend way too much time on my phone.
At the same time, I’m not your average American. I’ve loved the Lord since a young age and that has been the determining factor in every decision of my life. I have a deep love for people and strong convictions about what is right and wrong. I went to a Christian school and studied theology, and I want to do overseas missions. My heart has been captivated for the broken and hurting of the world.
I was about eight years old when I first grasped the fact that there were Christians who had something to lose when they said they loved Jesus. I remember having a difficult time understanding this; loving Jesus was celebrated in the environment I grew up in. What did it mean that some children didn’t have shoes or a home and had lost their parents because they were Christians? I clearly remember when an American missionary couple was kidnapped and held for a year in the jungles of the Philippines; my family and I prayed every day for a year for their release. Even at a young age, these stories marked me. My parents choose to share what was going on in the nations with me at a young age, and as a result: I have a heart of compassion for the world.
When we hear stories of believers being persecuted overseas, western Christians typically have two types of responses: fear and guilt. We ask ourselves, “What if this comes to us?” In guilt, we wonder, “Why am I blessed with such a comfortable life while my brothers and sisters suffer?” Although both reactions are natural, neither response moves us to action. So what should be our response?
My answer is simple: prayer and obedience. Prayer is to be our natural response to both the horrors of our world and the blessings we receive in the midst of it. Suffering believers covet the prayers of the body of Christ, for prayer is the most powerful tool we possess. If we cannot lift up our brothers and sisters in prayer, are we truly part of the same body?
The second part of our response should be obedience to the Lord about how to best serve our persecuted family. We should strive for faithfulness, even if our response seems ineffective. If we are answering the Lord’s call to faithfulness, then the rest doesn’t matter. It is the Lord’s job to bring justice, to bring in the harvest and to reward the righteous. He simply asks that we be faithful sowers. God is concerned with the condition of our hearts towards our brothers and sisters, for hearts that are tender are hearts that can be broken for what breaks God’s heart.
I encourage you today to think about this answer of prayer and obedience. Although a simple answer, it is not simple to do. Yet aren’t we promised that when we are weak, He is strong? Let your faith be encouraged by our dear brothers and sisters who fight hard battles every day and let yourself be moved from compassion to action.
R J Everett works for The Voice of the Martyrs USA
“On a Sunday morning, I walked towards my church and mused about the sermon, which I would have to deliver…while I was debating with Jesus the sermon, which I had to deliver after half an hour, at once a car of the secret police stopped near me, four men rushed out of the car, in a minute’s time, I was in the car, I was handcuffed, I was blindfolded. And now, I was under arrest.”
As Richard Wurmbrand shared this story at the Royal Festival Hall in London, on 13 April 1969, he invited the listeners to enter into a dark world. He continued, “And now, in our imagination, let us all leave this hall. You descend with me blindfolded down some slippery stair, I do not know where I am led. A door opens before me. The blindfold is taken away. I am pushed in. The door is banged after me, it is locked. And now, Jesus is no more simply at the door; he is at a locked door, which I cannot unlock.”
He asked the spellbound audience: “What would be your first feeling, if such a thing would happen to you? I can tell you what happened to me first: I trembled. We knew already, how the communists behave towards prisoners. It is not only beatings, whippings, but refined tortures, cruelties, and dopings. And I feared that under these atrocities, my faith might break, I might become a traitor to the Church.”
These words provide a window into the soul of a frightened prisoner and the deep questions that each one of us would face when confronted with an unjust imprisonment. It is a space of denial, fear and loneliness. However, as believers, we have an assurance that can never be taken away.
Richard continued his speech, “You are alone in a cell; they meant you to be alone.”
“But, we were not alone!”
Right now. Today. This very moment, there are Christians who are facing the same denial, fear and loneliness. I have personally encountered, and prayed with, Christians in Asia and Africa who have spent years in prison, facing unimaginable tortures.
Even in these dark moments, Scripture reminds us that we are never alone. When Joseph was placed in a dark prison cell, the Lord was with him: “Then Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were confined. And he was there in the prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (Genesis 39:20-21).
Will you join me today in praying specifically for those who are in prison right now because of their faith? Let’s pray that they will sense the deep comfort of God’s presence with them, that they will experience His mercy and that they will find favour in the eyes of those who have detained them.
We are never alone.
Dr Jason Peters works as Associate Vice President of Connection for The Voice of the Martyrs USA.