Last week I met a little girl who told me that her big sister had died. She had suffered terribly, wasting away from a disease that could have been treated if she’d had access to medical services readily available here in Australia. Her story was heartbreaking enough – however now it was all the more poignant as we sat in a crumbling apartment building in the outer suburbs of Beirut.
This little girl and her family were just some of the tens of thousands of refugees who have fled from Syria and Iraq, uprooted from their homes and forced to huddle together in makeshift shelters and shanties across the region. Every person has their own story of suffering. It’s overwhelming and as I listen, I find myself unable to process what I’m hearing. I’ve never felt like this before. I’ve travelled a lot over the years, met all sorts of people and seen many forms of poverty and despair. But nothing had prepared me for sitting in that room that day looking into the eyes of this suffering child.
I was in Lebanon with Baptist World Aid Australia to find out how Australian Baptists can best support our brothers and sisters in Christ across the Middle East. This girl and her family are Assyrian, a Christian minority group who are some of the last people in the world to still speak Aramaic, the ancient language Jesus spoke. They are also one of the ethnic minority groups that ISIL terrorists are slaughtering.
Woven through this one girl’s story, I had a hint of the vast numbers of her people taking refuge. I was struggling to get my head around the fact this was just a fraction of the 11 million children and families who have been displaced so far by fighting in the Middle East.
Later, the father of the little girl came and sat with us, and with the help of an interpreter we started to talk. He told me how this place was not home and how it never would be as his people did not want to resettle in Lebanon. When I asked him what he wanted for the future, he was unable to respond. A lack of belief that the future held any hope for them left him lost for words. He just looked at me, the deep, dark circles below his eyes speaking of despair, worry and fear.
“We have been abandoned,” he said instead. “The western church has been silent. However, now you are here to listen. We want you to tell our story and to understand our situation. We want you to pray for us. Please pray for our spiritual strength and our personal safety. Please pray for increased response. For medicine and for an end to the fighting. Tell them we will always cling to our faith that Jesus is sufficient and will one day bring us home.”
Lord, I can’t say it in words. Please listen to my heart’s prayer for your people in the Middle East.
To find out more about how you can join with Baptist World Aid to serve those suffering in the Middle East crises, please visit www.baptistworldaid.org.au/middleeast or call 1300 789 991. Detailed fact sheets, specific prayer requests and resources for your church are also available on our website.by Glen Richardson Director of Community Engagement Baptist World Aid Australia