Seeing the horrors of Syrian war as told by the faces and stories of those suffering its consequences in the news is overwhelming-and as I saw it for myself in person, my eyes welled up with tears at their pain. As a new father, the suffering of families and children is getting harder and harder to see. The only words I could form consistently was, "Lord, have mercy."
Let me introduce you to some of the people I met:
I shared lunch with Yousef*, a grandfather and teacher who is now a refugee in Sidon. Today he volunteers as a teacher of refugee children in Lebanon and sometimes in return gets paid a small stipend. He and 21 of his extended family fled the fighting in Syria but he told me through tears of grief how they fled too late for two of his nephews whom he held dead in the streets from bullets. He now shares a three-bedroom apartment with 21 of his relatives and confided how going home at night is hard because he wants to be a grandfather and bring gifts to his grandchildren … but it's all he can do to help provide their most basic needs.
I met the Aziz* family living in an isolated barn, which they shared with a farmer's horses. Bombs destroyed their home and business in a suburban city in Syria and they fled with only what they could wear and carry over the mountain border into Lebanon. Aziz's daughter served us mint tea while her father wept and stated bluntly: "my life is over but I want to preserve a future for my children." His wife wiped tears as her once proud husband declared his total hopelessness in providing for and protecting his children's hopes and dreams. Their daughter hoped to be a beautician like her mother and her two older brothers wanted to be an architect and a nurse … the youngest son just liked playing soccer. All of this was enshrouded in further despair as their mother spoke of the isolation and fear of being a parent in a lonely barn in a foreign land with no community to turn if they are attacked or if their children get sick.
In just these two stories, the pain is palpable and one can't help but wonder where the hope is in all of this? To be honest, no matter where I look, the suffering seems greater than the succor … but because I am motivated in my work by hope let me introduce you to an inspiring Lebanese Christian. Pastor Jihad is a man living out the miracle of forgiveness and compassion toward Syrian refugees a people he once considered enemies.
Over strong Lebanese coffee, Jihad, true to his name, told of how he has been called to "fight the good fight" of mercy on behalf of his former enemies, the Syrians. They are now into their third year of suffering: over 120,000 Syrians have lost their lives; 6 million people, 3 million of whom are children, have lost their homes. Syria is at risk of losing a whole generation to the ravages of war and revenge. God replaced Jihad's heart of revenge w/ forgiveness and compassion toward his former enemies and today his energies are spent on their behalf. He writes: "Our hearts are aching for their pain. Our prayers are continuous for their country. Our church is working day and night to help them, to heal their wounds, to wipe their tears and to feed their children."
I saw Jihad's church in action, visited their warehouse and met family after family who receive monthly rations through the church and where their refugee children can come find fellowship, games and learning. Coming here has become a weekly highlight to the Aziz children.
And so even in the pain, our prayers of "Lord have mercy" are being answered. The mercy is not just in the desperately needed aid being delivered to Yousef and the Aziz family but also in hearts and minds. This is where Jihad's miracle of love for his enemies is birthing more miracles and where former religious and political adversaries are seeing conflict and revenge replaced with forgiveness and compassion. So even in the suffering there is hope. As American's we are big on hope and I trust that we will join this hope with our heritage of generous compassion. This is would be a fitting legacy for American's to the Syrian people as they struggle through suffering toward a better future.