As the Syria civil war rages on and the U.N. investigates claims that chemical weapons might have been used in the conflict, one Christian missionary organization helping refugees has revealed that the people are hungry for the message of Christ, and urged believers to come together and help out in one of the most urgent humanitarian crises of the new millennium.
"We executed a food distribution and ministry program where we supplied food for about a two week period to 2,000 refugees, and during the event we distributed Bibles in their language and the story of Jesus booklets," Eric English, executive director of Strategic Planning for World Compassion Terry Law Ministries told The Christian Post in a phone interview on Tuesday.
Despite efforts from the U.N., the U.S. and other government bodies, there seems to be no end to the Syrian crisis, where rebels from the Free Syrian Army are fighting President Bashar al-Assad's Syrian Armed Forces, in a conflict which began in early 2011 and has claimed over 100,000 lives to date.
The civil war has led to a mass exodus of refugees, as many as 1.9 million according to reports, while another 4.2 million people in the Islamic nation have been displaced. World Compassion, a Christian ministry which heard the people's plea for help, organized relief efforts for the 150,000 Syrian refugees who are now stationed in Northern Iraq.
While the Kurdish region has tried to accommodate the large number of refugees coming over from Syria, reports say its young government is feeling overwhelmed and does not have a lot of experience dealing with such situations.
"It's a new government and new governments may not have the bureaucratic structure to deal with a situation such as this, which they have never seen before," said William Tall, the new head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) North.
English, who recently returned from the region where he worked with refugees as well as high-ranking Kurdish government officials and leaders, shared with CP that the relief efforts are helped by a local pastor supported financially by World Compassion, as well as a team of volunteers.
"It was just amazing because the Bibles went faster than the food did. They were very hungry for the message of Jesus Christ," World Compassion's executive director said of the response the organization received.
He added that World Compassion felt called to help the refugees at a time of personal and national tragedy, and urged Christians to take interest in these matters and reach out to help in a meaningful way.
"At large, the Christian population has not responded. And so we took that as a real call to action and took it to heart on how we can work with these Syrian refugees."
English shared that World Compassion met with the American consulate to the Kurdish region and he communicated with them the need to get out the story of the Syrian crisis to America, which he says has been under-reported by the media and that the true story has not been told.
Several blog posts on the World Compassion website highlight powerful stories by refugees and survivors of the civil war who share of the many losses they have suffered and the atrocities committed by both the government loyalists and the rebel fighters. "Both sides are wearing black hats," English noted.
As for his personal experience, the executive director said that he walked away with a completely different opinion of Muslim culture than he previously had.
"What I had been taught is that all Muslims are radicalized and they hate Americans," English said. "But what I learned from being there is that the vast majority of Muslims are Muslims by birth, and they are just normal people who work normal jobs, like you and I do, and they don't hate Americans – but the radicalized minority controls the country and the environment."
"They were very open to the Gospel because they were not radicalized," he added.
Although Christian Syrians make up 10 percent of the country's population, he added that he did not encounter any at the refugee camps – largely because Christians do not feel safe declaring their faith in a situation where there are few resources to keep civil order.
World Compassion offers different ways for people to help with the crisis. Financial contribution is one option; a donation program the group started says contributions goes directly to the camps and that $25 can feed one refugee for one month, while $100 can help an entire family of four for a month.
Another important way people can help is through spreading news of the refugees' plight on the internet. "They can also be a voice on social media," English said. He encouraged internet users to send and share World Compassion's blog posts about the crisis, so that more people can become informed and come together to help with what they can.
English added that at the camps in Northern Iraq, World Compassion is working with local church pastors who reach out on an ongoing basis to foster relationships with the people, and help them facilitate house churches and Bible studies.
"The tragedy of the Syrian war has created a vast opportunity for the Gospel to be ministered in the Middle East. On a social level, we have a responsibility to respond to the crisis as Christians, and to help people who are in need," the World Compassion executive director urged.