A New York City pastor who also travels internationally as a missionary recently shared with The Christian Post the kinds of stories he has been hearing from refugees who fled war-torn Syria while volunteering alongside Muslim expatriates at a clinic in Turkey.
William Devlin, who also goes by PB or Pastor Bill, is co-pastor of Infinity Bible Church in New York City's South Bronx. He is also president of grassroots organization REDEEM! and co-chair of Right To Worship NYC, which advocated for the city to allow Christians to conduct church services in public schools during off-hours.
The Christian Post previously reported on Devlin's humanitarian trips to Sudan to meet with persecuted Christian Meriam Ibrahim and to Iraq to aid Yazidis fleeing Islamic State persecution. More recently, Devlin was briefly detained by authorities during a prison visit with two Presbyterian pastors in Sudan. A network of donors provide the financial support for Devlin's global outreach and the medical supplies he delivers to those in need, the minister previously told CP.
Devlin informed CP via email on Sunday that he has been volunteering his time at a clinic since traveling to Turkey last week. The pastor granted CP's request to conduct a brief interview via email about what he has learned while working with refugees along the Syrian border near Reyhanli, Turkey, where some have fled since the start of their country's devastating civil war in 2012.
A transcript of the interview is below. It has been edited for clarity.
CP: What have you been hearing from the folks fleeing Syria and who you've been helping?
Devlin: I have interviewed dozens of Syrian refugees — all have had family members murdered and jailed either by [the] Syrian government or by ISIS. Syrian refugees have a sense of hopelessness, a sense that their country is "lost" and will "never recover." All the refugees I spoke with — doctors, surgeons, professionals, elderly, children, middle-aged, teenagers, (and) children — have experienced psychological war trauma similar to PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder). Nightmares, sleeplessness, high anxiety, nervousness, panic attacks, fear — all the standard symptoms of PTSD (seen) in all [and] both genders, from children to [the] elderly.
Many of those I treated had been imprisoned or had multiple family members imprisoned. The surgeon I work with at the clinic on the Syrian border was jailed for five weeks without any charges, simply because he was a doctor. He fled to Turkey with his wife and three small children after being released. Another doctor who fled Syria one year ago had his 16-year-old son imprisoned and beaten — once the son was released, they fled Syria into Turkey with just the clothes on their backs.
All who have come to our clinic and others outside the clinic I spoke with have left everything behind in Syria — homes, possessions, money, medical practices, businesses. Everything! Many still have family members back in Syria that, once they fled to Turkey, family members were jailed or killed, homes bombed, businesses destroyed, homes and businesses looted and ransacked. A Ph.D. who I worked with who now runs a school said that when he escaped Syria one year ago, "It was an adventure running away from death ..."
So all Syrians inside and out of the country are deeply depressed and living without hope because their lives have been destroyed. One man with seven children who left Syria six months ago and came to Turkey one month ago sent his 15-year-old son on a "billum" [sic], the inflatable boats that are being used to smuggle/transport Syrian refugees from Turkey to a Greek island in the Aegean Sea. This young teenager survived the boat ride, then made his way all the way to Holland. I asked the father, "Why did you send your young son? Why did you let him go?" The father responded: "There is nothing here for us in Turkey. There is no life for us here. We must go to Europe."
Many many stories ... and all of them are heartbreaking. Every one of the Syrian refugees I spoke to wants to either go to Europe or the USA. Not one expressed a desire to go to another Arab country nor an Islamic country. And everyone I spoke to and interviewed was Muslim.
As you can imagine, children have been deeply affected; I was in the process of interviewing a 9-year-old boy this past Saturday. After the first question, I asked him: "Abdul (name changed), what do you remember about Syria?" His ... countenance changed, he stood up, and said, "I do not want to remember Syria!" and he left the room.
On the physical trauma, many adults and children have been horribly wounded. I sent you a picture of a man who lost both eyes from rocket shrapnel. Young children with double amputations and permanent colostomies, ruptured eardrums, traumatic wounds all over the body.
CP: What have they been expressing as their greatest needs?
Devlin: [To] find a new life and have peace and quiet. [To] start a new life in Europe or USA.
CP: Is there presence of American, Western or any kind of foreign aid where you are?
Devlin: Unfortunately, I am the only Westerner here caring for Syrian refugees at this border clinic in Eastern Turkey. The doctors and surgeons I am working with, in fact all the workers at the medical clinic are Syrian Muslims expats. This is my fifth trip to the Syrian border. [During] two of those trips I have entered inside Syria into the Idlib Province and provided humanitarian care and shared God's love as I am doing now. We are only a few hundred yards from the Syrian border. Security is tight at this medical clinic.
More to tell but I am saddened by the fact that no other American pastors will join me here. There is an open door to minister to many. But I ask the question (on) behalf of these Syrian refugees: "If not us, then who? And if not now, then when?" Has the American Church grown this soft that we close our ears to these good and kind Syrian people?