I was privileged to listen in on a press conference yesterday with Mennonite Central Committee staff and MCC partners working in Lebanon and Syria. I was invited by virtue of being a MennoNerds blogger, and I decided to join the conference call because I’m still kind of sick and basically sitting around the house all day . . . so why not?
Well, I’ll tell you why not. Because I want to be happy that President Obama has said the United States should take in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next year. But on the conference call I learned that there are 2 MILLION Syrian refugees in Lebanon, another 2 MILLION in Jordan, 7-8 MILLION internally displaced people in Syria. Suddenly, ten thousand doesn’t seem like much.
Why not listen in on this press conference? Because they talked a lot about the children. The children fleeing bombings in Syria who face hunger in Lebanon. The children who cannot attend school because it’s not safe, or because they don’t have enough money. The children who haven’t bathed in weeks; who can’t access the healthcare they need; who live within a haze of trauma.
Why not listen in on the press conference? Because sometimes, it’s just too much. Bombs, starvation, squalid living conditions, and—as many speakers mentioned—the impending winter. Apparently it gets cold in Lebanon and Syria.
But all of this—the crushing size of the problem, the depths of suffering in the region—this is not really news. No one needs an MCC press conference to learn that things are bad for Syrians right now. Pick up a paper, turn on the news, log on to Facebook. It’s all there in devastating color.
Why listen in on the press conference? Because the participants gave me a glimpse of the reality behind the news stories. That there are people in Lebanon and Syria who are choosing to distribute food and provide healthcare and winterize homes. There are Christians and Muslims working together to serve people in need, showing their neighbors that religion does not have to be a basis for battle, but rather our shared commitment to serving God can bring people together in peace and friendship.
The problems related to the Syrian crisis are overwhelming and the suffering of so many people is unimaginable. At the same time, the human goodness brought forth by this crisis is staggering, and the bravery of so many people is beyond comprehension.
It is easy to focus on the despair, but I am grateful for the words of hope that I heard. So here is my shameless plug: If you, like me, are one of the people lamenting the dire situation in Syria from the comfort of your climate-controlled home, send some money to the brave people who are feeding and housing and clothing distraught Syrians every day.
This may not sound like much, but I heard it directly from Riad and Riham and Rashid and Rosangela: the money matters.
It helps. It is the reason they are able to give food to hungry children. It is how they pay for medical clinics. It is what they will need to get people’s homes ready for the bitter cold months ahead.
Rosangela Jarjour, of The Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches (FMEEC), concluded the press conference by telling us of a pastor in Aleppo who has decided to stay in the city and is currently working with others in the community to rebuild the church that was bombed. Twice. She asked him why he works to rebuild when bombs continue to fall on the city every day. The pastor responded, “the church has to be a sign of hope to the people.”
So I invite you to join that pastor, and Rosangela, and all of the MCC workers and partners in Syria and Lebanon, in being the church. In working together to build and bring life however we can, no matter how overwhelming the forces of destruction may seem.
You can donate money to MCC for their work in Syria through their web site.
If you prefer a more hands-on project, MCC is also asking for much needed kits.