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As the conflict in Syria continues...

Written by Ms. Wafa Goussous*
October 3, 2014

Jordan , the safe and Peaceful ,offers the blessed five loaves and two fish to more  refugees.

As the conflict in Syria continues, there are over 3 million refugees from Syria across Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt. Over fifty percent of the Syrian refugees are children.

The crisis in Iraq is compounding the humanitarian situation in neighboring countries. Jordan received the first one thousand Iraqis who fled the violent and life-threatening situation in Mosul.

They are the latest group of Iraqi refugees seeking shelter in Jordan, which is still hosting 300,000 Iraqis from the war which started in 2003. At the peak of the Iraqi war, Jordan hosted some 1.5 million Iraqis.

Earlier in the summer, the Islamic State put a red Arabic letter 'N' on the Iraqi Christian homes. These Christians then had no choice but to flee to the northern Kurdish city of Irbil and from there to Jordan, joining the ranks of many Syrian refugees who are also in need of humanitarian assistance.

The Orthodox Initiative and the Middle East Council of Churches under the support and leader ship of His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III  has been providing aid to an increasing number of Syrian refugees in Jordan, mainly in the north of Jordan . The team has distributed blankets, quilts, towels, school bags, school kits, hygienic kits, winter clothes for children, winter boots and food items to the Syrian refugees across the Kingdom and to the most vulnerable Jordanians, the hosting communities.

With the recent situation in Iraq, we received news that the Syriac Orthodox Church in Amman had opened its doors to Iraqi families. This particular church has welcomed and housed many Syrian families during the last two years. The Pastor at St Ephraim’s Syriac Orthodox Church, Father Emmanuel Bana opened the church facilities previously for the Syrian refugees and the church is now hosting both Syrian and Iraqis Families, offering them bedding food and their basic needs, with part of the assistance coming from Caritas Jordan.

Our work to support the refugees and the uprooted comes from our Christian moral duty to assist the most vulnerable regardless of their cultural, religious and gender background , nevertheless our main concern today goes to our Christian brothers and sisters in the neighboring countries  who are being threatened by extremists using the name of religion .

A delegation from the Global Ministries of the UCC and the Disciples happened to be in Jordan during the last week of September 2014. Their visit to the region came as a manifestation of their commitment and deep concern for what is happening in our region. Their continuous support of their partners in the region makes a difference for the uprooted and displaced people who seek shelter and security in the neighboring countries.

Dr. Peter Makari led the delegation and was joined by co-Executive of the Global Ministries, the Rev. Julia Brown Karimu, Executive minister of Justice and Witness Ministries, the Rev. Linda Jaramillo, board members Rev. Stephanie Crowder, Rev. Sharon Prestemon, and Phyllis Hallman. The group also included Global Ministries staff persons Marcy Gansler Dory, and Derek Duncan. During the visit to the church, located in Ashrafiya, we visited a building which, we were told, was the church’s school. Built to educate young children, it now houses entire families of refugees. Our guide, a man from the congregation who now devotes much of his time to maintaining the housing, introduced us to families who shared their lives and stories. Mattresses covered the floors and old classrooms have been converted into shared bedrooms.

The matriarch of one family,  Um Haitham, explained to us the harsh events leading up to the family fleeing their home  in Iraq: they had to sell their humble car to fund their departure by air. Um Haitham  told  us that she   needs  to be admitted to a hospital urgently for a major operation, a process that was disrupted as they were forced from Iraq. Her son, an art teacher, came with his family and sister who had a newborn baby just before they fled. The entire family is sleeping in the same room; ten of them, with few personal belongings, meet their fate with unspoken worries and fears of the unknown.

The delegation then accompanied our team to the Syriac Orthodox  Church in Swefieh where Father Emmanuel  offered us a chance to meet Iraqi Refugees and  to give them something that might help ease their suffering.  We considered ourselves lucky for this chance to be present with the most vulnerable and view it as an opportunity to translate our Christian moral duties.

When we arrived at the church families milled about the premises. Some were gathered at the entrance of the church, others were sitting on chairs nearby. It wasn’t until later that we realized that almost all of these families were living far away from the church and had to take transportation to be with us. These families, many of whom have one or two sets of clothes as they flee their homes over night carried almost nothing with them , were quietly sitting each in their chairs waiting patiently to hear their names called to receive a voucher that will enable them to buy their own winter clothes, some food parcels and some chips and candy for their children .

One of our team admitted feeling shy because of the meager offering we could bring. We wished to offer much more as a message of our care and understanding of their tragedy. They indeed appreciated the vouchers, while the true offering they hope for is a return voucher home.

Our visit to St Ephraim’s deeply moved all of us. We felt that our attempts to understand or sympathize are inadequate and that the comfort we have in our daily lives is unjust. While we cannot secure peace for their homeland, we feel the need to do more.

Our partner Global Ministries promised to walk the road of assistance to the refugees with us.

The Feeding of the 5000 was a miracle that illustrates the abundance found in community. In the story, Jesus’ followers gathered to hear him deliver a sermon over lunch, but the amount of food was inadequate. The disciples went from person to person, collecting what little provisions they had. In the end, they collected five loaves and two fish. Jesus looked up toward heaven blessed the meal and it multiplied such that the entire crowd ate abundantly.

The Orthodox Initiative and the Middle East Council of Churches team invite all concerned people to join in supporting the noble mission that this particular church has set out to accomplish. It is through the help of the community that the church is able to provide heating, living space, cleaning supplies, and food for the families. But many of these resources are finite; we call on people of goodwill to step in with solidarity and resources to better the lives of this vulnerable population.

His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III called upon people with good will several times to join us in our mission to raise the voice of the importance of the Christian Presence in the Middle east and the urgency of supporting the uprooted .We call upon the Christian and Muslim International communities to put pressure and voice out what is going on in Iraq and Syria , which if not stopped right away it will lead to more uprooting and human calamities.

We ask you to join us in praying for the displaced families; pray that they find meaningful work in Jordan; pray that they grow as a community of love and support. And above all, pray that someday soon these people will be able to safely walk back into their beloved homeland with the weight of war lifted from their shoulders.

Ms. Goussous is the Director of the Orthodox Initiative in Jordan.  She will be a Learning Track speaker at the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Assembly next June, 2015.

The United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) continue to offer support for the work of many partners in the region to provide humanitarian response to the needs of Syrian refugees.  Please consider supporting the work of Global Ministries' partners' relief efforts in and around Syria.  You can do that through One Great Hour of Sharing (UCC), the Week of Compassion (Disciples), or through Global Ministries directly.

 



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