(Lisa Pearce is deputy CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland, which works with partners worldwide to support Christians who are under pressure for their faith. She traveled to Lebanon in April to meet with Syrian Christians who have fled the violence in their homeland. Here are some of her observations:)
About 30 kilometres outside Syria’s western border, the Lebanon town of Zahle is full of refugees: Many make it across the Syria-Lebanon border and not much farther. With new refugees arriving every day, it seems that every spare building, shed and patch of ground is being rented by families or groups of families, at crippling prices. Even those leaving Syria with money can afford almost nothing in Lebanon. Before the uprising, Lebanese prices were several times higher than those in Syria. A colleague in Beirut, 90 minutes from the border, used to travel to Syria to shop for clothes because it was so much cheaper. Now, with more people competing for the same land, rooms or bunch of bananas, prices in the border town have rocketed, putting many essentials out of reach of desperate refugees.
On arriving at a church to meet our host for a few days, I was struck by how tiny it was: All we saw was a network of small rooms. And with only 50 members, it was greatly outnumbered by the refugees flooding into the town. Even so, they started going out to sit with a few families and understand their needs. They gathered what food, blankets and mattresses they could, and gave them to the families. They arranged for a doctor to come and visit the sick; They prayed with those who wanted prayer. And they visited more families, found more clothes, more mattresses. Two weeks before our visit, a large crowd of desperate, newly arrived refugees gathered outside the church and demanded food, mattresses and cooking materials. The church team were ‘five minutes from calling the police’. It is not easy. That little congregation now has been given funds from a partner organisation (which my organisation is working with inside Syria), and are helping many hundreds of families.
As we walk down the street, a refugee comes up to our host, and embraces him. He tells us how, since meeting Christians and being cared for by the church, he’s spiritually richer than he has ever been – despite having ‘lost’ everything when he left Syria.