For the past several years, the Syrian civil war and the war in Iraq have grown in intensity and scope, leading to an historic humanitarian disaster. Over six million have been displaced, fleeing the violence; three million of those have fled those countries to nearby regions.
According to the New York Times, the rate of diaspora of those fleeing the Syrian civil war has been characterized by the United Nations as the worst since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. According to UNHCR, 1.8 million have fled to Lebanon, 600,000 to Jordan, over 800,000 to Turkey, and the rest scattered throughout the region, creating a tremendous strain on infrastructures and economies in areas already stretched thin.
The refugees leave everything–their homes, possessions and communities–and flee with little more than the clothes they are wearing. Almost 40 percent are living in sub-standard housing. Three-quarters of the refugees are women and children. According to ABC News, there are some 600,000 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon alone, and most of them don’t attend school. Many of them work instead.
In January 2015, I spent a week in Lebanon with a small team from my church listening to the stories of Iraqi and Syrian refugees. In an Beirut apartment crowded with multiple families, I listened to an Iraqi mother talk about how her four-year-old son was killed by an ISIS bomb. In a tent settlement in the Bekka Valley, I heard a Syrian father recount first how his young son was shot and killed and then his wife and unborn child died in childbirth at a checkpoint because no medical help was available.
Their stories make my breath catch and my heart hurt. There are millions of stories like these. Millions. It is hard to wrap our minds around the staggering numbers and the immensity of suffering.
Those of us who live in North America and Europe are in a unique position. Compared to the refugees, many of us abound in wealth, influence and resources. We have the power to speak for those who do not have a voice (Proverbs 31:8-9). I am haunted by Mordecai’s conversation with Esther, who struggled with how much she might have to sacrifice in order to use her position of power and influence to speak for a whole people suffering and in danger. “Who knows,” he challenges her. “Maybe you were made queen for such a time as this.” Perhaps we are a population of Esthers whose wealth and resources were given for such a time as this.
What can we do?
First, we can make sure the stories of the refugees are heard. Stories cut through the evening news and statistics and makes it personal. They confront us with real people and real suffering. We begin to actually see the people behind the crisis–and that moves us to act.
And how can we act? We can begin by sharing what we have with others. Talk to your church. See what the charities you support are doing. Check out the resources tab on this website.
Please do something, because “for such a time as this” is now.