In early 2018, I walked among the tents of a refugee camp in eastern Lebanon, just a short drive from the Syrian border. I was there with a pastor and a Christian woman who had just left the camp. She, like millions of other Syrians, had fled her home nation as the endless civil war took her home, her family and her future.
As I walked among the tents, I realized she was just one of a number so high I couldn’t imagine it. She represented countless others who had left their homes and now found themselves stuck on some random plot of land in a foreign country, with only some donated tarp and a concrete floor to call their own.
It was one of the most hopeless situations I’ve ever seen. If I’m honest, it was hard to see where God was in that moment—the need was so big, the pain so raw, the problem so massive. So … where was God?
That’s a question that’s haunted plenty of Christians as they’ve looked at what’s happened in Syria. The refugees, the war, the dead, the destroyed churches, the victims of ISIS—it seems impossible to fix.
And yet, even in this camp, there were glimpses of God’s hope. The pastor I was there with was offering aid to Christian refugees in his city—food and supplies that your gifts and support helped provide. He and other leaders in the city would work to visit the refugee camps, providing some aid and inviting people to church. That was a common story in Syria—pastors who were suddenly able to preach the gospel to their communities because they were the ones who were freely giving food or help to anyone who needed it.
Situations like the civil war in Syria might appear to me to be totally hopeless, but that’s often when God does His most powerful work. God is still there, working through His Church to make His name great and to let His people know they were and are not alone. This Christmas, I’m reminded of a God who called Himself “Emmanuel”—“God with us.” That was true 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem, and it is true now in Damascus, Aleppo and other places in Syria where God’s people are recovering hope and rebuilding their lives with His help through your support and prayers.
I’m reminded of the words of an Open Doors worker who returned recently from a trip to Syria. He said:
“Here I am, walking in the streets close to the citadel of Aleppo, Syria. What first strikes me is the massive destruction of complete neighborhoods next to areas of the city that seem untouched by war. It’s just a question of where you look in Syria, what story you can tell.
“I am here to find out how the Christians are doing. I can approach that question in different ways, ranging from despair to optimism. I will never forget a priest who, in his destroyed church, told me how he lost his bishop, his church, his house, his wife and his children in the war. But right after telling me this, I saw a spark of hope in his eyes when he talked about why he stayed and how he believes in the future.
“That brings me back to the old citadel of Aleppo where a Christian organization said these words: ‘Believe in Aleppo.’ That’s it! Being a Christian should mean you believe in the future, you believe in God with us, Emmanuel.”
Amen. As I think back to that walk through the camp, I think about the ways God was there with me and the people I was with. He has not left them—or us—without hope. Even when events like the Syrian Civil War take our breath away with the brutality humans can inflict on each other, God is still there.
The God who broke into our world in a manger is the same God who still reminds His people He has not left them. He is our Emmanuel, and that promise is enough to chase away the hopelessness.
That’s what I’m holding on to this Advent and this Christmas, and I hope you’ll do the same. Merry Christmas!