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Syrian refugees in Lebanon: “How do we get warm in winter?”

December 4, 2012 by Open Doors in General

Syrian Women and Children

A four-year-old girl runs barefoot in the mud of the refugee camp. Although it has not rained for a few days, mud remains at this place just outside Zahle in the Bekaa valley, a short distance from the Syrian border in Lebanon.

Nearby a sleeping baby lies bundled up in a baby carrier. A dingy blue blanket covers the sleeping child. Even now, in early December, there are still mud and flies, but within a short time the first snow will fall. Though the winter is short in the valley, the snow blanket can easily reach around 12 inches with temperatures below zero, creating harsh conditions for these refugees who are sleeping in tents.

The Bekaa Valley is a safe haven for tens of thousands of Syrian refugees. For many of them it is the first region they arrive in when they fled from Damascus. But the refugees tell the Open Doors volunteer that they are all dreaming of returning to Syria when the war is over. “We lived always in peace in Syria; we were doing well there,” one of them says.

A tall weathered-looking man says that he fled to Lebanon his wife and five children, aged 13, 11, 9, 7 and 3, as well as other relatives. “We come from near Aleppo. About two months ago we fled Syria with an uncle and two of my nieces. I worked as a security guard at a school. Our village was under constant fire and constant bombing; I had my children in to take care of.”

One of the workers from a local Lebanese church that regularly visits the refugees adds, “They were very afraid that soldiers would enter their village and harm their daughters. In the village where the family lived, they had a house and a large piece of land where they could grow vegetables. Their new home is part of an abandoned factory building; the room is now completely blackened by smoke from fire-wood used for heating and cooking.”

“It is surprising to see how the family, with their few belongings, transformed this ugly place into their new home,” the church worker adds. “One part of the open building is clearly classified as a bedroom. Thin mats lay on the floor; against the wall is a pile of blankets. Where they sit is called the ‘living room.’ Everyone that sits on the long yellow mat on the floor has to remove shoes, a custom when entering a home in the Middle East.”

On one side of the room lies a huge pile of firewood. The father adds, “We have no money for a stove. I’ve been looking everywhere, but they are much too expensive. I haven’t found work yet. My two nieces have some income with the garlic, but I can’t find work. There is almost no work; no one has vacancies.”

When he starts talking about his life in Syria, his eyes fill with tears. “We had such a good life there; this is so difficult. The worst thing is the coming winter. How will it be with the children?”

Like many refugees in Lebanon, this family receives food aid. In their case the local Baptist church in Zahle is taking care of this. The father expresses his gratitude, “That has helped us enormously; we feel welcome in Lebanon. But, I want to go back to my country as soon as the war is over.”

They feel blessed, however, to live in the factory building. Less than a mile away from the factory is a settlement of “tents.” An estimated two thousand Syrian families scrape out a life in structures made ??of tarpaulins. Behind the tents is a stream full of garbage and filth. All sewage flows away through a narrow open sewer that connects to the stream.

“We fled from Homs because of every day fighting and shooting,” says a young father from Homs. “When we left, our house was still intact, how it is now we don’t know.” Together, with his brother, he found construction work in the camp; as a result, his family is doing slightly better than others.

As he talks, two NGO trucks make their way through the mud distributing blankets and mattresses to the neediest families. “Wintery items do have priority now as winter approaches,” one of the workers says. According to the United Nations, new refugees arrive every day from Syria. They estimate that the number of Syrian refugees in the tiny country now above 122,000, but fear that this number will rise up to 300,000.

“There are many refugees. But as a Baptist church we do what we can” Rev. Jihad Haddad explains. “We are a tiny congregation with just above 50 members. I recently told the ‘parable’ of the starfish in church. The story is that a boy is saving one starfish on a beach that is full of them. A man comes up and asks the boy what the use is of his action. ‘There are more than a million on this beach, too many to do something,’ the man says. Then the boy answers, throwing one more starfish in the sea, ‘but for this starfish it makes all the difference.’ This is what we do, making a difference for a number of refugees. We do help about a hundred families.”

Father, we cannot begin to comprehend the plight of these Syrian refugees. Thank You for the way You’re using churches to minister to some of their needs, but the needs are immense. You own the “cattle on a thousand hills;” (Psalm 50:10) we pray for Your provision for these people in need. Lay on our own hearts the perseverance to pray faithfully for them and the compassion to reach out in tangible ways as opportunities arise-to be Your hands and heart in caring for these children of Yours. In the name of Jesus our Sustainer, Amen.

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