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Workers, Refugees Face Jihadist Dangers

August 4, 2016

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Refugees from Syria hunger for hope.

Christian workers in southern Turkey are not at all uncertain what would happen to them if jihadists in camps for Syrian and Iraqi refugees found out they were talking about Jesus in the tents.

"They would kill us," the Turkish director of an indigenous ministry said.

The refugees are open to hearing the gospel as the ministry is providing food, clothes and clean water to them, but workers need to be careful about what they say, said the director, who provides aid in camps in an area undisclosed for security reasons.

"If certain people saw us sharing the gospel, they would tell the radicals," he said. "Even the [Turkish] government would stop us – they would be tracking us, ban us from everything, charge us with false crimes, put us in prison."

Jihadists from the Islamic State (ISIS), Al Nusra Front and other radical groups fighting in Syria and Iraq find recruits ripe for the picking in unofficial camps where men who have entered Turkey illegally have few options for keeping their families alive. Faced with the choice of earning $500 a month fighting in Syria or eking out a living from unscrupulous employers who pay little or nothing, many leave to take up arms for the jihadists.

"There's a woman with four children, and her husband went to fight with Al Nusra near Aleppo," the ministry director said. "After one month he sent her $500, but they haven't heard anything from him since."

Most of the 6,000 people in the area camps are women and children, as about a quarter of the mothers have lost their husbands to war or jihadist atrocities, he said. Muslims in Syria and Iraq who do not comply with or join the jihadists are killed.

"There's one boy who saw his parents killed in front of him," said the Turkish director, who is fluent in Arabic. "His grandma says he was a happy child until that night. Now he wakes up every night screaming. Day by day, he stopped talking. Now he only screams."

The ministry's two full-time workers and six volunteer workers spend months building trust with the refugees. After providing aid one week, they will ask if they can include Bibles in the next week's box of aid. The answer is invariably, "Yes."

"We're risking our lives to share the gospel with them, but we don't want to risk their lives," the director said. "Once they receive Jesus Christ, they are in danger of the radicals in the camp."

Leading refugees in the prayer, "With all my heart and soul, I receive Christ as Lord and Savior," the workers have seen 112 people put their faith in Jesus, with 20 baptized. The baptized refugees relocate to three "safe houses" outside the camps for discipleship, while the others remain secret Christians in the tents.

"We're risking our lives to share the gospel with them, but we don't want to risk their lives," the director said. "Once they receive Jesus Christ, they are in danger of the radicals in the camp. So in one safe house we have 12 family members who received Jesus, but they're living in one room."

Disillusioned by Islamic terrorists, many refugees have become atheists – or deists, saying, "We believe in God, but no prophets," he said. They hunger for hope in a country where their undocumented status precludes them and their children from education and livelihood. Moreover, every tent has a disabled person in it, he said, due to inter-marriage with close cousins, mutilation by terrorists or being born in the rough conditions of a refugee tent.

The director was unable to sleep for a week after seeing two refugee children asleep with flies swarming in their mouths, eyes, ears and noses. Their father had disappeared after going to help jihadists in Syria, and their mother felt helpless against the area's summer multitude of flies.

Refugee children sleeping.
Flies swarm on refugee children.

"I just sat down, and I said, 'Lord, why are you showing this to me?'" he said. "He showed it to me so that I would help them out."

The ministry seeks assistance to purchase mosquito nets that would wall out the flies and mosquitos at about $30 each for a large one and $5 for a small one, he said.

The ministry has been helping refugees in Turkey since the outbreak of hostilities in Syria in 2011, with Christian Aid Mission assisting it since 2014. Refugee needs far outstrip the ministry's resources.

"My heart is bleeding after I see children left disabled because they cannot go to a hospital," he said. "One baby passed away from not having a blood transfusion. I cannot sleep some nights."

The ministry typically arrives at camps with 200 boxes of food, clothing and water for people living in several hundred tents, he said. The refugees beg for provisions.

"Imagine your children dying in front of you because you cannot feed them or take them to the hospital," the director said. "These people cannot bring bread to feed them. We're living in a hell when we see these people and cannot help them."

To help indigenous missionaries to meet needs, you may contribute online using the form below, or call (434) 977-5650. If you prefer to mail your gift, please mail to Christian Aid Mission, P.O. Box 9037, Charlottesville, VA 22906. Please use Gift Code: 400REF. Thank you!

Help meet physical/spiritual needs of Middle East refugees
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