Bringing Relief to Refugees in the Bekaa Valley

June 21, 2013

By Steve Van Valkenburg, Director of Middle East Ministries

Syrian refugee camp in the Bekaa Valley of eastern Lebanon

The description of Syrian refugees that is portrayed in the media and the pictures of their living conditions are accurate. Refugees in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon live in make-shift tents erected alongside roads and wherever they can find an empty space. Most of the refugees are children, 16 years old and younger. There are few adult men. I met a man in a stupor, staring into space. He described how his large farm in Syria had been destroyed. His farm used to grow a variety of crops and he had many animals, but now everything is destroyed. This man was still in a daze, weeks after arriving in Lebanon.

Are the refugees in the Bekaa Valley starving to death? No. They can find food if they seek for it enough. Many agencies are doing what they can. The reason to send funds to the indigenous ministries helped by Christian Aid is that the refugees need more than a hand-out. They need someone to give them personal attention and to listen to them. They need someone to help them with their problems. They need someone to pray for them and to tell them of a God Who cares and loves. While the refugees are mostly Muslims, I never heard of one refugee who objected to a Christian praying for them in the name of Jesus, or who refused to listen to the gospel or to have the Bible read to them.

Children´s ministry offers fun and fellowship in safe surroundings.

A refugee may be able to stand in a line and receive a bag of food and ink on his finger. That food will fill his stomach but that type of sterile experience will not meet his emotional and spiritual needs. It is surprising how many refugees, though Muslim, would rather receive help from the Christians than from secular sources. When an indigenous Christian ministry has the funds to give out food bags, it is the ticket to meeting the emotional and spiritual needs of the refugees.

Refugees have other needs than food, such as physical needs. It is very valuable for a ministry to have the funds to pay for medical treatment or a tooth extraction or a prescription. Floods of appreciation flow towards Christians who can meet these types of special needs.

Another crisis that is moving like a giant, menacing glacier is the lack of education for the children. Lebanon is supposed to provide education, but there is no way that it can, though a few children are in school. It would cost a lot to build schools, buy books and materials, hire teachers, etc. to accommodate the multitude of refugee children. One ministry is implementing a plan to use teachers who are refugees to circulate from cluster of tents to cluster of tents, teaching the children. This plan is much less expensive than traditional education, but still needs funds. In addition to the teachers, the indigenous missionaries also circulate through the camps, teaching Bible stories and sharing about the good news.

In order to reach out to the children and to embrace them with love, one ministry hosts birthday parties in every area for all of the children who have a birthday during that month. Balloons, face painting, gifts and food make it a fun time, but puppets also share Bible stories and the gospel. These birthday parties give missionaries the opportunity to show a lot of love to the children. After seeing family members killed, leaving behind their homes, hearing bombs all night long, and maybe even suffering permanent hearing loss from the explosions, the affection of the missionaries and the new understanding that there is a loving Father to these fatherless children is the best news they have heard in a long time.

young refugee in Beirut

Indigenous missionaries have different strategies for helping the Syrian refugees in Beirut and other cities in Lebanon. These refugees have different needs than those in the Bekaa Valley. Christian Aid-assisted missionaries have additional ways of serving the refugees in Jordan and Iraq. One thing is certain, Syrian refugees have become the focus of all Christian ministries in these countries. And that brings up a big prayer request: Pray for the indigenous missionaries who are confronted with urgent needs all day long, seven days a week. As one told me, he starts at 7:00 each morning and serves the refugees until 10:30 each evening. He has not had a day off since the refugees started coming. Should they be forced to take time off for themselves? Seeing the mass of urgent needs that are always before them, it is hard for them to do that. But we can pray for them. They need the power of the Holy Spirit to constantly represent Christ to the myriad of refugees that constantly encircle them.