One Life at a Time

Hope and Redemption Amid the Syrian Refugee Crisis

September 05, 2013

Grabbing a few loaves of bread, the Lebanese church planter headed for the refugee families he´d befriended and was now discipling. On his way he kept an eye out for new ones to help. He didn´t have to look far. Since the Syrian civil war erupted two years ago, more than a half million refugees have flooded into Lebanon.

Up ahead he noticed three children playing in the street. They looked Syrian. “Would you like some bread?” he asked, holding out a loaf. The oldest child looked at the bread and then ran toward a small ramshackle dwelling, the opening of which was covered with a dirty piece of fabric. “It´s free! It´s a gift,” he called after the children.

Within moments a man appeared in the opening and motioned for the missionary to enter. His wife gratefully accepted the bread and insisted he stay for tea. A table and chairs were conspicuously absent, so he joined the couple on a threadbare blanket atop the dirt floor. Furniture is a luxury few refugees can afford.

After friendly introductions, he listened to their stories—the life they´d left behind in Syria, his struggle to find employment, her worries about their children´s future. The conversation lulled a bit and a single tear escaped her eye, making its way down her cheek. The missionary knew it was time to share the hope and the future that is found in Christ.

They listened intently as he shared the gospel, asking a question here and there. When he felt it was time to leave, he invited the children to come to Sunday school and left them with a Bible and a few gifts. In a couple of days, he would drop in for another visit.

In the face of such overwhelming need—masses of Syrians, crammed into tents and hovels, far from home and terrified of what the future holds—native ministry leaders are urging their gospel co–workers to focus on one life at a time.

“This type of personal involvement is what is needed with thousands of refugee families,” a Lebanese ministry leader said. “It is more than just giving out food to the multitudes. We demonstrate Christ´s love by personally interacting with them.”

While reports of bloodshed and destruction paint a grim picture of the Syrian refugee crisis, indigenous ministry leaders are sending word of an unprecedented openness to the good news. “We have never had so many opportunities,” reports one Lebanese leader. “We are asking fellow believers to leave their jobs and work with the refugees because there is such hunger for the gospel. And they are! Christians are leaving their jobs and going out by faith. Life will never be the same for any of us.”

Another Lebanon—based ministry finds that an increasing number of Muslim parents are entrusting them to teach their children about Jesus. Of the 150 families they are reaching through Sunday school and women's Bible studies, 98 percent are Muslim.

But revival isn´t only limited to Lebanon. A ministry leader in Iraq, home to 180,000 Syrian refugees, writes, “Christ's message is very effective in such circumstances, and we find as soon as we open our mouths, a listener is praying, asking the Lord with tears of repentance for divine intervention. Hundreds of people have surrendered their lives to the Lord through our door–to–door visits. We pray with them and invite them to a house church meeting.”

In response to Christian Aid´s question about how indigenous ministries are handling the overwhelming needs and numbers, a consistent answer has emerged from nearly all of them: focus on one life at a time.

Following the pattern of Christ, Who chose only 12 men to disciple, ministry leaders have chosen to concentrate on a relatively small number of people.

One ministry has gradually increased its outreach to 50 Syrian refugee families. They began by approaching ten families at a time, visiting them at their homes multiple times each week to listen, pray, offer material aid, and eventually share the gospel.

What do these lights look like? Like the Syrian widow in Lebanon who gave her life to Christ when a native missionary discovered her a month after losing her husband in the conflict. Subsisting on a meager income by tending animals on a farm, she and her three little boys slept on a single mattress inside a concrete storage unit. Sharing the gospel message and the love of the Savior, the missionary provided her with three additional mattresses and warm bedding—resources that were purchased with funds sent by Christian Aid donors.

The lights look like the couple who escaped to Turkey with their two daughters. A native missionary assisted by Christian Aid visited them and found only a rug in their home on which the children slept. They´d left Syria without any possessions. The missionary returned with beds and food. Touched by the act of kindness, the wife read the New Testament left by the missionary to her family daily. They accepted Christ during one of the missionary´s regular follow–up visits.

Hundreds more lights shine forth, as native missionaries who focus on one life at a time are freeing “captives from prison, releasing those who sit in dark dungeons.” Isaiah 42:7 (NLT)