Bearing the Scars of Spiritual Battle

June 3, 2016

Elderly refugee woman with children.
Refugees from Syria arrive with enormous needs that few are addressing.

While Syrians and Iraqis displaced by war are coming to Christ by the thousands, those bringing traumatized people the gospel are engaged in the spiritual equivalent of hand-to-hand combat — and bear the hurt and fatigue of battle.

There is a cost involved in bringing thousands of Muslim refugees to Christ.

"We talk about the refugees, but we forget about those working among the refugees," said the leader of a ministry working among displaced people in Syria and refugees in Lebanon. "Working with Muslims is a spiritual war. That's why we try to have lots of people praying for them."

Highly motivated amid overwhelming needs, the workers put in minimum 10-hour days — often going for 15 or 16 hours — seven days a week, the director said.

"These people don't know how to take a break — all they know is to be on the go," he said. "The local missionaries are a bit different from the foreign missionaries that come from outside. They're always on the go, always want to be working."

The constant outreach that indigenous missionaries in Lebanon and Syria extend to the displaced is typical of those doing the same work in Iraq and other countries where refugees land, such as Jordan and Turkey. Besides bringing food, medicines and items for infants, increasingly the indigenous workers are helping to teach children who are without schools; helping new arrivals find what they need in the cities where they arrive; and helping people to survive who often don't know the language of the new culture that surrounds them.

"In the culture in the West, people take lots of breaks," the director added. "Myself, I don't know how to take a break. The only time I take a break is when they tell me to go to the hospital to spend two days. Unless you're forced, you wouldn't know how to take a break."

Bringing aid to the displaced in their dilapidated apartments or refugee camp tents, the indigenous workers spend much of their time talking with survivors of war's horrors.

"It's a depressing mood — you see that on their faces," the director said. "When you're among the refugees, it seems like everyone is in that mood. They give you a smile, but it's very sad."

Refugee children sitting outside of ramshackle hut.
The daily reality for refugees in Lebanon is marked by want and hopelessness.

Spending so much time in tents and homes, the indigenous missionaries' are largely engaged in de facto counseling, though they are largely untrained. The long hours of bearing the burdens of others eventually takes its toll.

"After two years of ministry, I see their health going bad, or they have breakdowns," the ministry leader said. "Some of them, they say everything is good and they try to talk to you. Whenever you tell them, 'Let's stop talking about that and start talking about you,' you see tears in less than a minute. They try to hide things, say it's okay, but they're tired."

The indigenous missionaries thus crave the prayers for strength and wisdom, he said.

Adding to the stress in recent months is the presence of Muslim extremists among the throngs of refugees, he said. The workers note that refugee families are unwilling to talk about Christ, or pray in His name, around certain others.

"Sometimes you hear it from the refugees themselves, saying, 'Don't say anything in front of that person, because they're fanatics," he said. "They don't want to say the word ISIS, but they say, 'He's a fanatic, don't pray in front of them,' or 'Don't do this or that.' We didn't see it before, but now we see it."

It takes time to develop trust with refugee families, but even after they've opened up about the difficulty of their lives and how they left everything behind, tensions are such that they won't discuss politics as they're afraid of being overheard by someone who disagrees — violently.

"They could get killed if the wrong person heard them," the ministry leader said.

Such a climate of fear reflects a spiritual battle, and ministry workers pray with refugees whenever possible, he said.

"We pray for each other before we go," the director said. "On a spiritual level, that's very important for them to see and to have — not only to help them by bringing food, but also for them to feel supported by being backed up in prayer."

Eventually, about 99 percent of the refugees respond to them positively, he said.

"The victory is when they're able to do Bible studies and see people coming to Christ," he said. "In Beirut and in the Bekaa Valley last month and this month, 98 people were baptized. If we're doing it just for this, it's amazing."

A core problem is that indigenous missionaries have too much work they're trying to accomplish with too few resources, he said. Available resources are about one-third of the amount needed to address the needs they see around them. The director spoke of a ministry worker who wishes to leave the Bekaa Valley to tackle growing needs in southern Lebanon, for example. The worker, a former Muslim, sent him a budget for the proposed work in southern Lebanon, but the ministry doesn't even have enough funding to finish the work in the Bekaa Valley, the director said.

"So I don't know how to answer him — I know he's doing an amazing work, and God is using him, but the burden is so heavy," he said. "I wish we had more support for them. When I visit them, I say, 'I'm here to talk about you and your family.' You can see tears in their eyes. They're very tired. It doesn't take much for them to shed tears. They need a break."

A common challenge, he said, is encountering refugees with urgent problems or needs that are beyond the means of the ministry's ability to help. To help indigenous missionaries 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!