Warmth and Light in the Deepening Cold
The director of a ministry based in Turkey is haunted by harsh images he can’t get out of his mind, and he is no stranger to tears.
Mehmet* sees the babies born disabled and disfigured to Syrian refugee mothers suffering malnutrition. In the summer he sees flies gathering in the mouths and eyes of sleeping toddlers. In the winter he sees barefoot children crying from the cold. He sees mothers pleading in desperation for him to help their hungry children.
“When I go home at night and see my little daughter, sometimes I think of the cold and hungry girls I see in the tent camps, unbathed and with knotted hair,” said the young ministry leader. “And I cry.”
His wife braces herself on the mornings he leaves to visit the Syrian refugees in their camps or squalid apartments, knowing he often won’t return until late at night – exhausted and emotionally drained, if not distraught.
Mehmet helps bear the refugees’ burdens in a way that only a native, near-culture missionary can. Besides some Syrian ancestry in the Turkish native’s blood and his ability to speak Arabic, Mehmet lives close to the places the refugees gather in southern Turkey and connects with them frequently, gaining intimate knowledge of their stories and pain.
“They call us every day asking for help – the temperature continues to drop, and at night it gets down to freezing,” Mehmet said. “Winter conditions make things even more painful.”
That is, his ministry is incarnational in the deep, sustained way that only a native ministry can be.
“They call us every day asking for help – the temperature continues to drop, and at night it gets down to freezing,” Mehmet said. “Life is getting more difficult for them as winter conditions make things even more painful.”
The deepening winter is especially dangerous for newborns and the elderly, he said. Only a few of the tents have stoves for heating in them.
Unemployed mothers, including many who have lost their husbands to Syria’s civil war, are finding it harder to find work due to the cold weather. The refugees are in urgent need of heaters, firewood, blankets, baby formula, diapers, winter shoes for children and food boxes.
Their plight is also worsening because Turkish officials are making it harder to apply for services to meet basic needs, Mehmet said. Official paperwork is becoming so demanding that refugees wonder if they would have better chances in their war-ravaged country. But survivors fear that even as the Syrian military recovers more territory lost to rebel forces, refugees seen as sympathetic to one side become vulnerable to retaliation from the other.
“Refugees tell us that local institutions are giving them such a hard time that they are starting to feel that they have almost no choice but to go back to Syria,” Mehmet said. “But they say that if they do go back, they will be killed. So they don’t know where to go or what to do.”
Increasingly trying to do away with the makeshift tent camps, the government destroyed an unofficial site last year. Refugees from that site, some on the street and some in run-down apartments, and refugees still in tents constantly call Mehmet for help.
“One of them called to tell us that an elderly man had passed away the previous night, an old man who was disabled and blind,” he said. “I remember him. He and his wife lived in the camp that was later dismantled. They were both having health problems, and he could not walk or see at all. Now he has left this struggle. Perhaps it was salvation for him, but his wife is now very miserable and alone and helpless.”
Health problems are becoming more common among the elderly as their immune systems collapse due to inadequate nutrition and unsanitary conditions, he said.
“Please pray for his wife,” Mehmet said, “that God will help her and that she comes to know the Lord.”
Ultimately Mehmet is able to help bear the refugees’ burdens by casting the weight of his concerns and duty onto the Lord. Relying on God to work within him, he has ample energy and opportunity to share the hope of Christ with the refugees. With Mehmet speaking in Syrian Arabic and a partner in Syrian Kurdish, the two Christian workers recently shared Christ with 10 families as they prayed for sick and disabled people.
“Everyone we give the Good News to eagerly asks us questions, and it makes us happy to answer them with verses from the Bible,” he said. “We also sometimes answer with verses from the Koran. Some of them say, ‘How do you know all this? Some of us don’t even know all this.’ It is a great help knowing Islamic customs. With God’s guidance, we have preached the gospel to thousands of Syrians and unreached people in Turkey.”
As a native missionary with knowledge of local beliefs and customs, Mehmet knows the pace and precautions one must take for helping Muslims on the path to saving faith in Christ. The refugees may need coal, heaters, blankets, baby formula, medicine, winter clothes and emergency aid food boxes, but their need for spiritual help runs just as deep, he said. His team is praying for assistance to buy more Arabic Bibles and children’s Christian coloring books.
They have seen 12 of the 120 families whose tents were destroyed come to Christ, and he and his team are serving and loving them as their faith takes deeper root. They hope to bring aid to 400 to 500 families, along with the message of Christ’s salvation.
“We are gradually gathering the fruit of what we have planted,” he said. “It was a difficult and long process, but thank God for the power for everything. We could not do anything without Him, and in this process, Christian Aid Mission’s help was very effective for us. Because if we did not have your help, we could not gain the trust of these people. We believe that Jesus Christ will provide everything we need for those who are thirsty and looking for salvation.”
Please consider helping Mehmet and his team meet overwhelming needs with a gift to Christian Aid Mission today.
*Name changed for security reasons