Local missionaries delivering aid to refugees in Turkey had never seen an elderly Muslim woman look anything but sullen, so they were curious when they saw her laugh.
Haya* had shown the Christian workers to a new camp where refugees were badly in need of food, water and other aid, and she was talking with a group of Syrians.
“For the first time we saw a grin come across her pain-hardened face,” the native ministry director said. “We were curious and asked her, ‘What happened? What did they say that has made you laugh?’ Because we had never seen her happy before.”
Haya’s pains included her husband dying in Syria, and then her fleeing to Turkey with her son, who had since gone to another city to find work, and her daughter-in-law – who one night fled without explanation – leaving Haya to care for their children.
Her laughter, the director learned, came not so much from what the other refugees said, but what she had told them.
She turned to the ministry director and, still giggling, explained to him and his co-workers: “They said, ‘You are always speaking so highly of these Christians, and you’re even visiting all the tents with them; what’s happened, have you become a Christian now?’ I answered them, ‘At this age and with this ignorant mind of mine, I can’t become anything, but if you all are smart you’ll look into it, learn about it and you’ll become Christians!’”
As was her custom when speaking with refugees at other camps, Haya further told the Syrians about the aid workers’ kindness.
“These men are just people too,” she had told them, “but even though you don’t love them, even though you don’t know them, they come every month to help. Even your own families have gone and abandoned you, but these people haven’t left you.’”
Her health failing, Haya had taken all measures to keep herself strong enough to look after her grandchildren, and other women in her tent camp looked to her for help as well, the director said. She had been a midwife in Syria, and she also knows how to treat illnesses with herbs and other natural remedies, he said.
The director said her praising his aid team to the other refugees touched him.
“I looked long into her eyes and thought of these wonders that God is doing,” the director said. “This elderly woman who can neither read nor write is telling people to go learn about Christ. I certainly could not have spoken so openly, but God is definitely using this woman whether she knows it or not.”
More wondrous, he said, was that his team had not helped Haya and other refugees as much as the Lord and Christian Aid Mission.
“Without your help, I would not have met this woman, she would not have heard about Christ, and she would not have been a witness for God,” he said. “You are his hands here on earth, and I want to offer you my endless gratitude, first for showing us these miracles and strengthening my faith and for showing these people the love of God and being a conduit for the spread of the gospel.”
About 3.6 million Syrian refugees remain in Turkey as fighting continues in some areas of Syria, nine years after tensions erupted in 2011, according to United Nations figures.
The leader of another native ministry in Turkey said he has also seen faces brighten as refugees receive aid – and the Good News of salvation in Christ.
“At first they thought we would request something from them in exchange for the help we provided,” the leader said. “But they expressed that after knowing about Jesus Christ and after seeing our concern for them, it was hard to believe it. Most refugees would be sad, fearful, desperate and sullen in their facial expressions, but after seeing the love of Jesus, this changed completely; they have a hope to begin life again.”
Along with food, water and blankets, workers distribute hygiene kits and items for children and infants such as diapers, formula and baby food. Many refugees are hardened by having seen so many supposed aid workers take their photos for fund-raising purposes but not provide any aid, he said.
“Based on our experience as a mission for years, we know how to approach people and how to move,” the leader said. “Before taking photos of the poor conditions of a camp, we meet those responsible for the camp and then go to to the families and introduce ourselves – we want to listen to their problems, and then we will help them if God wants.”
Through this approach, team members have seen refugee attitudes change, he said.
“Although we have run to the aid of hundreds of refugees in difficult situations, we listened to their problems and supported them spiritually; as a result, the way people look at us has changed – trust and a love bond between us has developed.”
In addition to providing basic food aid to nearly 700 families over a six-month span, hundreds of orphans have benefited from the ministry’s aid, he said.
“Our goal here is to win people’s trust and instill in them the love of God,” the leader said. “In this way, most people have recognized Jesus Christ. This is invaluable gain for us.”
Workers throughout the country are reaching out to refugees who have suffered incalculable loss. Please consider a donation today to help them bring relief, smiles and salvation to the displaced.
*Name changed for security reasons