Emotional relief is key to helping Syria’s civilian refugees

Syrian Refugees

FH Director of Emergency Response Pete Howard met these boys in a refugee camp. They had lived in middle class neighborhoods in Syria and now they live in cramped tents in often muddy and unsanitary conditions. He fears they will become a lost generation of youth fleeing war who won't be in school.

Last week, I spoke with the Food for the Hungry (FH) Director of Emergency Response Pete Howard, days after he returned from assessing conditions for Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. He told many heart-wrenching stories, but the saga that touched me most was his own.

Ten years ago, Pete traveled to Iraq as part of an interagency team to assess how FH could assist people affected by the Gulf War. Half way between Baghdad, Iraq and Amman, Jordan, he stared with horror into the barrel of an AK47.

His Fedayeen abductors (a paramilitary group loyal to Saddam Hussein) shouted their intent to kill Pete, because he was an American. The convoy’s host, a Jordanian named Aysar, refused to leave Pete. Instead, Aysar voluntarily joined the group of intended victims and eventually shamed the abductors into releasing them. They made their way to Baghdad, amazingly continuing their mission of assessing opportunities to help Iraqis.

“I was heavily impacted by how Christian churches living in the chaos of war were reaching out to their communities,” said Pete as he spoke of the similarities of that experience related to his current trip. He reminded me that the Church in this area is 2,000 years old, the most ancient in existence.

Syrian refugees

Pete watched this Syrian refugee boy dust mold off a piece of bread, that was meant for horses, to eat as his only food.

“I got a taste of the terror of war for a short period of time,” said Pete, speaking of his abduction. “I remember very clearly the fear of having a gun at my head as well as the sights and sounds of bombings and gunfire. Returning to the area 10 years later, I have a burden to reach out to the Syrians who have been experiencing these horrors for much longer – two years. My desire is to see FH strengthen the local Church, so it can be a place of physical help and emotional relief.”

He spoke of a Syrian family that lost their home and business to the civil war in their country. “They went from living in a middle class neighborhood to surviving in a horse barn in neighboring Lebanon,” he said. “I watched the oldest son dust mold off a piece of bread that was meant for horses. He ate the bread because it was all he had.”

The father wept as he spoke of his transition from successful businessman to hungry refugee with a dubious future. Pete wondered how the children would achieve their dreams of becoming a doctor, nurse or architect when they couldn’t even attend school.

When he spoke of a family living in a tent with a 2-month-old baby, he said, “For me, having a baby of my own, I can’t imagine trying to raise a baby in the dirty conditions of the camps.”

Pete is excited about the critical opportunity the crisis in Syria presents to the western Church. He spoke to non-Christians who appreciated how Christians are reaching out, not only with physical help, but with a place to sit with others, to talk and cry together as they search for emotional healing after enduring the wartime atrocities.

“Because of this disaster, the young Church in the West can come alongside the oldest Church in the world,” he said. “We can strengthen them, so they can continue to be a source of physical help and spiritual hope in a difficult region.”

Please join FH in helping to support the suffering Arabic Church during this time of war and conflict with your prayers and financial gifts.

About Karen Randau

A native of the southwestern U.S., Karen uses her blog posts to put into action her passion for helping people be all that God intended them to be. She is able to do this through her role in the Food for the Hungry communications department of the Global Service Center in Phoenix in two ways. First, she helps people understand the plight faced by impoverished people in developing nations. Second, she brings light to the successful ways Food for the Hungry is helping people.