Loving the Syrian children

written by Anne Marit Viljoen

Abby, 28, from Malaysia is studying at a Bible college in the UK. In July, she travelled to Turkey for an outreach after first joining the Transform conference in Greece.

“[The Transform conference] revived my fire again,” shared Abby, “a reminder of why I am in Bible College! Seeing ancient Corinth was a highlight that made me so excited, something I had not expected. I have studied the life of Paul last semester; seeing the physical site of Corinth as well as the great tour guide, made Paul’s letters come alive. The teaching from Micah 6:8 also hit home, about doing justice for the poor and needy.”

Abby grew up in a Christian home but was around twenty years old when she slowly started to grow in understanding of what salvation was all about. After spending two months on board the OM ship, MV Logos Hope, she served with an OM team in South Africa for a further eighteen months, followed by another year as a youth leader with a church in the UK.

One of her friends (who was already working in Turkey) invited her to come out via Transform. As Transform is a cross-cultural missions conference with outreach opportunities, it fit in well with her Bible college requirements of spending three weeks of ministry internship in a cross-cultural situation. Not only that, but the Transform dates fit perfectly with her schedule. Her choice was an easy one, but Abby was still apprehensive: “What if it does not work out?”

However, it did work out! Together with her team she travelled all the way to the east of Turkey, near the Syrian border, where they joined a local church reaching out to Syrian refugees.

“Our team was involved in food distribution with the local church. We dispensed sanitary products and dried goods to each refugee family to meet the need of every person in each household,” explained Abby. “It was very hot. In fact, our biggest enemy out in the camps was the sun. The refugees had to endure a daily summer temperature of 35-38 degrees centigrade – with very little shade to shelter them from such intense heat.”

These refugees had a more informal status* and were not registered with the UN (United Nations). However, they were expected to work from the age of 10 as farm labourers, as the camps were located on farmland. Some refugees lived in farm sheds; others were given tents to make their homes. The largest camp had approximately 200 people, half of whom were children.

The ‘gang-masters’, local Turkish men, played the role of mediator between Turkish-speaking farmers and Arabic-speaking Syrian refugees. These gang-masters also controlled their wages.

Although some of the Syrians had picked up basic Turkish, Abby soon realized that the very limited Turkish she had learned as a preparation for the outreach was of no use to these Arabic-speaking refugees. However, she and the team quickly learned that to show love, they sometimes did not need a language. In their visits to the camps, they were always greeted with smiles and laughter.

“Before joining this outreach, I had many questions,” reflected Abby. “Although I gained a better understanding of these refugees’ background and was encouraged by how the local churches stepped up in reaching out to them, I finished the outreach with even more questions than answers. My heart and prayers [even now] go out to these refugees, especially the children. Some of the children were born in the camp, others grew up there. To them, the camp was what’s normal. I wonder what happened to these children after we [the team] left the camps, or what sorts of horrors they have seen, or what their future will be like, or if they still have a family or a community to go back to... But perhaps, just for a short time while we were there playing with them, they could become children again, even if just for a little while.”

The Transform outreach is over. But the Syrian refugees remain stuck in Turkey – and many other countries, too. Please pray for peace in Syria and for the Syrian people to experience God’s love.

*Informal status: These refugees did not want to be sent further away from home (Syria) and UN would send them to any country that is willing to take them. The refugees that Abby met would really want to go home and had decided to stay near the Syrian border.

 

Abigail (Malaysia) at Transform. Over 140 people from 30 different countries attended the week-long conference in Greece. Photo by Rebecca Rempel

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