The moment we arrived in Mafraq, a city in north Jordan, we began to understand the magnitude of the Syrian tragedy. Pastor Nour Sahawneh came out to meet us and instantly he was surrounded by Syrian refugee women who had recently crossed the border to Jordan and began presenting to him their urgent needs. As we were introducing ourselves to Pastor Sahawneh, other refugees turned to us and they began to share their desperate conditions. The nine of us, staff and students from Bethlehem Bible College, realized that we were at the right place in the right time.
We served among both Muslim and Christian Syrian refugees in Amman and in Mafraq. Although the church in Mafraq is a small congregation, its pastor and leaders are doing a tremendous job in welcoming and caring for fleeing refugees regardless of their religious or political affiliations. The church's ministry to the refugees is so transparent and honest that in addition to Christian humanitarian NGOs, several secular agencies are also supplying the church with emergency items to distribute.
A part of each day, we and other volunteers spent time stocking makeshift warehouses with relief items from trucks or transferring supplies from the warehouse storage rooms into vans or cars for distribution.
Our ministry with the Mafraq Church helped us see the desperate need for volunteers and funds to help the Church continue this vital ministry. Thousands of Syrians continue to make their way to Jordan fleeing the violence. Already more than 500,000 Syrian refugees live in Jordan. The refugee camps are overcrowded. We visited the Zatari Camp that has become home to more than 130,000 people. As far as the eye can see, the visitor can observe row after row of tents and small mobile units. The main street is packed with refugees while numerous shops, vendors, makeshift hospitals, and NGO distribution centers have sprung up in response to the plight of the refugees.
Other refugees are finding temporary residence in rooms, apartments, and warehouses in towns and cities outside the camp. The number of refugees in Mafraq has even surpassed the number of Jordanian residents. Church volunteers distributed basic items such as mattresses, blankets, small gas cookers, and gas containers. In addition, we delivered food baskets containing $50.00 worth of groceries to each family we visited.
Our team and the volunteers that escorted us from the church were instructed to make quality visits and not just drop relief items and run to the next family. So we sat on the mattresses with the refugees and listened to them, as they were eager to tell us their stories. Some shared horrible stories of deaths of loved ones, injuries, and the destruction of homes and properties. When visiting a home with children, we played with them and sang for them and encouraged them to sing with us.
In every home we visited, the refugees were moved by the fact that we are from Palestine. Frequently we heard the comment, “We used to cry when we heard of your conditions and you come to stand in solidarity with us!” They urged us to come back, not because of the items that we left in their humble homes, but rather because they enjoyed our visits. In spite of their poverty, some wanted to share their meals with us. But we encouraged them to share with other refugees and we discovered that they were already doing that.
We noticed that the majority of children outside the refugee camps are not going to schools and are not getting an education. This is for one reason: the Jordanian schools are overcrowded. Moreover, the refugees' hope that they are soon returning to Syria makes them hesitant about starting schools in Jordan.
Among the refugees, there are teachers, doctors, and well-educated people, but their main focus is on survival. An agency, a church, or a denomination needs to organize with these teachers and coordinate with the Ministry of Education in Jordan in order to empower them and provide them with the tools to help organize neighborhood classrooms for the their children.
We left Jordan overwhelmed by the magnitude of this human tragedy. Could this be the time for the church to hear the call of God and respond to the needs of the Syrian refugees who are stranded not too far from the Jericho Road?
In the near future, there will be a new government in Syria. Among these refugees a leader may become the president or vice president of the new Syria. Will this leader say to Christians, "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." (Matt 25:35-36 NIV)
This is the time for the Church to stand in solidarity with the Syrian people. What we plant today, we will harvest in the future.
Rev. Alex Awad is Dean of Students at Bethlehem Bible College. He recently led a team of students to minister in Syria, who were welcomed and accommodated by Jordan Theological Seminary, Global Hope Network International, and the Alliance Church in Amman and in Mafraq.