By Carl Stagner
They’re not just “swarms” or “masses” of people. They’re people. They’re individuals. They’re individuals for whom Christ died. One of the most complex issues of our day has hit the Middle Eastern country of Turkey especially hard. The Syrian refugee crisis—as it has been dubbed—offers no simple solutions, no easy answers. While the Church of God strategically prepares a holistic, long-term response, believers in Turkey are busy meeting immediate needs. Known by the refugees as “people of the Messiah,” Christians in the region are boldly loving the “least of these.” Ruth Lyons, Church of God contact on-the-ground (Eurasia Ministries), gives us a closer look.
While others are dismissing them, God’s people are welcoming them. Believers aren’t ignoring the very real problems posed by such unprecedented migration, but they do recognize that behind each refugee’s face is a soul in need. Even as the Syrian refugee crisis fades from the headlines, it’s important for the Church of God to know that the issue remains front-and-center in countries like Turkey. According to Ruth, three primary areas of concern weigh on the hearts and minds of those most affected in Turkey: One, internal political tension; two, ethnic tensions between Turks and Kurds; and, three, the growing influence of the Islamic State (IS) and the refugee crisis. As a result of civil war in Syria and the rise of IS, economic instability and rampant violence has become the norm. “As a result of the Syrian refugee crisis,” Ruth explains, “Turkey now hosts nearly two million refugees, according to official statistics, but the actual numbers may be even higher. This means that at least 3 percent of Turkey’s population is now composed of refugees who have crossed into the country in the last two years.”
All of this bad news has presented an opportunity for the Good News of Christ to be made known through word and deed. Ruth tells the story of one family’s exodus from Syria, painting a picture of the need for a tangible expression of the gospel:
We had just delivered some children’s clothes, a carpet, and a hot water heater to Hanan and her family. The warm jackets we had were both for girls—fine for their six-year-old, but we hadn’t realized her eight-year-old was a boy. Nevertheless, they took the dark pink fur-lined winter jacket gladly, and he put it on, proudly parading around the house. “It’s fine,” she assured us. “We can’t afford to be fussy about the color…” How many brothers and sisters do you have?” we asked. We learned that there were five, and they had all fled from Aleppo to Turkey. Hanan just needed to talk about the day that changed their lives…They had lived in a four-floor apartment, with two apartments per floor. A bomb made a direct hit on the building, flattening it so only the ground floor remained. Hanan was outside in the yard, and she raced into the rubble, screaming for her children, and also the names of her sisters. The children were fine, but shaken. Her sisters had not been at home, thankfully. Having escaped with their lives, they’d lost everything, and decided to flee across the border, for the bomb had been dropped by their own government.
Much of the ministry to refugees has been ongoing since civil war first erupted in Syrian more than four years ago. These believers are in it for the long haul, and understand the power of developing relationships. “By visiting the families we get to know their stories and to recognize the dignity they have as people created in the image of God and deeply loved by him,” Ruth explains. “We can rarely give a package of food or a bag of clothing without the lady of the house wanting to show us hospitality in some way.”
Coming to the aid of refugees, believers in Turkey have been a source of food, clothing, and other basic necessities. They’ve offered medical care and helped refugees get to hospitals when needed. They’ve distributed hardcopy Bibles and Bibles on CD in the Arabic and Kurdish languages. They have prayed with the refugees. In all, God has been glorified.
Having witnessed the Syrian refugee crisis firsthand, Ruth Lyons suggests some specific ways the Church of God can pray. Pray for wisdom in determining best ways to help the refugees. Pray for protection, both physical and spiritual. Pray for those refugees facing serious medical issues. Pray for displaced children without access to adequate education. Pray for the Protestant church in Turkey and those who are coming to the aid of refugees. Pray for those who read and hear the message of the gospel. Finally, Ruth suggests, pray for area governments to develop a strategy that will help bring peace back to the region. Thank you!
Learn more about Global Strategy of the Church of God at www.chogglobal.org.