A heavy snowfall has blanketed areas of the Middle East. Depending on what news source you go to- you might get one of two stories related to this. First, you might see pictures of surprised residents taking joy in the unexpected snow and enjoying it by having a snowball fight or by building a snowman. If you search farther, you might see that not everyone can frolic in the newly fallen snow. There are many, many people on whom the snow has fallen- and it has brought on them a depth of hardship not easily melted.
Many of you know that I recently traveled to the north of Jordan to serve Syrian refugees living in and around the town of Mafraq. I was fortunate to have an introduction to the CMA church and its team of dedicated workers, headed by Pastor Nour. The ministry is vibrant, alive and responding to the needs they see in a creative and faithful manner. They are trustworthy with the resources they are given, diligent to seek out the truth and give to those in the neediest situations, yet doing so in a way that restores dignity, hope and joy. You can look at the work they are doing here.
As you can imagine, the work is immense- it takes a lot of time, hands and prayer. The list they have built from registering refugees has grown very long. As distribution of items takes place, oftentimes, it seems to grow just as quickly. Yet, as needs are slowly met, changes happen and God’s hand is seen at work. With the recent snowfall and general change in climate to winter weather- new challenges are apparent.
Many families live in whatever dwelling they can find or afford. Sometimes, it is a one-room entry way of a home with a small kitchen area. Other times, it is an unfinished room that looks like a shed. Sometimes, it is a shed, formerly used to keep sheep, or as some situations revealed- presently to keep sheep, despite the people’s presence. Many, many people live in Zaatari camp on the outskirts of al Mafraq town. People here live in tents provided by the UNHCR; they are packed in densely, and then fenced in. The camp looks like an ocean of white stretching far on the horizon surrounded by dry desert- a generally bleak landscape. There are other such camps- some official and some merely necessary around the borders of Syria in other neighboring countries. One article I found talked about those in Lebanon, recently fleeing army clashes and seeking safety for their families. With the recent weather, life is not necessarily any better for them. Can you imagine the physical conditions of your “house” being so bad that being near an active battle would be “better”?
Many of you know that I live in South Florida. We live with the threat of hurricanes for five months out of the year. The past few years have gone by without a serious storm here- and we are grateful for that. But, nearly 8 years ago, a hurricane named Wilma came and left many of us in a very desperate place. My family chose to evacuate, because we live about 15 feet from the ocean, in a single story “Conch” cottage. The projected storm surge warning was concerning enough that we decided to leave. Most of the island chain lies at sea level, so any projected storm surge would be a cause for concern for anything on the ground level. We did our best to pack up our things, get everything off the ground onto beds and shelves and loaded into one car for the mainland. There is a preparedness mentality we have been taught growing up here, but we left not expecting anything serious to actually happen. I can remember returning to the Keys after the area was deemed safe.
We live on a long, fairly empty road on one of the more “rural” islands. As we crept along the road to our house, the pavement was covered by sand, rocks, and general debris. It seemed like the water had stirred up the land and left behind a mess. We would later discover that water levels had reached 5-8 ft above sea level. At our house- the 2 cars left behind were completely flooded and total losses (my beautiful blue Volvo station wagon (a gift from a friend) and my step-dad’s classic Cadillac).
Water had crept inside our house, making anything left behind on the floors a soggy mess. A general water mark was discovered on the buildings on the property and it revealed that water levels had risen at least two feet. School was canceled indefinitely (or so we hoped); the power was out and would stay that way for nearly two weeks. At our house, the first day home all we could do was survey the mess, pick up a few things in hopes they would dry, and crawl into bed once it got dark.
The following days were filled with cleaning and trying to restore normalcy to a home by getting the water back out the doors. I cannot really remember what we ate, but I do remember going to the army post set up nearby to get free MRE meals. They contained such items as canned ravioli, self-heating soups, pudding cups and sunflower seeds. We would also get the occasional case of water. It was not long before “FEMA trailers” became an everyday term, as those most affected by the flooding were soon given these to live in. Also, we began to see open transport carriers loaded with totaled cars going north on the highway daily.
I also remember a cold front had moved in after the storm, making our air conditioner-less existence just a bit more comfortable. It was all very unreal, and yet, my family made it through that time with very little loss that actually hurt us or that we could not recover from in time.
One other experience I have had is on a camping trip as a teenager. We headed to central Florida in the early spring. We canoed up a river and camped in a field alongside it at night. I was ill-prepared for the trip, so accustomed to our warm southern weather. I brought a simple fleece sleeping bag, and a light “hoodie” jacket. I went to sleep that night in our tent with the other girls- and felt the deep cold in ways I never had before. I used a corner of my friend’s sleeping bag- but I was still so cold. The following night I was given an emergency car blanket and I was amazed that just one extra layer made the difference.
The news article I read talked about water coming into the makeshift homes. From my own experiences- I never once saw a bed on a frame in the homes I visited. With the water coming in and flooding the floors- where do you escape the water’s reach? My family had the luxury of being able to sweep and mop the floor and get the water out the doorway- but if you have a dirt floor- how do you accomplish this task? The experience of having water in your house is incredibly uncomfortable- it messes with your core idea of what a home should be- a safe, reliable refuge from the elements.
To be faced with this type of situation on a regular basis is beyond comprehension. I cannot imagine being at the mercy of Cuba, the Bahamas, or Mexico. What would it be like to look to the kindness of strangers, to attempt to eke out an existence with limited money, resources, and no permanent home? How would I survive if my safety was constantly threatened, if I had to always be on the lookout for aid and help from those around me, and on guard against the next snowfall? Certainly, these hardships build character and prove strength, but they also threaten the lives of the weak and chip away at their already fragile existence.
I share all these things because it is incredible how God uses our experiences, stories, and emotions to connect us to each other. I have never experienced a snowy winter, much less a snowball fight. In fact, as I sit here the weather outside is extremely hot. I am shocked that parts of the world are in such cold extremes. I am sick to my stomach that children and whole families are fighting for their lives against the cold. Some do not have even shoes to protect themselves from the elements.
I know God uses everything to bring about his purposes. I believe that part of the reason why I was able to travel to this part of the world was so that when this bad weather would come I would be able to tell the world that I know people living here- their lives are important, God is working and we need to join with Him. Our generosity can save their lives. Do not assume that they will “make it through somehow”, as there are already reports coming from Zaatari camp potentially linking the weather with the recent deaths of children there. Our actions, and sadly, our failure to act are not without their own set of consequences. I hope you will stand with me and in a very practical way, proclaim life and hope over these people in the name of Jesus.
There are many organizations on the ground attempting to bring urgent relief to these situations.
Donating money at this site provides funds to the church involved in distribution and home visits: http://camaservices.org/urgent/syrian-refugee-relief.php
To make a gift by check to a family actively giving out blankets, make it payable to “Frontiers” and mail it to:
P.O. Box 60730
Phoenix, AZ 85082-0730
Use a separate note (rather than writing on the check memo line) to write- Winter Blanket distribution for Syrian refugees in Mafraq, Jordan). Please make sure your current mailing address is on your check or note.
Blankets are $19 each- and remember just one layer really does change things.
World Vision is attempting to bring blankets to refugees in multiple locations: http://donate.worldvision.org/OA_HTML/xxwv2ibeCCtpItmDspRte.jsp?section=10339&item=2035030
Mercy Corps is an organization partnering with the church to deliver heaters- https://www.mercycorps.org/donate
Thank you for reading. I will be sharing more of my experiences from this trip soon.