It has taken me a few months to process my trip to Jordan last November. I have been able to share some stories here and there, but I wanted to make sure I continued that discussion. Without further ado, here is a hopefully, more thorough picture of that trip. Please feel free to ask any questions.
My Papa has given me a huge gift. He gave me a week of experiences, new friends, and heart-piercing stories. Small acts of obedience and steps of faith led me to this and because of that I can assure you of this: nothing for God is wasted, He sees what you offer Him, and He can take it and magnify it beyond what you could ever imagine.
Prior to this year, my interest in the Middle East was sparked by some classes, news stories, and delicious meals at a Palestinian restaurant in West Palm Beach. I also knew about this guy, Carl Medearis and his stories about the area were just crazy enough that I knew I had to see “this place”. I had little tastes here and there, and I knew if I was just given the chance, I would really jump headlong in and see what this place was all about. What I discovered was just a small sliver of a very complex and difficult to recreate dish, but it was full of flavors and pockets of surprises that have me very much wanting to “order” more.
Do you know how you can research something and have a picture of a place and even hear stories from those who have been, but what you actually discover is SO MUCH MORE? For example, people love crème Brule, right? They say it’s the best dessert out there. So, you decide to find out for yourself, and go to a restaurant and order a crème Brule and…… it’s pretty much the best thing you ever tasted! You are in shock because everyone was wrong, there is no description really to do it justice, it’s just so good! That was my experience in Jordan this past November.
Can I just tell you this? God will take you and lead you by the hand and show you some wonderful things, but you have to keep your eyes open. He is constantly trying to show me things, but far too often I am so caught up in “my” world and my “needs”, that I end up feeling like God is silent. This is definitely not the case. This week was a week outside of me, with my focus fixed on the needs of my team, the support crew and the new friends we made- many of them refugees. Because I could silence my own wants for a few hours, I could finally hear the things God was trying to teach me. I am not saying that my mind or my heart could really take in all the things He wanted to show me, but I was much, more aware of these things. I would suggest to you if you feel like you are in a dry spot, where God isn’t really “showing up”, stop looking at yourself so much, focus on others and their needs and see the way God shows up for you.
For me, it was not simply about doing good things or feeling good by serving, it was obedience- and doing what God’s word has commanded me to do that really brought new light and new clarity to my life. All too often, we remain blind to the world around us. Sure, we can read the news, feel empathy, but actually going, entering in to another person’s life of suffering, that changes things. Also, I would say that my view of “ministry” and bringing the kingdom to earth has expanded quite a bit. I knew we would be doing our relief work through a church, but I had no idea or no measure of an idea of just how big and how effective (as much as that word is debated) the work being done really is. All too often, we get ideas in our heads that we know the best way to do something or that somehow the solution to the world’s problems rests with us. God has shown me that as much as I have heard this- He truly is and has been at work in the world.
First let me address some basic questions about what I did, where I was and who I was with.
When did you go?
I went at the end of November, and was there during Thanksgiving. We left December 3rd to head back home. Altogether, all the work was done within one very full week. With travel and “tourist” activities there were a few extra days on either side of that week.
Who did you go with?
The official organization is called http://in-fusion.info/ and it is run by an incredible guy named Scott Gore. He has an awesome heart for the hurting and helps people like me get to go to these places and help. The actual people that came together were an interesting group of folks from all over and all ages and backgrounds. We were all connected by a desire to be involved in work helping the Syrian refugees and interest in the Middle East.
Let’s clarify, where were you again?
We flew into Amman, Jordan, and from there traveled about an hour north to the town of Mafraq. Mafraq was our headquarters for the week of service. We stayed here, partnering with a local church that has been hard at work serving the refugees living in their midst. (We never went to Syria nor had any plans to go there.)
Wait! There are Christians in the Middle East?
Yes, there is a strong Christian population in the Middle East that dates back to the first Christians. Christians occupy an “accepted” niche in Jordan and there is a lot of peaceful co-existence. In fact, in Mafraq, many of the Christians are much respected because of the work they are doing for everyone regardless of their faith (in the refugee community).
So, what did you do? Describe a “typical” day.
The nature of the work made things hard to plan. We quickly learned this in the weeks leading up to the trip, so we all tried to keep an open mind. After our initial orientation and adjustment time, we did one of three main activities:
- Home visits- typically during the day from noon onwards, small groups from our team would go with the local volunteers who spoke Arabic and would translate for us. Most volunteers spoke some combination of Arabic and English. On these visits, we would typically bring food packets (very heavy bags of staples that might last a month), toys, and a ready heart to listen, ask questions and be sensitive to the specific home we were visiting.
- Distributions- usually done at night, maybe 4 of us (2 guys, 2 girls) and 2 local workers would drive to different houses to deliver basic home items like simple foam mattresses, blankets, sheets, pillows, heaters, and gas tanks. These visits were done quickly, with the intention of getting the goods delivered to as many as possible in one evening. Interactions did not really go beyond a simple smile or handshake but they were very special, regardless.
- Story and craft time with Syrian refugee kids in the church school- The church has a school in the mornings for the kids about 5-8 years old. They have about 3 classes and teach the kids with Syrian teachers and other volunteers. For one hour, we could play with the kids, do a craft project, and sing or dance or tell a story for the kids. We all rotated through this at least once.
There was typically a team meeting at breakfast with a devotional from one of the team members. We would figure out a loose idea of what the day held and then prepare for those things. Helping in the school would take place before lunch. All the visits would start after lunchtime. Distribution would not start until after dark, and usually we found out right before if it would take place or not. Dinner was often had at the homes of the families we met or with the team at different cafes around the city. Sometimes we bought different fruits and vegetables and ate very casually. The evening hours usually involved discussing what our day was like on the roof or in one of the common areas. Some nights, we learned Arabic worship songs, drank tea or simply decompressed in our rooms journaling or reading.
Were you safe? Did you feel in danger?
I was incredibly safe and always felt that way. I went with a little bit of information on how to act and dress as a woman and a foreigner and I always tried to respect the local customs. With that said, the volunteers at the church made sure we understood certain standards and always took care of us. The male team members also went out of their way to look out for the women. I never felt like my money or other valuables were in danger. Crossing the street was probably the scariest thing, or possibly just driving on the roads, but those things (surprisingly) always went smoothly.
What is the situation like for the refugees?
Most refugees arrive on foot from Syria. Most flee the fighting, or the bombing of their neighborhoods. Many do not want to leave, and wait till they have no choice, or move from town to town within Syria till they arrive at one of the borders of the neighboring countries. Most of the families we spoke to desperately love and miss their homes, and want to return as soon as they can. Most people after crossing the border are placed by the government in Za’atari camp along with their UN papers declaring them refugees. They carry very little or nothing with them and are forced to make a new life for themselves with whatever resources they can scrounge up. Most people do not want to stay in the camp, and in order to move out must be “vouched” for by a Jordanian citizen who they might pay (sometimes not) to get their signature. They then move to Mafraq or one of the neighboring towns. Here, they are free to move about, have privacy, and what feels a bit more “normal” but they are essentially on their own.
What are the next steps I could take to help?
First of all, I would urge you to pray- for the people still in Syria, as well as those fleeing Syria and living in the surrounding countries. Pray for the government and especially the president- Bashar al-Assad- that he might have a powerful encounter with Jesus. I believe that there is no clear solution to the war, but regardless, we need to remember the people hurting because of it and stand with them. World Vision is one organization that is currently doing a ton of great work responding to the refugee crisis. They have an extensive network that is seeking to address a variety of the needs they see.
The following links are very informative and straightforward regarding what they are doing and how we can help.
Second, please pray for the workers doing the brunt of the humanitarian efforts in and around Mafraq. Many of the workers I met are very dedicated to bringing aid, resources, hope and joy to the refugees. They are willing to sacrifice much- sleep, the risk of hardships, and much more to do this work. Please consider them and life them up often, because they are an important link connecting these families to the church and ultimately the Source of hope.
Is there an end in sight?
That answer is difficult, but as long as the workers have this opportunity to enter in to these people’s lives due to the situation- it is a blessing in disguise. Each event has many unforeseen effects and despite a lot of heartache, good is coming out of the most horrible things.
“Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts?
Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much
that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.”