Around the world, there are increased threats and violence where faiths confront each other. Christians, in particular, are suffering persecution in the form of slavery, imprisonment, physical attacks and even death at the hands of radicalized groups. Lutheran Hour Ministries (LHM) is meeting this challenge daily at its outreach center in Lebanon, as trained staff and volunteers share the Gospel in the Middle East with those fleeing persecution.
The civil conflict in Syria has affected both Christians and Muslims. Of more than 9 million Syrians displaced by a violent civil war between rival Muslim groups, 1.3 million have sought refuge in Lebanon. LHM—Lebanon is reaching out to many families — the majority of whom are Muslims — living under harsh conditions in makeshift refugee camps beside Lebanese communities in the Bekaa Valley. Since 2013, LHM has been providing food, hygiene supplies and medicines — together with Christian programming — for children and families.
In September 2014, LCMS Mercy Operations selected LHM as its preferred partner in aiding the persecuted and displaced families through a $70,000 grant. The additional financial support from the LCMS has helped LHM increase its assistance for Syrian refugees and extend its capacity and outreach to at least 2,000 Christian Iraqi adults and children who have fled their homeland due to persecution by the Islamic State. Outreach efforts include helping refugees “survive with dignity” by providing basic supplies and distributing hundreds of New Testaments and Bible-related literature, giving them hope.
“We are pleased to partner with LHM in this special project,” said the Rev. Bart Day, executive director of the LCMS Office of National Mission. “Bringing much-needed help and aid to people who are fleeing is a special way the Lutheran community can support our brothers and sisters in body and soul.”
Just before Christmas 2014, LHM’s monthly delivery of food and supplies helped Syrian families brace for severe winter weather that swept through the Middle East Jan. 5. According to LHM—Lebanon Director Fadi Khairallah, despite their difficult circumstances the refugees had provisions to get them through the storm.
The story of these Bekaa Valley refugees has much in common with the stories of Syrian Muslims who also have sought refuge in several Middle Eastern countries. Zahra’s story, however, is the story of a Christian refugee. Zahra (a pseudonym to protect her safety) is a Syrian Christian who volunteers for LHM. In 2012, she traveled to the war-torn city of Aleppo in western Syria to share the Gospel with school children. Shortly after she began her work in Aleppo, she and her co-worker were attacked. Her co-worker was killed, but Zahra survived and returned to her hometown in eastern Syria, where she continued volunteering for LHM as she recovered.
For some time last year, LHM—Lebanon staff members did not hear from Zahra. Then the phone rang. It was Zahra asking if LHM could send her a shipment of Bibles at a new location. The staff members sent Bibles immediately.
Zahra’s backstory is all too common in the Middle East today. Islamic State militants captured Zahra’s hometown and presented Christians in the community with four options: convert to Islam, pay an exorbitant religious tax, face execution or flee. Zahra chose to flee Syria and ended up in a refugee community.
Today, Zahra continues to reach out to fellow refugees with the hope she has in Jesus.
Recently, LHM—Lebanon has reported a rise in the number of Iraqis seeking refuge in Lebanon. The increase is due primarily to the activity of the Islamic State in Iraqi communities. Like Zahra, Iraqi Christians are facing life-and-death choices — and choosing to flee. As with refugees from Syria, LHM has reached out to Iraqi families with food, other supplies and Christ-centered programming.
“We can’t predict when life in these places will become stable again,” says LHM Director of International Ministries Rev. Dr. Douglas Rutt. “But we can do what Jesus commends in Matthew 25: ‘I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you clothed me.’ ”
Synod Lutherans can make a difference as LCMS Mercy Operations and LHM partner to serve the growing number of families displaced by violence, strengthen persecuted Christians with God’s Word and share the Gospel with non-Christians in the Middle East.
“Because we have that kind of support, we can and are bringing help, healing and hope in the face of violence and spiritual darkness,” Rutt said.
Posted May 26, 2015