By Mark Ellis
One result of the Syrian Civil War is that 2.1 million refugees have fled the violence and taken refuge in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, often living in miserable conditions. But Christian groups ministering to the exiles report thousands responding to the Good News about Jesus Christ.
“The people are very open to the Gospel,” says Steve Van Valkenburg, Middle East director for Christian Aid Mission. He has seen God moving among the refugees himself, and is also receiving reports from many of the indigenous church planting ministries supported by Christian Aid. “They are doing a great job of showing Christ’s love and compassion to the refugees,” he notes.
Many of the sojourners bear physical and emotional wounds and need someone with whom they can share their stories. If they go to a U.N. feeding center or large NGO and receive food, their deeper needs may not be met.
“The Christian emphasis is to hear them out, to listen and pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Five years ago that wouldn’t happen. But now they are open and attracted by someone who cares. A lot of emotional and spiritual needs are being met by the Christian ministries that can’t be met by large NGOs or government agencies,” Van Valkenburg says.
In Iraq, 2,000 to 2,500 Syrian refugees have converted to Christ, according to reports received by Christian Aid. Ministries in Turkey and Lebanon are reporting hundreds of new converts. In 2013, there were 1,200 baptisms in Lebanon alone.
Some of the estimates go even higher. Another report Christian Aid received from Iraq estimates that 10,000 Muslim families have converted both in Syria and in countries around Syria. The typical family numbers four people.
“When they find God’s Word being preached and the Gospel shared, the authority of Jesus’ words touches their hearts. They don’t see a loving God in Islam. But now they see a God who cares for them and how they become His children.”
“Ideas like forgiveness that seem commonplace to us who have grown up with Christianity are revolutionary ideas to them,” Van Valkenburg adds.
Van Valkenburg doesn’t see an easy solution to the refugee problem on the near horizon. “Most Syrians are not going anyplace and may be around another five to 10 years,” he believes. “Some want to go back, but their houses are destroyed – it’s not realistic. Some of the areas will be uninhabitable for a long time.”
“As Christians, we don’t relish people suffering, but God is using this,” Van Valkenburg notes. “That’s true of disasters all over the world. God has a way of salvaging the worst situations and bringing some good out of it.”