Dorothy Nickel Friesen is former pastor of Manhattan (Kansas) Mennonite Church and First Mennonite Church, Bluffton, Ohio; former assistant dean at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, […]
Photos provided by Ron Byler.
Ron Byler is executive director of Mennonite Central Committee U.S.
A delegation from Mennonite Central Committee recently returned from Syria, the first visit of its kind since the start of the civil war there in 2011. MCC’s $34.6 million humanitarian response in Syria and Iraq is the organization’s largest since World War II. Ron Byler has written a series about his time in Syria. The other two posts in the series are available here and here.
“We are happy you are here to see this with your own eyes,” the leader of the Islamic Charities organization in Deir Attieh, Syria tells us, a group of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) people visiting partner organizations in Syria. “We can’t express enough our heartfelt thanks to you.”
Islamic Charities works with 3,000 at-risk families affected by the war in the region and relies heavily on the work of volunteers.
MCC provides food boxes to Islamic Charities as part of our humanitarian assistance in Syria. When I visit five families who received these food boxes, I recall the heartfelt thanks but feel mostly heart broken.
We visit two families living in a partially cons
tructed apartment complex that stalled when the war began. The first family lives in a small, two-room apartment: the mother and her five children and the woman’s father. Her husband is serving in the army. The second family includes seven people living in one room. The woman and her five children and her sister have lived here for four years. “I thank God for this room,” she tells us.
In another house we visit, there are five families with 25 children. All of the men of the households are missing or are serving in the army. None of these children can go to school because they are not accepted there. A number of the children have special needs.
In a fourth home we visit, a husband and his two wives live with their 12 children in several small rooms. They fled northern Syria two months ago. The husband has a serious health condition.
During the seven-year war in Syria, almost 500,000 people have been killed. Of the Syrian population of approximately 17 million, 6 million have left their homes for other parts of Syria, and more than 5 million are refugees in other countries. Sixty-nine percent of the population of Syria lives in extreme poverty.
Through the Forum for Development, Culture and Dialogue (FDCD), MCC is providing emergency food assistance and winterization support for 6,000 vulnerable families in Syria in the Qalamoun region, in the rural areas outside of Homs and Hama.
The Syrian Orthodox Church is also a partner of MCC in Syria. On the church grounds in Homs, we visit orphans MCC helps support, and then we walk the city streets to see the destruction caused by the war. It is overwhelming to see blocks and blocks of houses destroyed.
Later that day, we travel to Fairouza to meet with Um Alzennar Relief and Development Center (URDC), the relief arm of the Syrian Orthodox Church in this region. They tell us MCC was among the first agencies to respond to the needs in this city during the war. MCC support has included food distribution, peacebuilding workshops, material resources, monthly cash allowances, winterization support and more.
We visit with a number of displaced families. One woman describes being kidnapped with her two children and being put in a mountain dungeon. Another man and his family fled twice from towns that were attacked. A woman describes living in a small house with 10 other people. Still another woman with her four children speaks for her husband who is deaf and tells about his being kidnapped and eventually escaping on a motorcycle.
And still, these people tell us they have a vision for a day when all people in their country can be free and live in peace.
We are family with you, URDC staff tells those of us who are visiting from MCC.
“From one heart to another heart, there is a river, a river of love,” they say about MCC’s support of their work. “Tell your people in your churches who are supporting us that they are helping to bring life back to Syria.”
For it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. –Matthew 25:40
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