Driving through Syria, it’s clear the country is still at war. The highways are full of checkpoints, armed soldiers looking inside each vehicle that passes. Out the car window are trucks, cars, buses and tanks, burnt or flipped on their sides.
Empty billboards line the highway coming into the country. Military convoys move troops and weaponry: pick-up trucks carry large guns that are manned even in heavy February rain. In the old city of Damascus, the walls of the Syrian Orthodox Church shake when bombs land nearby.
Coverage of the conflict may come and go in the media, but on the ground war is ever present and displacing more people by the day.
The town of Breike in the Qalamoun region has filled with families who’ve been displaced from around the country.
In one home live Sami and Amina,* along with their four children and Sami’s mother.
Before the war, their family owned a chain of bakeries in Aleppo and made a good living. But when falling bombs blasted their home with the family inside, Sami and Amina left everything behind. They moved to Breike because they heard it was safe, and because they heard they could receive the monthly food packages MCC is providing.
Each month in the Qalamoun region and in rural areas of Hama and Homs, local organizations such as the Islamic Charity of Deir Attieh work with MCC partner Forum for Development, Culture and Dialogue (FDCD) to distribute rice, pasta, chickpeas, lentils, oil, canned meat and other food to 6,000 families. Some have been displaced for years, others have just arrived.
MCC is the only international organization providing relief in some locations in the Qalamoun region. And amid years of trauma, violence and uncertainty, the food can be a lifeline.
“ We’re helping those who are in dire need to survive.”
— Rev. Riad Jarjour
Sami and Amina stretch the supplies in their cardboard box, breaking up valuable items like meat into several meals to make them last longer. And while the food package doesn’t last the full month, it saves them enough money to afford to send their children to school, especially important because Sami has cancer and isn’t able to work.
“We’re helping those who are in dire need to survive,” says the Rev. Riad Jarjour, president of FDCD, which is implementing the MCC project, funded through MCC’s account at Canadian Foodgrains Bank. “You can’t imagine the number of people who say thank you (to those who give to MCC to support this work) and who pray for you.”
Over the past seven years of war, MCC and its partners have been responding to people in crisis, reaching out to those uprooted by violence and supporting efforts for peace in the midst of war. (Check out an interactive timeline of MCC's work in Syria).
Each project can play a powerful role in bringing people together.
In Kfarbou, food packages are distributed through the Syrian and Greek Orthodox churches, yet most of the recipients are Muslim. “We consider them our people,” says the Greek Orthodox priest.* “In this critical time we are trying to prove we are still one family.”
The roots of interreligious cooperation run deep in Syria and have proved strong even in some of the most terrible of circumstances.
When Aleppo was under siege, Christians and Muslims died defending each other’s places of worship, says the Rev. Ibrahim Nseir, pastor of the National Presbyterian Church of Aleppo. “This shows how we are living together, and how we are suffering together . . . during the crisis people forgot their religion and remembered one thing: we are all human beings.”
The building of Nseir’s church was destroyed in 2012. Yet through the siege church members continued to worship and to reach out to the community around them. Today, Nseir’s congregation continues to distribute monthly cash allowances and shipments of blankets, hygiene kits and warm clothes from MCC coordinated by the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches.
Susanna,* her husband and three children rely on the cash allowances, the equivalent of $50 per month. In 2013 her only son was kidnapped by armed groups and held for ransom. The family sold their two-bedroom house for the money to get him back. She estimates the allowance covers approximately half of their monthly needs, paying for things like medication or electricity. “I always thank God for the ministry of the Presbyterian church of Aleppo,” she says. “And I ask the Lord to bless those who are giving. The assistance is sustaining us.”
“ God is doing a lot in the country, God is not absent.”
—Rev. Ibrahim Nseir
For people who have lived through seven years of war and continue to see a country full of conflict, the support also brings hope.
In distributing relief, Nseir tells those in Aleppo that it is a sign that “God is doing a lot in the country, God is not absent.”
He and his community have been encouraged by the prayers of people from around the world. “We always knew that we were not alone,” he says, asking that people of faith around the world continue to keep Syria in their prayers.
“Pray that God’s grace should continue over these people,” he says. “Please pray for peace in Syria, pray for smiles to come back to faces.”
*Real names are not used for security reasons.