“What does the Lord your God require of you?” (Deut. 10:12)
This past winter, I had the opportunity, as part of an MCC monitoring visit, to see how Syrian churches are responding to God’s question by welcoming strangers in their midst.
I traveled to a town in rural Hama, in central western Syria. In the basement of the town’s Greek Orthodox church, I met two men who were good friends and former neighbors, Jamal and Kamal, along with about 30 other Syrians. (Real names of the people and the town not used for security reasons.)
All who had gathered at the church that rainy winter morning had ended up in this predominantly Christian town of 12,000 inhabitants after fleeing their homes to avoid the fighting and death of the Syrian war, now in its eighth year. They had come to the town from across Syria: few parts of the country have been spared fighting.
Photo courtesy of FDCD
During the course of the bloody Syrian conflict, over 11 million Syrians have been uprooted from their homes, more than half of Syria’s pre-war population. Five million Syrians have ended up as refugees outside of the country, while another 6 million are displaced within Syria. Many families have been forced from their homes multiple times. The war has left people searching for shelter.
It has also left people looking for food: more than two-thirds of Syria’s population relies on some form of humanitarian assistance to make ends meet, while over 6 million Syrians face acute food insecurity.
Jamal and Kamal had arrived in the town from Raqqa, a city in eastern Syria. In Raqqa, Kamal and Jamal had lived for many years as good neighbors. Kamal and his family are Christian, while Jamal and his family are Muslim.
When Islamic State forces were preparing to invade Raqqa in 2013, Jamal went to Kamal with the urgent plea that they both gather their families and flee for safety. Together, they and their families eventually found shelter in the town where I met them.
This is a good village. The people here give without discrimination between Christians and Muslims.”
Through Syrian churches like the Greek Orthodox congregation where we congregated, MCC has provided regular food parcels and monthly cash allowances to thousands of families like Jamal’s and Kamal’s, helping them meet basic needs.
“This is a good village,” Jamal told us. “The people here give without discrimination between Christians and Muslims.”
By opening their town to uprooted people, the townspeople have followed in the way of the God who “loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing,” and who tells God’s people that doing what God requires means also loving strangers (Deut. 10:11-19).
To love God and to work for peace, these Syrian churches testify, means welcoming strangers.
You can use this story on Peace Sunday, Sept. 23, or explore other resources on Mennonite World Conference's website.