Rifaat, his family, and his brother’s family live in two unfinished rooms in southern Lebanon. They have done their best to fix up the space with a rug and mattresses on the floor for sleeping, but the cold, hard cement floor and walls are still stark and unforgiving.
Rifaat’s hands are chapped and red from an allergic reaction, making it hard for him to find work. His son is 11 and requires the use of a wheelchair, an added challenge when living on the second floor of an unfinished building. His 5-year-old daughter has eye problems that started when she was experiencing the trauma of bombings in Syria.
The family fled their home in Aleppo, Syria, a little more than a year ago when the war got too close, and even basic necessities like food and water were hard to find. Now they face uncertainty in Lebanon, living in poor conditions and without access to the medical care they need.
Refugees such as Rifaat and his family are faces of the war in Syria. While the nations rage and conspire (Psalm 2:1), civilians continue to suffer. The numbers are staggering: more than 1 million refugees in Lebanon alone, a country with a population of just 4 million. A million more refugees are in the other neighboring countries. Within Syria an estimated 9.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.
On a recent visit to Lebanon, many Syrians expressed their strong desire for peace and a longing to return home. Citing a history of living together as various ethnic and religious groups, they said that Syrians could work things out with one another. Some noted that there have been some local ceasefires in areas where government and opposition forces know one another. Peacebuilding trainers also said that they are getting more requests than they can accommodate.
But the increasing involvement of foreign fighters, along with funding and weapons from outside countries, is complicating the conflict immensely. The outside countries cited most frequently were the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran and Russia.
While the U.S. government says it is working to broker peace through negotiations, it is also directly involved in the conflict by providing support to opposition forces. Many in Washington believe that helping the opposition gain an advantage on the battlefield will strengthen their position at the negotiating table.
But as Archbishop Jean Kawak of the Syrian Orthodox Church points out, “You can’t get to peace through violence.” What is needed instead, he and other Syrians said, is an immediate ceasefire and an end to outside funding and weapons. This can help lay the groundwork for a political agreement that ensures the rights of all Syrians.
When I asked Rifaat and his family what message they would like to tell the U.S. government, they said that they just want the violence to end so that they can go home. As people committed to following Christ’s way of peace, we must earnestly pray and work toward this end. See a prayer and information on how to get involved at washington.mcc.org.
Reprinted with permission from Mennonite World Review.