A Church Full of Refugees

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The neighborhood in which my friend pastors was changing. Middle class families were moving out, trading cramped apartments for houses surrounded by lush, green spaces. “You should move too,” the pastor’s friends suggested. “You’re a great leader. You could have a nicer home, a wealthier congregation, a bigger church building. You deserve it!” “But this is my neighborhood,” the pastor countered. “This is where I grew up, where I found Christ, where I was called to serve. I can’t leave.”

During the last three years the abandoned apartments in this changing neighborhood in a Middle Eastern city have been filled with an unexpected population: Syrian refugees. Mostly Muslims, these men, women and children have lost everything. While some refugees end up in formal refugee camps, the majority end up like those I visited with my pastor friend and his wife: in abandoned apartments or unfinished construction sites, with dozens of people huddled in empty rooms on damp, concrete floors.

Leaving Syria with nothing but the clothes on their backs and unable to work legally, they have no furniture, no mattresses. Some manage to get occasional food vouchers from the UN, but most don’t. They have no access to medical care or schools for their children. Unable to forget the horrors of violence they left behind in Syria, many of the mothers refuse to let their children go outside, refuse to let them out of their sight.

So my pastor friend and his wife, along with volunteers from their church, visit the families to find out what they need. Then they provide as best they can according to each family’s need: food and hygiene packets, diapers and milk for babies, mattresses, children’s clothing, medicine. Each Saturday Syrian mothers show up at the church for teaching on parenting, how to deal with grief and trauma, principles of health care and other subjects pertinent to their experience; the mothers bring their children, knowing that in the church their kids will be safe.

The six hundred Syrian families served by the church have now been joined by 250 Iraqi families. The pastor and his wife have become convinced that this is why God placed them in this neighborhood years earlier: to be ready and waiting to embrace these refugees. “We are here to respect, serve and love these people who have suffered so much,” the pastor says, “and it is an honor.”

I don’t name the city or the pastor and his wife because extremists might view their care for refugees as proselyting; this could endanger both them and the refugees. But I want you to know there are heroes like this who have been sacrificially serving refugees while the rest of the world ignored them. They have no slick marketing, no fundraising campaigns. They serve on a wing and a prayer, trusting month by month that God will provide.

I’ve been there, I’ve heard them pray, I’ve watched how they love. I am humbled by them, challenged by them, inspired by them. And honored to play a small part in empowering what they do.

If you’d like to help support this ongoing work, you can send a check to A2 Ministries, the Hybels family nonprofit. One hundred percent of your tax-deductible donation will be sent directly to churches like that described above. Write checks to “A2 Ministries,” with “Syrian Refugees” in the memo. Send to: A2 Ministries c/o Lynne Hybels, 774 Summer Isle Lane, Barrington, IL 60010.

RefugeesLynne Hybels