The Syrian Eyes That Haunt Me

The NYTimes today reports that nearly 3 million Syrians have fled their country, becoming refugees in surrounding countries. Approximately 100,000 men, women and children are fleeing Syria each month. Many refugees live in UN created camps, but the majority live in urban areas outside the camps. While many were well-educated professionals, university students, or middle-class families in Syria, they fled with almost nothing. Now, desperately poor, they depend on the good will and generosity of strangers. For decades Jordan has welcomed refugees: Palestinians, Iraqis, and now Syrians. I have been humbled by the generosity and loving care I have seen in the last week.  When I went to Congo the first time, I met a woman named Charlene. Her husband had been killed by rebels in Congo's civil war, leaving her with eight children to raise alone, and forcing her to flee to a makeshift camp for displaced people. Then, while foraging in the woods for firewood, Charlene was brutally raped by a soldier. When I met her, her baby born of rape was two weeks old. Charlene slid into my heart five years ago--and remains there.

This week in Jordan, I met my Syrian "Charlene"--a gentle, soft-spoken women who rocked slowly from side to side on a thin floor cushion, lulling a toddler to sleep in her arms. Her name is Amoneh:  a beautiful name for a beautiful woman.

Amoneh's three oldest sons were out scrounging for rent money by cleaning bathrooms or hauling produce; despite their best efforts, the family lives on the edge of eviction. Amoneh's remaining children crowded around her in the small room that is their temporary home. Like many refugee moms, she has received no word from her husband in Syria for many months.

Amoneh looks far too young to be the mother of eleven children, but she is. She lives next door to her cousin and his family, because she feels safer with a male relative near. However, she won't let her young children out of her sight. "I don't want to lose them," she says quietly. Her simple statement tells a story beyond our imagining. She has lost so much.

I knew the minute I sat down beside her that I would never forget her. There was something serene and elegant about her, but her eyes were like wells of pain. I am haunted by those eyes. I remember Charlene's eyes too. There was pain, yes, but also a touch of holy defiance; a hint of righteous indignation that strengthened Charlene and added the slightest glimmer to her eyes.  But in Amoneh I saw no defiance, no indignation. Just pure pain.

We asked if we could pray with her.  She welcomed it, so my Arabic-speaking friend prayed for her. I've made too many trips like this to cry every time my heart breaks. But as we left Amoneh's little room, the tears fell. We left a large box of food to help her family through the next few weeks. But it is a drop of water in an ocean of need.

The Jordanian pastor and his wife with whom I visited Amoneh and several other Syrian families believes his church has been prepared specifically to serve these refugees. His church is in a "rough" neighborhood; friends often challenged him to move to a "better" neighborhood. "Now I know why I never felt right about moving," he says. "We need to be here to respect, love and serve these people who have suffered so much."

Last night my pastor friend and his wife sat with a woman who had just learned that her husband had been killed in Syria. It wasn't Amoneh, but it could have been. Just as there are many "Charlenes" in the DR Congo, so there are many "Amonehs" among the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan.

As I prepare to leave Jordan this evening, I pray the prayer I have so often prayed: God, what is mine to do?  

When I'm home with a rested mind and better internet access, I'll highlight some of the organizations I saw walking humbly and lovingly with Syrian refugees. In the meantime, will you join me in that prayer?