A letter from Doug Dicks in Jordan
Dear Family and Friends,
The long, hot days of summer are once again upon us, and the evening air here in Amman is filled with the heavy scent of jasmine, which grows and cascades over the walls and entrances to many homes.
Scents and smells are so much a part of Middle Eastern culture. The days are hot and the air is now humid, and we cool ourselves by drinking glasses of sweetened tea, steeped with fresh mint, or thick, black Arabic coffee, laced with cardamom. On occasion, a "white coffee" eases the heat of the evening—boiled water with a teaspoon or two of orange blossom water.
Some days it is so hot, the fan on my laptop computer runs all day! The Muslim holy month of Ramadan has just ended, and the nights were accentuated by colored, lighted crescent moons and stars hanging in the windows of homes and in the coffee houses of Amman.
Fasting during daylight hours is the norm, and that includes no water, no cigarettes, and no chewing gum. However, the nights are almost magical, and become one big enjoyment of food and traditional Arabic sweets, beginning with Iftar, the meal that breaks the daylong fast at sunset. Traditionally the fast is broken with a glass of water and some dried, sweet dates, which helps to ease the body back into accepting food.
Soon the night sky will light up with fireworks as the wedding season, which was interrupted by the Ramadan fast, begins again, and Jordanians will gyrate to the sounds of music by Nancy Ajram, Amr Diab, and other famous Lebanese, Egyptian and Jordanian singers. The music from the nearby King Hussein Club floats down through the valley known as Wadi Saqra here in Amman. On many evenings it sounds as if the entire wedding party is right outside, under my window!
Such is the month of August 2012 here in Amman.
But this year's Ramadan fast and the three-day celebratory period known as Eid, which follows Ramadan, was overshadowed by the violence taking place in neighboring Syria.
In early August, and upon my return to Jordan from the U.S., I was invited by His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem to accompany him and a small delegation to the Za'atari Refugee Camp, which had just opened a few days earlier. His Beatitude stated that it was “a moral duty for the church to be present with the refugees, who at this time need everyone's love and assurance.” The visit was to be a pastoral visit to the Syrian refugees who had fled the deteriorating situation in their country. His Beaitudes' visit came out of a genuine sense of love and concern for the people, who are caught in what can only be called a serious, humanitarian crisis. The local church is committed to the Christian mission found in Matthew 25:35, 36—“for I was a stranger and you received me; sick and you visited me, hungry, and you gave me food; naked, and you clothed me.”
Five us made the journey that day to the north of Jordan.
At the time, the camp had just been open barely a week, and already over 3,000 Syrians had made their way across the Syrian/Jordan border, many coming at night to avoid being shot or shot at.
Blowing sand and dust greeted us as we stepped out of the vehicles and onto the ground. A representative of the UNHCR—The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees—greeted us and gave us a briefing about the initial plans for the camp, and what they were anticipating in the coming weeks and months.
Underneath a large tent that had just been erected sat many women and children on the ground; about 500 was the estimate. We were told they had just arrived last night and were waiting to be processed and registered with the UNHCR.
We were briefed by a representative from the UNHCR and also by a representative of the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization. Other aid organizations present included the World Health Organization (WHO), The United Nations International Christian Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Program (WFP).
Of immediate need to the displaced are insulin, cool water, and refrigeration. We were told that snakes and scorpions roam the desert at night, where the camp is located, and that this is of particular concern and poses yet another danger to the people now residing in tents.
In the coming weeks and months the camp is expected to grow considerably. A large-scale movement of people—particularly women and children—is expected to ensue, as the situation in Syria further deteriorates. The camp is being equipped to host between 120,000 and 150,000 displaced persons.
After 18 months of violence, nearly a quarter of a million people have fled Syria, according to the UNHCR. Jordan has accepted within its borders close to 200,000 of these refugees.
The Orthodox Church has pledged to provide humanitarian assistance to the refugees, according to their needs.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has launched an appeal, through the ACT Alliance—Action by Churches Together. See http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/pda/syria/ in order to make a donation, or for resources for use in your churches and congregations.
Footnote: On my second visit to the camp, in late September, the total number of refugees had swelled to almost 30,000, with anywhere between 500 and 1,500 people—mostly women and children—crossing the border and into Jordan every day.
Please pray for the situation in Syria, and for the tens of thousands of people being made homeless by this conflict.
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 300