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Mission Matters

José Luis Casal

A monthly update from World Mission, a ministry of the Presbyterian Mission Agency

The Mission Matters column addresses the impact of Presbyterian mission in the world and the issues that affect mission co-workers, the people we walk alongside and assist in service to God, and our partners around the globe.

November 2017 — Syrian refugee children learn the meaning of Love

Rev. Jose Luis Casal, director
Presbyterian World Mission

“Since the uprising in Syria began in 2011 and evolved into civil war, more than 300,000 people have died and 11 million Syrians have been displaced. Around 1.5 million Syrians have crossed the border to find refuge in Lebanon, a country with a population of 3 million. This dramatic increase of people is a challenge for Lebanon. The conditions in the refugee camps are minimal but the great tragedy is that 60 percent of the camp’s population are children,” said our host, Dr. Mary Mikhael, communicator on behalf of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL).

(Photos provided by Jose Luis Casal)

The Lebanese public school system doesn’t have the capacity to assimilate this huge number of additional children. “The children live in muddy camps or on the street, begging for food, money, anything,” Dr. Mary said. In response to this humanitarian tragedy, NESSL created educational centers for Syrian refugee children. The church has now five educational centers with around 600 children ages 3 to 10, most of whom have never been to school before. The centers serve children, with no discrimination toward race, religion or gender and no proselytizing. “We bring the children from camps and teach them the four main subjects: language, science, mathematics and ethics in a spiritual, Christian atmosphere. Our purpose is to show them love through service,” Dr. Mary said. The centers also provide uniforms, books and materials, snacks, medicines and one meal that includes clean drinking water, milk and juice every day.

The Presbyterian World Mission delegation with hosts from NESSL: Tamron Keith, associate director for administration; Philip Woods, area coordinator for the Middle East and Europe; Ramak Affair Abboud, director of the education center for Syrian refugee children in Kab Elias (Bekaa Valley); Jose Luis Casal, director, Presbyterian World Mission; Dr. Mary Mikhael, communicator on behalf of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL).

One of the schools is in the Bekaa Valley, about 19 miles east of Beirut. The center has 130 children. The young and dynamic director of this center is the wife of a local pastor. Asked what differences she had noticed in the children’s behavior after a year of attending the center, Dr. Mary responded, “When they came, they were insecure, afraid and barely smiled, but now they are happy. They have learned how to behave in a social context. They have learned to play like other children. They have learned the meaning of the word love.” She added, “We try to make them normal and productive citizens and prepare them for the day when they’ll be able to return to their country.”

I asked one of the children, a little girl, what she would like to be in the future. I was expecting a response like “I want to be a doctor” or “I want to be a teacher,” but she responded very seriously, “I want to be a human being.”

NESSL is teaching Syrian refugee children the meaning of love and preparing them to be real human beings. To God be the glory!

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