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Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Helps Syrians Displaced by Civil War

Art painted by residents returning from exile reflects hope in the Syrian city of Homs. —Scott Parker

Art painted by residents returning from exile reflects hope in the Syrian city of Homs. —Scott Parker

July 14, 2016

More than 250,000 Syrians are estimated to have died since civil war broke out in the country five years ago. Another seven million are displaced. The United Nations and other world organizations say the crisis has set Syria’s development status back by four decades.

While more than four million people have left Syria for other countries, those who remain hope to one day see their country at peace and thriving. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, in partnership with the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, has been helping Syrian Christians rebuild their homes through a $100,000 grant.

PDA Coordinator Laurie Kraus recently visited Syria, where the PDA dollars are helping to restore life in the city of Homs.

“We met with hundreds of people displaced from Homs and other towns and cities in Syria who had either been threatened or were forced to leave by ISIL,” said Kraus. “I talked with families that had been there for five years. They left during the initial fighting in Homs in February 2012 and haven’t gone back.”

Kraus met with a displaced couple who had resettled in the Christian Valley of Syria. The man, a dentist, recently opened a practice in his new community. Both say they are not stigmatized but do not feel fully received by the community. However, there are challenges to returning to life in Homs.

“There are concerns about reestablishing a viable work life in Homs because the city and its economy are still very fragile,” said Kraus. “There are many, many buildings and apartments in Homs that are not rebuilt, on blocks that remain filled with rubble and empty of people. Do they go home to a rehabilitated apartment or do they stay where they have work and their children are in school? There’s a tension either way, and it is not a simple homecoming story. Further, many families experienced trauma as they endured assaults on Homs and eventually fled, and those feelings linger, making a decision to return more complicated.”

Kraus heard similar stories from people trying to decide whether to remain in a devastated community or to start anew in another city or country.

“It reminds me of many families that fled New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Some had to move to other states and never came back,” said Kraus. “So there’s a whole layer of story and pathos unfolding around hard choices they’re still going to have to make, about where they want to invest their lives and try to re-create healing and wholeness for themselves and their families. It’s not an easy decision.”

Kraus talked with one couple, an engineer and a pediatrician, who had returned to their home and were the only ones living in their block.

“Their block is dark at night. There is no one else in their building or on their street,” Kraus said. “The wife goes out at
3:00 in the morning to make house calls on children. They’re living like pioneers at a frontier outpost. They are living there because they believe it’s the only way to bring back their city.”

Kraus says she’s deeply moved when she thinks about what these families and communities are giving up in order to rebuild their life in Homs.

“A lot of people have given up on Syria, but they haven’t seen the people we’ve seen who are just working day and night to make it happen,” she said. “We want to work with this community to continue the rebuilding, which we believe Presbyterians will be generous in supporting.”

Rick Jones, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Susan Barnett, PMA
David Barnhart, PMA

Let us pray

Gracious God, we pray for the pastors and churches in Syria and for all Syrians who suffer from the violence in their country. Send your Holy Spirit to lift them and to replenish them for the work ahead. Amen.

Daily Lectionary

Morning Psalms 97; 147:12-20
First Reading Joshua 3:14-4:7
Second Reading Romans 12:1-8
Gospel Reading Matthew 26:1-16
Evening Psalms 16; 62

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