Chris Harrell served as content strategy lead for the EFCA communications team in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Extending Hope to Refugees in Crisis
A miracle in the making, amid tragedy
Bombs continue to fall in Syria, yet for those far away, it’s easy to become numb to the horror. According to the United Nations, 6.3 million Syrians are internally displaced and 13.5 million need humanitarian assistance1, with around 1 million more requesting asylum in Europe.2
The numbers are staggering, even paralyzing, but not everyone is numb and immobilized. EFCA ReachGlobal Crisis Response is investing in refugee communities, in partnership with local churches and long-term ReachGlobal missionary staff in the region.
The vision is to tangibly minister Christ’s love while building relationships, multiplying disciples and planting churches. Then, as refugees either return to their homeland or disperse to other parts of the world, they take with them a mature church with trained leaders.
“We’re not just serving a physical purpose; we want to disciple,” says Katrina Welch, a response and trauma care specialist with the Crisis Response team. “We see this ministry as holistic.”
Serving in Syria, Jordan and Iraq
Over the last several years, Crisis Response has served extensively in Beirut and the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon, as well as several cities in Jordan. This involvement is primarily with Syrian refugees and Iraqi Christians—Crisis Response looks to create hope for those displaced by civil war and ISIL violence.
These refugees aren’t all living in tent cities and refugee camps. Yet in most cases, a three-bedroom apartment is still shared by three families and their extended relatives. In the last year, governments offered only 450 work permits for 1.5 million refugees. They’re not welcome, Katrina points out, and many are not able to work.
“One of the preconceived ideas is that these are poor families, but they had businesses and lives and jobs in Syria,” Katrina adds. “Since being displaced, all they have is what’s given to them by the U.N. and the church. It’s not just mom, dad and two kids. It’s extended families, grandparents and grandchildren, all living together.”
In other cases, families are split up and live in different countries.
Another element of the crisis is the lack of education for refugee children: Hundreds of thousands are not in school.3 So in Mafraq, Jordan, Crisis Response partners with a local school to provide K-4 education to 160 Syrian refugee children.
While refugees struggle to make a living and children have a tough time accessing schooling, there’s also a need for medical care. In response, Crisis Response sent several medical teams into Jordan for routine health screenings. Every person who came through provided a name and address so that local believers could follow up.
These teams supplement ongoing medical outreach led by national partners and long-term ReachGlobal missionaries in the region. So, each medical trip becomes an opportunity for relationship.
“The response was far more than we expected and anticipated,” Katrina says. “We saw three Muslim men accept Christ that week. They’ve been discipled because of our long-term relationship in the area.”
However, fewer and fewer Syrians are dreaming about a return, says Mark Lewis, Crisis Response director. “In the last year, the reality of an unending war has set in. The hope to rebuild is gone.”
A multifaceted approach
Crisis Response’s strategy for refugees acknowledges the Syrian reality as well as other situations:
- believers voluntarily going to unbelievers (missionaries and volunteers)
- believers involuntarily going to unbelievers (Syrian and Iraqi refugee Christians);
- unbelievers voluntarily coming to believers4 (nonrefugee immigrants to Europe and the United States);
- unbelievers involuntarily coming to believers (Iraq and Syrian refugees fleeing the Middle East)
This strategy has led to a ripple effect of assistance and education. In Syria, Crisis Response partners with several different organizations and house churches to reach those internally displaced. In the surrounding countries of Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq, where most Syrian refugees have fled, they partner with local churches and ministries with like-minded values. And throughout Europe, national churches, ReachGlobal staff and EFCA-affiliated groups are helping reach those spread across the continent.
Now, they’re creating awareness in America as issues of immigration and refugee ministry reach a boiling point.5
In each location, Crisis Response wants to see indigenous leaders identified and equipped to multiply churches. These commissioned churches will then “travel with” refugees as they return to their homeland or move elsewhere—including to countries where it’s illegal to convert to Christianity.
“It’s unprecedented to gain this kind of access in the Middle East,” Mark says. “What we’re seeing now is miraculous.”
To learn more about Crisis Response and how you can help share the love of Christ in times of need, visit efca.org/crisis-response-partners.
With the number of people displaced worldwide expected to rise, Crisis Response’s work is as important as ever. Their goals include: (1) sending up to five more medical and education support teams this year; (2) organizing a vision trip for church leaders; (3) recruiting interns and missionaries to teach English in the area for six months to two years; and (4) helping U.S. Evangelical Free Churches engage with domestic resettlement outreach. Their fundraising goal of $250,000 (70 percent met) will expand these and other outreach efforts. To get involved, visit efca.org/refugee-crisis.