everyday people...

Friday, August 12, 2016

The myth of Syrian childhood

Childhood is a myth in Jordan, where a seven-year-old Syrian boy describes the terror of trying to escape across the border, running as bullets zipped between his legs. Reaching the border, he was arrested along with his grandmother and aunt, before being released to find refuge in Jordan. 

Syrian refugee families regularly find themselves being fired on by their own government forces as they flee to safety.

Observable fact indicates children of Syrian families will be the ones who remember this war the longest. Nightmares and fear echo the visual images ingrained in their psyche. They draw pictures of tanks, guns and dead bodies. Yet, it is these children who will define the long-term future of their nation.

The mother of another family, Fatima, (not her real name) said, “We drove from Homs to Damascus, staying one night, then to Dera’a where we hid another night. The next night we gave our two daughters, three and four years old, sleeping tablets, in the hope they would be quiet for the two-hour walk to the border.

My husband and I carried one daughter each and one bag of our possessions. All we had was left in Homs. Now it’s probably been destroyed.”

“I was terrified,” said Fatima. “I was 6 months pregnant at the time and finally I couldn’t walk any further.” “My husband took the other bag I carried, so I just had my daughter. We had to continue until we reached the border.”

Stories like this are commonplace and everyone you meet has lost someone, either to death, or prison, during this prolonged conflict. The heartbreaking fact is that whatever may be considered a normal childhood, has been erased to create a generation of patriotic war children. I hear the sweet voices of the children singing songs denouncing the Syrian leader, Bashar al Assad, or singing of the martyrs. If I could fully understand the words, it is with certainty they would be tainted with blood.

A fellow relief worker said, “I’ll always remember visiting one family. Their five-year-old son would scream every time I got closer than 10 feet. He would hide behind his grandmother or siblings and cry and scream. The grandmother told me he’d seen his dad get arrested in front of him.”  

In broken down homes and refugee camps, Syrians reside, parents striving to create ‘home’ for their family. However, parents potentially know hundreds of the war dead, and they themselves often cannot bear the pain this destruction has caused.

The hardships appear to indicate Syrian families would be prone to distrust. However, when visiting families in their homes, we receive an experience of care and love given from an extremely hospitable people. It is obvious that family and community are central and children are loved.

Still, because of this strong relationship, the children naturally connect with the same desires of their parents. The most common desire is for the war to end and for everyone to return home to Syria. The means to that end though are somewhat convoluted. A father of a four-year-old girl talking about revenge on the Shi’ite, turned and asked his daughter, “What will we do to them?” Repeating words she’s heard many times, she said, “We will kill them, kill them.”

Syrian children are growing up in an environment that does not guarantee safety, or survival. Products of the hatred of their ancestors, these children will be the future voice of Syria. The only hope is that one day, they can learn to forgive.

Monday, June 8, 2015

"At once..."

Recently, this verse jumped out at me, because of two little words, "at once."

We know the story, the disciples are in their boat during a storm and wondering where Jesus had disappeared to. They were rowing a long way in rough seas, probably thinking, come on Rabbi. Where are you?

Can you relate to the timing of Jesus' arrival? I can. They were going through a storm, and then, he was there. They were afraid, as we can be, so Jesus said, "It is I. Don't be afraid." Then the disciples were willing to take Him on board, and at once the boat was at the shore where they were heading. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Life and Death is Desperate...

Syrian family during distribution
The streets are always dusty, and many of the main roads are lined with refugees trying to find something, food and clothes, a home. But the truth is their home is in turmoil and they have chosen to flee because they see no other way. 

Refugees flee with nothing and are understandably desperate. Any human nature tends to undergo changes when placed in life and death situations. What may never be acceptable in our home becomes acceptable now. As an observer, it is interesting to experience the different expressions of morals, right and wrong.

Today is distribution day and like every other Tuesday the need is greater than the ability to supply. However, you do what you can, right? Ten of us drive out in two trucks to give mattresses, gas bottles, stoves and blankets.

The family at the first house is extremely happy to see us, grateful for the supplies. This family, like most Syrian families has numerous children and a great need for blankets as the Jordanian winter edges closer.

We continue on our way, visiting and giving supplies to families, witnessing grateful smiles as we leave.

The next family we visit gives numbers of children and family members to our man in charge. We dutifully carry mattresses and blankets in to bless and help this family. But there is a secret. Inside the house is a locked room and the key can’t be found. The family says, “The landlord must have it.”  

“What is the landlord’s phone number?”

“We don’t know,” they replied.

After some searching, the landlord was found and the door unlocked. It turned out this room was full of supplies already received. The family had pulled the proverbial wool over our eyes. The result was we carried our mattresses and blankets back to the trucks, amidst a mixture of anger and shame expressed by the family.

I struggled with how to feel about this situation. On one hand the family was wrong to deceive, when there are so many people who have nothing. However on the other, who am I to judge. I’m not in their situation, having lost my homeland to tyranny and violence, fearing for my life.

What would I do? What would you do? We all hope our desires and responses would be honest, but how can we know? I do think it was the correct decision to take the supplies back and give where the need is legitimate, but I also believe we need to reserve judgment. If we hold judgment in our hearts it becomes wearing and we don’t have time for that. We must continue in love and grace.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Haiti - 7 months on.

PORT-au-PRINCE, Haiti – Pictures of an utterly devastated Haiti have long disappeared from newspapers and TV screens. However, the plight of the Haitian people is still very visible. The newest tent cities in the capital city of Port-au-Prince are becoming more permanent. This is happening not through government or NGO efforts to help people rebuild, but from those who live in the tent cities, desperate to find some sense of normality.

The tent city directly opposite the National Palace is now woven between damaged buildings and national monuments. Roofs are no longer just plastic sheeting, but iron or tin to protect from torrential downpours experienced every year in the wet season. What was initially a temporary solution for many has become long term as the weight of relocating these communities is too heavy for the nation’s leaders to handle.

The spiritual climate in Haiti after the earthquake is changing. One month after the January earthquake, Haitian President Preval decreed that for three days from February 12 – 14 the nation would fast and pray to the “good God.” The annual Kanival (Mardi Gras) was cancelled. Instead, throngs of people marched around the national palace worshiping and praying to God over the three days.

American Rodney Gephardt and his wife and three children live and work in Haiti. Gephardt was based out of Port au Prince for the first seven weeks after the devastating earthquake. Gephardt facilitated mostly medical teams, treating more than 20,000 earthquake victims.

When asked about the present spiritual state of Haiti , Gephardt said,

“I believe that because of the earthquake – and therefore the amount of people who turned to God during times of prayer and fasting, that spiritual curses (as a result of Voodoo practices) over Haiti were broken," he said. "But now the people need modeling and teaching. The people need a ‘Moses’ to lead them, whether that is done by many people, local pastors or just one person.”

People are asking for Creole Bibles, Gephardt said. He recalled one hot day when handing out the few Creole Bibles he had. He and his partner were resting under a tree when a Haitian man walked up to him and said, “I’m ready.”

Rodney thought, “Ready for what?”

The man persisted, “I’m ready.”

In his hand the man held out a tattered New Testament written in French and Rodney realized he was being asked for a Creole Bible. When he gave the man the last one he had, the Haitian immediately began reading aloud from Genesis. A group of children who had been throwing rocks and yelling loudly, Gephardt said, suddenly became silent as they came and gathered around the man to listen.

The Bible says, 'For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.'”

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Streets of Rubble

This afternoon we drove down roads where we saw collapsed buildings in every block. The rubble on the main streets of Port-au-Prince has now been pushed to the sidewalks, though some of the smaller laneways are still impassable. Telephone poles teeter at ninety-degree angles toward the ground, and live wires hang loosely above our heads.

Throughout Port-au-Prince there are many such streets. Our co-worker Rodney shares how just days after the earthquake he visited this particular one. The difference then was that the last time he was there, corpses lay on the sidewalks covered by sheets. He says, “People were everywhere up and down the street, looking under the sheets, trying to find their families.”

As we drive around Port-au-Prince, windows are down to let in the breeze and the air is filled with the smell of diesel. But then, as we pass what used to be a cell phone business, the smell changes. A strong whiff of what I assume to be sewerage fills my nostrils and then leaves as quickly as it came. When we’ve passed the house Rodney asks, “Did you smell that?” I answered, ‘Yes, what was it?” He said, “That smell was everywhere at the beginning, it’s death, there may be bodies still under that building.” I wonder to myself how many will never be recovered.

The medical team today split into different areas. Some went to the University of Miami field hospital at the Port-au-Prince airport and other took mobile clinics out to tent cities. The team members return at night saying how intense it is to work within their roles in this situation. The mentality at a hospital here is different to the US, queuing is not necessarily part of the Haitian persona. The Emergency Room (ER) is situated outside the building in a tent, surrounded by the noise of helicopters and jets. Volunteer Dr Luzanne Grundling from South Africa says, “You just tune it out after a while.”

Another group of team members go to a tent city to put tents up for people who haven’t a home anymore. When they return, they say people are desperate for shelter and this causes a chaotic situation.

The rain is becoming an increasing problem, especially as the wet season has officially begun. It rained heavily last night for about three hours and my tent was flooded, I may as well have been floating around a swimming pool on my airbed.

But then I stop and think about all the people in the tent cities. As I said in my previous article, their homes are made from thin wooden poles and plastic sheets. When the rains hit, these homes turned in leaking mud pools. This morning after the rain we heard that the tent crew wouldn’t be going out today because it was impossible to reach the tent city. What sort of conditions must those people be enduring? And it will only get worse as the wet season is just beginning. Torrential rains will come and because of this the risk of disease will increase one hundred fold. The after shocks from the earthquake may have subsided, but the on-going risks of sickness and death could be disastrous.

Today I will go into Port-au-Prince again, to some of the hardest hit areas. People here have noted that the atmosphere in the city is even more aggressive than normal. It is understandable that the accumulation of tension from the past weeks would cause this outcome. Haiti has a population of 10,000,000 and of those people, 70% were unemployed before the earthquake, that percentage will be much higher now.

Though the obstacles could seem insurmountable, the medical situation in Port-au-Prince is progressing. The initial emergency response directly following the earthquake is now transitioning to ongoing care and need. However, now Haiti and her people need our support for a rebuilding initiative.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Dusty roads of Haiti - My first dispatch

The wind made the roads so dusty we found it hard to see. Looking out the window the ocean bordered us on one side and towering white cliffs on the other. The cliffs looked like sandstone and a driver told a team member that after the earthquake these same roads had been covered in rubble and debris. It was then that we realized we were in Haiti. There hadn’t been any signal of a border crossing, at least not to my knowledge. We crossed from the Dominican Republic to Haiti without a customs officer checking a single passport.

The cliffs beside the road gave way to simple stone houses, some extremely unstable. A multitude of other homes are made from wood poles and plastic roofs. Cindy, the lady beside me in the bus says, “Oh that’s a new tent city, that wasn’t there before.” She and her husband have made six monthly visits to Haiti since 2005, where they help run an orphanage in Port-au-Prince. This was her first trip back since the earthquake hit on January 12th and I could tell she was disturbed by the change in scenery.

We got closer to Port-au-Prince and the number of tilting or collapsed buildings grew, and we weren’t even in the worst hit areas. After another hour, while stuck in some typical city traffic, I noticed yet more piles of rubble and tires by the side of the road. I said to Cindy, “Are these from the earthquake?” She said, “Yes, it’s all since then.” We navigated several Haitian traffic jams and drove up what is called “hi-jack alley,” from a time when men with guns would block cars on the road and rob them, or worse. This nation definitely has its share of problems.

When we reached the place where we would stay, we found it in direct contrast to the chaos we had witnessed outside. The orphanage caters to children with special needs and I could tell they were loved. The green grass and trees appear foreign to the rubble lined streets and tent-cities outside, though our own version of a tent city dots the field.

The facilities are basic, a lack of water means each person is allotted three cups of water to shower with, bucket style. The humidity sticks to you like a glove and keeps you just as warm. Two Haitian ladies make our food. They may have both lost their homes in the earthquake. The language barrier has so far stopped us from communicating too closely. The previous team members still here tell us, “Just hug them everyday.”

Tonight I will go to bed after having over 38 hours with little to no sleep. At the orphanage, which is next to Port-au-Prince airport, we will apparently hear planes take off about five times a night. This is an improvement on the first weeks though, when planes were flying aid in approximately every ten minutes. The team spirits are high with the anticipation of what will happen tomorrow. Some team members will serve at the hospital on the airfield, while others will take a mobile clinic out to those who may not have been reached yet.

What will tomorrow bring? No one can be sure of that, but we know we’re in a place where new and great things can happen. This is an opportunity to see a new future begin in Haiti.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Whoever receives a child.

“My heart was beating fast, I felt confused and lonely,” said Anu. “I felt deep pain in my heart. I was with Silas (my husband) as I prayed out loud. ‘Jesus, you know the best and may you be glorified.' I had all the faith to believe God could heal Silas, yet I wanted to submit my will unto His. I felt Jesus was holding my hand.” After suffering a stroke, Silas Don went to be with the Lord at 8:15pm on May 10, 2001. Silas and Anu had been married for eight years and had two daughters, Ailsha and Sunayana.

Four months earlier, on January 10, 2001, Silas and Anu Don had pioneered the work Vanitashray, based in Pune, India. The name comes from Vanita, meaning woman and Ashray, meaning shelter. This work cares for destitute widows and orphans/abandoned children. As they began, Anu did not know that she herself would soon identify with the widows heart and grief. She says, “I was devastated when Silas died, but God told me three things. He will be with us and never leave us nor forsake us. All that matters to Him is my relationship with Him and He will lead me in the calling He placed over my life.” Lastly, God told Anu, “Take one day at a time.”

Having grown up an orphan, Anu knew firsthand the rejection a child experiences. She shares how they welcomed the first of many children into their home when Vanitashray began. “Nikita was three years old, and the first girl brought into our small rented apartment in 2001. It was the neighbors who rescued her from her father, who wanted to sell Nikita for 2000 Indian Rupee ($40). Her father was an alcoholic and sexually abusing Nikita. It scared me as I looked at this little child who was so traumatized. It took her first year with us to learn to walk, talk, smile and sleep as a child. Today, eight years later, Nikita is a bright, fun loving and beautiful young girl. She says, ‘I want to be a teacher when I grow up.’"

Vanitashray has continued ever since then to care for the widows and orphans of Pune. Currently based in two rented apartments, they are generally required to relocate every eleven months. An immediate need is for a permanent location. The long-term vision of Vanitashray is to provide a home for at least 50 destitute women and 100 orphans/abandoned children. Anu has always desired Vanitashray to be a home rather than an institution. Now remarried, she and her husband John Baker consider the people of Vanitashray to be family.

Many would not have blamed Anu if she had given up when Silas died just a few months after they began Vanitashray. But instead, she chose to pursue the ministry God had entrusted to her. Through her courage and faith in God she has ministered out of her personal experience to those who needed it most.