Written by Anthony Moujaes
The Rev. Jim Moos carried two images from a trip to the Middle East back with him to share with his colleagues at the United Church of Christ. The first was of a boy, in a very poor area of the City of the Dead in Egypt, working as a child laborer. He said to him, "I am happy you are here." Then in Jerusalem, a young Palestinian woman told him, "We hope because we have to. There's no alternative."
Moos, the executive minister for the UCC's Wider Church Ministries, and Peter Makari, area executive for the Middle East and Europe, have recently returned from a two week trip to the region. Their travels took them through Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Lebanon as they met with partners of Global Ministries – the combined ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the UCC.
They visited refugee camps in Jordan, now home to hundreds of thousands of Syrians, witnessing the struggles of families who fled their war-torn homeland in search of safety.
"It was interesting timing with a lot of things happening and angst that people have there, but they appreciated the timing," Moos said.
"It was an affirmation of their witness and presence. Their work and ministry goes on in the midst of political and social instability," Makari said.
The Syrian Civil War started in March 2011 as a rebellion against the government. The UCC has since offered support to partners in the region responding to the crisis and working to assist both internally and externally displaced refugees. The United Nations estimates more than one million people have been forced from their homes in Syria.
One of the UCC's overseas partners, the Greek Orthodox Church, is providing warm clothing at the Za'atri refugee camp in Jordan. The camp is well-organized with schooling for children – who make up more than half of the refugees in the Jordanian camp – but there are growing concerns around their physical and mental health. UNICEF is trying to winterize tents for cold weather, but some children have worn shirts and sandals for months because it was the only clothing they had when they fled Syria.
"The immediate concern is the children. Getting boots is a very high priority," Moos said. "They came into the camps with what they had on."
Among other issues in the camps -- the lack of fresh produce and its high cost, human trafficking among women, and children exposed to violence acting out in anger. Moos isn't certain how widespread the human trafficking problem has become, but he is aware of the issue and that women are acting as the head of a household because husbands either remain in Syria to fight, or were killed. The violence problem stems from children who were surrounded by fighting in Syria, and at the camps are hearing updates about the conflict. Moos and Makari said one teacher told them, "All of this keeps children in a state of hyper-arousal," so the camp is seeking ways to help teachers cope with kids who act out.
Moos and Makari have been told that the Middle East can be broken down to loyalties based on sects, but Makari doesn't ascribe to that theory after seeing groups working across religious lines. "We met with Christian and Muslim Syrians and heard the whole range of pro-regime and pro-resistance from them," Makari said. "Their alliances didn't fall along sectarian lines."
Moos and Makari were in Palestine when it was awarded statehood as a non-voting member to the United Nations, a historic move that they said was an emotional boost in the territory, "but for Palestinians the reality is it isn't going to transform anything on the ground."
The UCC has issued a $100,000 emergency relief appeal for Syrian refugees to provide food, shelter, warm clothing and trauma care through the partners of Global Ministries. For additional information on the situation, and to learn how you can help, visit the UCC's Disaster Response website.
Moos' message to those affected in the region was of solidarity. "The Christian presence in that part of the world is shrinking," Moos said. "To say, ‘We hear your voice and carry it with us,' that's important."