Commentary: "Suffer the Little Children"
Written by Dr. Peter Makari
February 20, 2014

More than 11,000 children are dead in the ongoing conflict in Syria - 10 percent of all fatalities. Hundreds of thousands of children are displaced, either inside Syria or as refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and elsewhere. According to the United Nations, more than 9 million Syrians — out of a total population of 21 million — need humanitarian assistance. The war rages, despite efforts in Geneva to negotiate a resolution.

Two weeks ago, five Syrian Christian leaders visited Washington, D.C. These clergy met with members of Congress to share their perspectives. During a meeting with a bipartisan group of senators, the delegation discussed the situation of Syrian Christians (about 10 percent of the population), and urged the U.S. not to supply military aid to any party, each of which commits atrocities. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) objected to their statements and stormed out of the room. He eventually was persuaded by one of the Syrian clergy to come back in and listen.

The Christian community in Syria comprises Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants. The road to Damascus is where Paul became Christian, and Antioch, formerly a major center of the early Church, was where Jesus' followers were first called Christian. Today, some Syrian Christians still speak Syriac, the language Jesus spoke.

In this tragic war, Syrian Christians have experienced brutality by foreign Islamic extremists, despite centuries of good relations with their Syrian Muslim neighbors. Churches have been attacked, and Christian communities decimated and uprooted. Even so, the churches of Syria and in the Middle East offer emergency aid to any Syrian who needs it — Muslim and Christian alike.

In the Za`atari refugee camp in northern Jordan, more than half are women and children. The children there, like Syrian children everywhere, have suffered unimaginable trauma. They have witnessed their loved ones killed. They hear the stories of those deaths graphically repeated. They attend classes in the makeshift U.N. schools, even as they face the elements of winter insufficiently clothed or sheltered, without a way to heat their tents.

Jesus said, "Suffer little children, and forbid them not to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven." The dual meaning of this translation is poignant and appropriate, for it suggests the suffering of being denied one's innocence, and the incumbency to welcome and honor all unconditionally. In war, children lose their innocence; everyone grows distrustful. Jesus' message is one of trust and goodness, not of suspicion or antagonism.

The late Greek Orthodox Patriarch Hazim, of Antioch and All the East, once told a delegation I led while in Damascus, "We [Middle Eastern and American Christians] need each other as incarnate brothers and sisters, not as abstractions. Americans must know there are human beings in the Middle East whose lives are at stake."

The solution to this crisis is not more arms; the fighting factions have demonstrated the futility of armed battle. The Syrian war and the myriad calamities suffered by all God's children as a result must end. We must listen, and respond, to the people who live every day amid the horrors and hardships of this war, and those who offer welcome relief to all.

You can find additional updates on Syria via Global Ministries.

Dr. Peter Makari is the Area Executive for the Middle East and Europe for Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

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