Young Syrian sisters at a refugee camp in Jordan. More than half of Syria's refugees are children, and need of food, clothing and basic care items. Photo via ACT Alliance/IOCC/UNHCR/F.Juez
Two leaders from the United Church of Christ are venturing to the Middle East this week to offer any assistance they can to the millions of people affected by the Syrian Civil War. Peter Makari, UCC's executive for the Middle East and Europe, is visiting Beirut, Lebanon, for a conference that will focus on the Syrian conflict. Susan Sanders, UCC team leader for global sharing of resources, will spend the week assisting refugees at the Za’atri camp in Jordan – now home to more than 175,000 displaced Syrians who fled their country in search of safety.
The crisis has been ongoing since March 2011, and Wider Church Ministries continues to raise the awareness that the UCC is present and that the church will remain continue to offer assistance. The UCC’s focus centers on humanitarian relief for more than 5 million refugees, a majority of which are children now living in tents without adequate food, clothing or water.
"It’s a matter of governments not knowing how to act when news airs,"Makari said, "but the church always knows how to act."
Makari is attending an international conference with 150 participants on behalf of Global Ministries — the shared ministry of the UCC’s Wider Church Ministries and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) — as they explore Christian-Muslim relations in the region, and Syria in particular. Multiple news outlets have reported that the instability there could ripple through the Middle East in places such as Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, and Iraq with refugees fleeing to those countries.
A diplomatic response has been stalled at the United Nations, with the U.S. and its allies pressing for Syrian Prime Minister Bashar al-Assad to step down. On the opposite side of that argument, Russia and China have been against the use of any external pressure. The U.S. government has provided relief aid, but no military aid, though that may change if the Syrian government uses chemical weapons against the rebels.
"When people are in need, we are called to respond," Sanders said. "Activism in a humanitarian way isn’t complicated by third parties, since we have partners on the ground in the area with direct access to help people in need."
The UCC issued an appeal in October 2012 for donations to help refugees, and Sanders and Makari said that the appeal will remain open as long as necessary, which could be some time before the conflict has a peaceful ending. Financial assistance will provide food, shelter, warm clothing and trauma care through the partners of Global Ministries.
The Syrian Civil War started as a rebellion against al-Assad's government in March 2011, and has now claimed 80,000 lives. The fighting has also left 4.25 million Syrians internally displaced within the country and another 1.4 million registered refuges displaced outside the country.
"That’s a quarter of the country’s population displaced either internally or externally that we know of because not all the refugees are registered,"Makari said. "Imagine if 78 million Americans –25 percent of the population –were displaced."
Makari traveled with the Rev. James A. Moos, executive minister for Wider Church Ministries, to the Middle East in December, meeting with partner agencies and examining the refugee camps in Jordan.