It was Syria’s Christians who translated Aristotle and Plato into Arabic.  It was Syria’s Christians who taught philosophy and the natural sciences in the Iraqi capital Baghdad. It was Syria’s Christians who served as the models for Arabic philosophers and so opened up a narrow window of hope – hope that Islam would become more open to reason and peace.

That was over a thousand years ago. In the meantime Christians in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon have suffered greatly. Their witness is stamped upon the history of the region, and as long as they continue to live in the cradle of Christianity their witness will retain its power.

The meaning of this witness is engraved on their very souls. Their homeland is more than their place of origin: it is the homeland of the spirit of love and hope.

In paying the rent for Christians expelled from their homes – and now refugees within their own country – we are also giving hope a home. In sending food parcels to tens of thousands of families in Syria and Iraq – parcels that are truly survival packs – we are not just saving individual Christians, but a way of life that holds the promise of peace for the region.

In helping to preserve the Christian presence there, we are providing security for today and confidence for tomorrow. A Middle East without Christians would be a region deprived of its soul, a region cut off from its past.

All these things remain unspoken, but they are in the air in Latakia as Father Issa Abdo and his helpers hand out aid parcels to displaced families – a few kilograms of flour, a couple of pounds of rice, sugar, noodles, cooking oil and milk powder; then another little parcel with soap, toothpaste and shampoo. All treasured items for these families, who could otherwise never afford them. Each parcel should last for two weeks.

When it comes to their rent, we aim to cover six months, for that is the minimum time it will takes them to find work and somehow get back on their feet. And no one else is helping to pay for the security of four walls and a roof over their heads.

There are 1,800 of these families in Iraq, and 27,000 in Syria. Their spirit, their way of life, their history lives on in these homes. Though they may not know it, they carry the ‘household of faith’ (Gal. 6:10) in their hearts. This is the real house for which we are paying the rent.

The Statistics of Suffering

After six years of civil war, three in every four Syrians now live in extreme poverty.

  • 13.5 million – that is how many people depend on help for their survival.
  • Almost 9 million of them barely have enough to eat.
  • 11 million were driven from their homes or forced to flee.
  • 6.5 million internal refugees in Syria itself.

Estimates by international agencies of the number of those killed range from 250,000 to 470,000. And another 1.9 million have been wounded or traumatised.

This article can be found in Mirror 0816.