By Leah Allen and Jeff Brumley
Baptist and government agencies are stepping up efforts to help Syrian war refugees who are facing a brutal winter.
With some 9 million Syrians displaced from their homes, and 3.3 million living in refugee camps in neighboring countries, Baptist organizations have already joined the global effort to meet their physical needs.
The Baptist World Alliance, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist General Convention of Texas are among many who have joined United Nations efforts to raise money for refugees.
And those efforts are kicking into high gear with the onset of winter, which has Baptist and government officials especially concerned about the well-being of the refugees.
The Syrian conflict has been deemed the biggest humanitarian disaster the world has faced since the Rwandan genocide in 1994, according to the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development.
Since the conflict began in March 2011, 9 million refugees have fled their homes, according to syrianrefugees.eu.
Lebanon and Turkey each have 1.1 million Syrian refugees living within their borders, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Jordan has nearly 620,500, Iraq almost 228,500 and Egypt more than 132,000.
The United Nations recently announced humanitarian aid has been cut short, creating much concern for Lebanese Christians about feeding the refugees. A late November storm in Lebanon took the lives of two Syrian infants, sparking fear for what the winter months hold ahead.
Around 80 percent of the refugees in Lebanon are women and children. Refugees now make up over a quarter of Lebanon’s population.
Many who have resided there since 2011 have run out of savings and with the winter months now here, they are literally freezing, said Lucas Shindeldecker, LSESD community development director.
Riding out brutal winter temperatures in houses made of plywood, tarp or tents, with little to eat, has made Christmas 2014 a season of survival for refugees there.
But a little can go a long way, Shindeldecker said, so Lebanese Christians are issuing a global appeal for contributions to help make a physical and spiritual difference in the lives of the refugees.
In addition, the BGAV sent $20,000 in late October through the European Baptist Federation. “This was divided among a few groups working with Syrian refugees in different areas, but the majority was sent through the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development to support their work in Iraq,” said Dean Miller, leader of the BGAV’s glocal missions and evangelism team.
Now, Texas Baptists are partnering with LSESD as an initiative of the Texas Baptists Partnerships program, to help bring warmth to many of the refugees through its winterization project.
The effort will provide blankets, stoves, heaters, food and other necessities in Zahle, Lebanon, where 9,000 Syrian refugees are being housed. By meeting the physical needs of the refugees, Lebanese Christians have an open door to address their spiritual needs as well. Texas Baptists have already contributed over $5,200.
Shindeldecker reported that they are already seeing Syrian refugees visit churches not solely for help, but for connections and relationships. As the Lebanese Christians seek to witness to the refugees, they know they cannot meet all the physical needs alone.
— Leah Allen is a writer with Texas Baptists Communications