A safe haven in Syria

Nearly 400 civilians have been killed because of violence in Syria and at least one expert predicts the turmoil will last several more months.

“Thousands are still going to die,” Syria specialist Michael Lüders told a German news channel last week.

The violence in Syria reached the capital at the end of January. Thousands of Iraqi refugees who fled their country to the safety of Damascus were painfully reminded of what they left behind, wondering where they could find a safe haven.

For 140 Iraqi refugee children age 4 to 19, their safe haven is called “Acts of God,” a program in a Nazarene school located in the Old City of Damascus, where fighting has recently intensified.

Most of these children cannot attend a regular school, so this program, now in its fourth year, is their only chance of continuing their education.

Four afternoons a week, year round, they receive a nutritious snack, participate in chapel, and divide into age groups for three hours of lessons in mathematics, English, Arabic, history, science, and discipleship. The majority of the students have lived through traumatic experiences and many of the teachers are themselves Iraqi refugees and know the children’s pain. They take time to listen to the children individually, showing them love, offering encouragement, and helping them deal with trauma.

“We are so proud of the Syrian Nazarenes who continue to provide this incredible service that is making a difference in the lives of the students,” wrote Rod Green, Nazarene Compassionate Ministries coordinator for the Eastern Mediterranean Field, which includes Syria and Iraq. “The program really provides encouragement and skills that help Iraqi children feel they are not forgotten and loved. The students learn how to worship, love, and serve God; it also keeps them engaged in learning in hopes that they can one day continue their education in a serious way when they move to a more permanent living situation.”

Teachers are greatly encouraged when former students who have moved on call from abroad to say how much the Acts of God program meant to them, that they’re still reading their Bibles, and they haven’t forgotten what they learned in chapel.

But encouragement comes from other sources, too.

In their Christmas Eve services, several Nazarene churches in Germany collected a “Christmas offering” totaling 3,400 Euro (about US$4,500) designated for the Acts of God program.

The teachers say this was an answer to their prayers.

“For three months we’ve had a plan to purchase a blanket for each student in the program,” said Nancy Samara, director of the Acts of God program and NCM coordinator for Syria. “I prayed to God to send us money for this, but we didn’t receive any support in the three months I prayed. I was so encouraged to hear the news of [the] donation! Now we can buy a large blanket for each child and there will be money left over to help run the program.”

The blankets will be custom-produced in a local textile factory with all of Psalm 121 printed on them.

“This psalm is about God’s protection,” Green said. “The message to the children is that the Lord will protect you from all evil. The Lord is your keeper, and even though you sleep under this blanket, the Lord will stay awake and guard you through the night.

“This message is particularly important now to the people living in Syria.”

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