Jesus Loves His Children
For the Team, Ron Gatzke
The last leg of our incredible journey began as we left the oldest occupied capital city in the world, Damascus, behind us and headed back to Lebanon in our three-car caravan. Sadly, we left old and new friends behind. Looking back we see a people bruised physically and emotionally by the ravages of war, but expectantly hoping for better days ahead. The young especially struggle with their future and we saw how some seek ways to bring some semblance of life back through music and the arts. One of our members remarked that he was watching the faces of the young women at the restaurant yesterday while several from our group started dancing to the music – they enjoyed what they saw and soon joined in for a taste of life that has passed them by the last six years.
Today we visited a Synod supported school for refugee children in Qab Elias in the Beqaa Valley. Using a building that previously served as a church operated school, it now serves 55 refugee children from 6-10 years old. Many of these children come from refugee camps, some as far away as 13 miles. They learn Arabic, English, math, science, ethics, music and sport. Even the youngest learn English while still learning (to read) their native language. Teachers are from Lebanon and Syria and Ramak, the principal, is the wife of Pastor Tony Abboud. A social worker and psychologist are on staff to assist the special needs and traumatized children. Each child is provided with a uniform and a daily meal, but many are very poor and always require other things like shoes and raincoats especially during the winter. Aside from photo ops, members of our team sat in on classes (if they could fit in the seats) or participated in sprints, their collars flapping as they ran with the little ones.
Our next stop was to the home of Rev. Riad and Izdihar Kassis. Izdihar, by selling her own art started her own NGO ten years ago, Together for the Family, to assist teens who had experienced trauma. The focus shifted to refugee youth aged 12-20 traumatized by the effects of war in Syria. Many were suicidal or developed other conditions as a result of their horrifying experiences. Through special camps many are able to begin the healing process and many have become successful students and citizens. Sensitive to the needs around her, she expanded her ministry to provide basic post-natal care for many mothers in the camps and started a sewing ministry. The Outreach Foundation has supported these valued ministries. Together for the Family oversees two sewing schools that enable young women to develop valuable sewing skills and build confidence, self-esteem and hope. Izdihar, with the support of her wonderful family and gracious God, is making a difference in the lives of many young people.
As I reflect on today's visits I am reminded of Jesus and the children in Matthew 19:14. The disciples were trying to keep the children away from Jesus, but he rebuked them instead, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Jesus continues to go to the children – the refugee children – through these important partners to bring them a taste of heaven. No child should have to suffer what these children have, but thanks be to God, His hands, feet and heart are present in these ministries to teach these little ones that there is a better way.
Ron Gatzke, West Hills Presbyterian Church, Omaha, Nebraska