The Refugee Issue

I Help Muslim Refugees Because I’m Christian

I believe it is the duty of Christians to help everyone live a dignified life.

Megan Gilbert
Mar 15, 2017 · 5 min read
Employees of the Church World Service office in Lancaster, Pa., attend Friday Prayer at the Islamic Community Center of Lancaster in solidarity with the Muslim community. Photograph by Todd Heisler / The New York Times / Redux

It was cold and damp in the water-stained apartment in Jordan that is now the sparsely furnished home of a Syrian refugee family. But the welcoming smile of Alima*, the mother of five, brought warmth.

Though I had traveled 6,000 miles to be there, Alima’s smile — and the tea her son served — made me feel immediately at home. (Alima requested that we not use her real name for fear of safety.)

Then Alima began to talk about her life. Her smile quickly faded, and a look of worry and despair took over. Her husband’s medical problems make it difficult for him to work, she told me. Two of her children need surgery to remove their tonsils. Her youngest child is six years old and has never been to school. All of her children suffer from psychological trauma from their experiences in Syria.

“They lost their childhood,” she said.

Alima was one of several refugees I met when I traveled to Jordan last month as part of my work for Catholic Relief Services (CRS), a humanitarian aid organization in the United States. It was my first trip to the Middle East, and it helped me understand the struggles of the people we serve and our obligations as Christians to help them.

Refugees fleeing active war zones usually must leave quickly. They bring very few possessions with them, and sometimes are forced to even leave family members behind. Families that do leave together can become separated once they cross a border.

Salwaa, a 74-year-old Syrian refugee I met in Jordan, has eight children. Two of her sons are in Brazil, one son is with her in Jordan, and her five other children are still in Syria. She has not seen in her daughters in almost five years.

“It’s hard because they are my children,” Salwaa said. “No one leaves their children by choice.”

Salwaa also has grandchildren that she’s never met. The pain of this separation and the worry over her children living in a warzone brought her to tears.

As a Christian, I turn to the teachings of Jesus to guide my life. I believe we are all part of one family. That means welcoming the stranger, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and working for the good of all people.

When people like Salwaa are suffering, it is the duty of Christians to help them live with dignity.

The author interviewing refugee children in Jordan.

One way to help refugees live with dignity is to give them work. Amona Turkey, 42, left Syria four years ago. The mother of five now lives in Jordan with her children. “It was very difficult for me to come to Jordan in the beginning because I’m alone and I did not have enough money to survive,” Amona said.

Through Caritas Jordan, CRS’s partner organization, Amona was able to take sewing courses. She now can support her family selling the clothing she makes.

“I feel like it’s an art, like any painter when painting something and enjoying it and working on it,” Amona said. “I really like sewing…and I’m happy. It makes me feel content with myself.”

But many Syrians are not able to work. Whalid, 55, used to sell electronics in Syria, but both his home and workplace were destroyed. He came to Jordan in 2013 with his wife and four daughters, and his diabetes and high blood pressure prevent him from working. (Caritas Jordan offers the family assistance.)

“I thank God because he gave me the patience to accept all these tragedies that happened here,” Whalid said. “I believe in what God is doing.”

If Whalid — who survived the loss of his home, job, and country — can still have faith, then so must the rest of us.

I believe Christians in particular can demonstrate that faith by helping refugees, whether by welcoming them into our homes, or ensuring that they live with dignity, wherever they may be.

I asked each refugee I met what they would like Americans to know about Syrians — especially at a time when many Americans are influenced by divisive political rhetoric. They seemed surprised by the question.

“We are very kind and we like to help others,” Salwaa said. “We love everybody.”

Which is exactly what Jesus told us to do. As he said in Matthew 25:20, “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my brethren you did it to me.” And in Matthew 25:35, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

My organization, CRS, has helped 1.5 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees with basic needs such as food, shelter, and medical assistance. We provide counseling services and education in countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Egypt.

The Development Set is made possible by funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. We retain editorial independence. Follow The Development Set on Facebook and Twitter.

The Development Set

Stories and conversations about global health and social impact.

Megan Gilbert

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The Development Set

Stories and conversations about global health and social impact.

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