From the third-row pew, I sit taking in the scene. A refugee children’s choir gathers on risers in the front of the church. A collection of pre-teen girls fixing their hair as they prepare to play the handbells, and a group of grade schoolers practicing their rendition of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ on their recorders one last time before the program begins.
As I sit watching the scene before me, I am reminded of a dozen such recitals that I once participated in during my own childhood, also laughing to myself about the fact that the recorder is still being learned and played, and wondering who ever thought this instrument made a lovely sound?! The children before me appear to be typical kids, giggling and excited to perform for their friends and family who are pouring into the sanctuary.
“but unlike my childhood, which was spent in quiet suburban America, these children have grown up knowing the realities of war.”
The dozens of children standing in front of me, eager to perform their newly learned musical pieces, are from Syria. They are children who fled with their families to neighboring Lebanon to find safety and escape the horrors of a civil war that has now entered its sixth year.
Now residing in Lebanon, life is far from easy. With over 1.6 million Syrian refugees fleeing to a country with a population of only 4 million, resources and assistance remain an ever-growing challenge, and no one is given the proper documentation that allows them to work or integrate into Lebanese culture.
Women and children make up the majority of the refugee population, and access to education has been limited or nonexistent. Instead many refugee children have been left to roam the streets or find unofficial work in hopes to support their families.
It is a situation that on the outside can appear overwhelming and hopeless, but after spending a week on the ground in Lebanon I witnessed how the body of Christ is responding to the crisis. Believers are coming together and offering hope amidst a desperate situation and as a result, I witnessed first-hand how lives are being transformed.
For the last several years, Orphan’s Promise has been partnering with a local ministry, Heart for Lebanon, to reach and educate Syrian refugee children. Children who have lost one or both parents remain the focus for providing education and family assistance.
Thanks to faithful Lebanese believers who have a heart to reach these children, 300 children are receiving a Christ-centered education daily. Through the H.O.P.E. Educational Program (Helping Overcome Poverty through Education), non-formal education is being provided. The program gives children the opportunity to learn how to read and write in basic Arabic and English, math, and most importantly Biblical character development and instruction. There are also opportunities for students to study art and music, which have proven to be methods of healing for these children.
Teachers shared with me how when children first came to the H.O.P.E program they were closed and many even wouldn’t speak. But little by little the layers were pulled back and the children have learned to trust again. Day by day they are finding healing.
As I sat in the church watching the kids perform, I was struck by the words that the children were singing.
We are a family whose hearts are blazing
So let’s raise our candles and light up the sky
Praying to our Father, in the name of Jesus
Make us a beacon in darkest times.
Carry your candle, run to the darkness
Seek out the hopeless, deceived and poor
Hold out your candle for all to see it
Take your candle, and go light your world
Take your candle, and go light your world.
As I sat listening, I couldn’t hold back my tears. I realized how much we have to learn from these children. They have experienced more tragedy then most of us could ever imagine, and yet they are discovering what it means to be a light in this dark world.
They are learning to forgive and they are learning to love and I recognize what a privilege we’ve been given to play a small role in helping to educate a generation that will bravely shine Christ to their nation.