Grace discovers faith, pain and a shared understanding when she meets Iraqi Christians sheltering in Jordan
It is interesting how God often speaks to us, beautifully and inspirationally, when we least expect it.
Returning last month from a short visit to the USA, I had to go through Jordan, as Palestinians are not allowed to travel through the Israeli airport. It so happened that at this time there was a Christian gathering of the Evangelical churches of Jordan and the Holy Land so I joined them. As part of this gathering, it was arranged for us to visit Iraqi refugees currently staying in one of the Catholic churches in the area known as Marj Ilhamam (“Meadow of doves”) in Jordan.
It was my first ever meeting with Iraqi refugees. I had heard many stories, of course, about the thousands who fled from ISIS. But seeing the reality of their lives made my heart ache. After abandoning their beautiful homes in Al Mosul, these displaced refugees are now living together in a building a short walk from the main church.
The Catholic church we visited holds 70 people or so, representing around 20 families. They share one simple room, separated into equal parts where each family has one section. Their day-to-day routine is now lived out in this building. The women cook, the men play chess and the children try and find something to play with…
As we arrived, these beautiful kids, teenagers and parents welcomed us with beaming smiles. They did their best to be kind and hospitable. But beneath the surface they looked distressed and anxious about the future. Surely, no-one would want to continue living this way – without passports, statehood, stability, education or job opportunities – and knowing this is not your land, this is not what we wanted for your lives. The young people cannot go to university and the children can’t attend school. Sadness haunted their dark eyes.
During our visit, we had various conversations with many of these refugees, especially the women. They all said they were grateful to be alive and escape the clutches of ISIS; but now all they have is themselves with their shattered hopes and dreams.
Clinging to Christ
That – and the faith in Christ they were clinging to. Amongst other things, my heart was warmed by listening to the children singing Christian songs, proclaiming that Jesus is their hope, their life, their peace and their all in all. Seeing their passionate hearts spoke volumes to me. They were so thankful for the small pieces of chocolate and candy they got: it was like their treasure.
Before we left, a father who was watching his children sing, wanted to find out where we were from. When I said Palestine, he said: “We are just like your people: they were forced to leave the country and were told they would return in three days. Nearly eight decades have passed and they are still without a home.” I felt such a deep sadness in his tone. He did not need to say anything more; I knew exactly what he was talking about.
It was not so hard for me to empathise with these people who have lost everything and must wake up to life in this small shared space every day, not knowing what tomorrow holds. One year has passed since they started living this way. But they are alive…and their lives are in God’s hands…
I often think about the time I had with these lovely people, their faces, their smiles, their stories, and I remind myself:
It is unjust but God is just…
It is sad…but God can turn our mourning to joy…
It is worrying…but we should cast all our fears and anxieties to Him…
It is troubling…but He is our rest…
It is a tragedy…but God can take our shattered hopes and dreams and make something beautiful out of them…
I pray that in all the suffering they have gone through, these people will become, mighty ambassadors for God’s justice, love and compassion, and that their light will shine wherever they go and every time they speak about His goodness. I also pray that God will use us, those who have homes to be a shelter and a refuge for those in need, remembering that ultimately
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging” (Psalm 46:1-3)