For the last two weeks we have been staying with Hanno´s parents. As our departure to Japan is becoming more and more tangible, this time is especially precious.
Today, the whole family got together. Uncles, aunts, cousins and their children – and the two grand-mothers of whom one is turning 94 soon. Four generations at one table!
We feast and chat and pray and laugh. We ask each other how we are doing, speak of family members who are far away, a few tears are shed as we share difficulties and sometimes we are quiet for a moment because we are tired and life is busy and this is a place where we want to be ourselves as we rest and recreate with each other. We are family.
In the evening, Hanno and I go to church. A guest speaker is introduced. “Please welcome with me a Syrian Pastor. He is going to share with us how our family is doing back in Syria.”
When last did I think of these men, women and children with whom I claim to have a bond just as strong as with the men, women and children that I just spent the day with?
Do I really care about them as I care about my family?
The Syrian Pastor begins talking. He speaks slowly, sometimes leaving a long silence before he finds the suitable English word to express what he has seen.
“I want to share a verse with you from Lamentations 3:1 that has become reality for me in these last months.”
I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath.
“I have seen affliction. Humiliation.”
What does that look like? He begins to describe monotonous anxiety that rules the lives of Syrians in his hometown. He speaks of children who can´t leave the house because of mortars that can hit any time. He speaks of snipers that look for any kind of movement and shoot without thinking twice. He speaks of every day life in a country where you are painfully aware that every day can be your last.
“There are three activities to fill your day. Number one: you have to look for water. Before the revolution Syria experienced a serious drought and now, with everything bombed, the water supply is very irregular.”
He pauses, and when he sees that we don´t quite get the meaning of “irregular”, he continues:
“I spoke with a friend of mine on the phone yesterday. She told me that they had running water two days ago. For half an hour. After they hadn´t had water for 15 days before that.”
“So we look for wells in old buildings and carry water in buckets back to our homes.”
“The second activity is to stand in the queue to get food parcels. The factories in my city are destroyed. Factories only produce in cities run by IS or other Islamic groups. But Christians won´t get jobs in those factories.”
He doesn´t say what happens to Christians in those cities. He doesn´t have to.
“Without job, you don´t have an income. After years of war, your savings are gone. So you stand in line and hope to receive some food at a church. If you have a big family, you better register at two churches, otherwise the food won´t be enough.”
“The third activity is waiting. Every day you wait if they come today.”
The front line between Islamic extremists and the army is coming closer and closer.
“We had a little bag with documents that we kept ready, in case we had to flee quickly. Close to my home, 315 Christian families had to leave their homes because the fighting was happening close to their houses. They left in their pyjamas, thinking they would be back by morning. They could never return.”
These people had money, houses, clothes and toys. Now they have nothing.
“If you still have some money, you can pay people smugglers to get you out of the country. Otherwise there is nowhere for you to go.”
It hits me hard:The people whose faces I see on TV, floating in overcrowded plastic boats or pouring out of trains, these people that have little more than the clothes on their backs: They are the rich ones!
The rich ones manage to flee. The poor stay behind.
“Now what do you do?”, the little man in the church hall asks us. “What do you do when you are the pastor of these people? How are you supposed to encourage them?”
He looks at us and quietly ends his report.
“I urge you pray.”
If my brother was in a situation like this, wouldn´t I pray? Pray for him to stay strong, to persevere and not lose hope and joy and trust in a God who is greater than suffering? Wouldn´t I be incredibly proud of him and cheer him on to keep being a bright light in the midst of horrible darkness? Wouldn´t I encourage him to be a bold witness and a selfless lover of those around him? Wouldn´t I do anything possible to make sure he has a warm meal on his table tonight and a blanket to keep him warm? Wouldn´t I want him to know that I´m right there with him – and that I care?
Well, my brothers are in a situation like this.
What am I doing about it?