Lebanon (MNN) – Winter is expected: colder temperatures, snow, and ice. A winter storm brings that plus a few additional surprises, surprises that aren’t welcome in the Syrian refugee camps in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, home to hundreds of thousands.
In the eight years since Syria crumbled into civil war, more than a million Syrians fled to neighboring Lebanon hoping to find safety. They found that, but they also discovered crippling poverty. For a while, the only ones helping were the Christians.
Triumphant Mercy-Lebanon’s (TM-Lebanon) Nuna says the ministry began in 2006 to help Lebanese who were fleeing Hezbollah. From that first step, TM-Lebanon has demonstrated the ability, time and again, to adapt quickly to changing realities on the way to building a stronger community. Yet, this ongoing humanitarian crisis tests their greatest strength. TM-Lebanon started their response to the refugee wave with emergency food packs, expanding into education centers, warehouses, community centers and into Syria.
Winter Storm Norma
As recently as last fall, Syrians were being encouraged to go back, and some were considering leaving or making plans to leave Lebanon. Then, winter storm Norma hit, packing heavy rain and snow on Tuesday that turned streets in Lebanon into rivers of water and mud. The UNHCR says the storm seriously damaged 66 refugee camps and destroyed 15.
Nuna tells us, “All the refugees who are living under tents, or who are living in unfinished buildings were really severely hit by this storm, because it was really windy. It’s very cold wind, with no real windows, no real shelter, and also, water coming into the tent because of the heavy water, the mud. Many of the tents have mud inside.” The storm was a setback for many refugee families. “Some of the tents are like shacks, so the winter snow is heavy on the roof, and some of them had their roofs collapse on them, so they had to find refuge in neighboring tents and they had to rebuild, again.”
She says it’s like starting from scratch. Some of the flooded tents saw mud and water destroying what few possessions the refugees had: mattresses, bedding, clothing, food. Some tents were completely submerged. “You feel helpless, in some cases, because how much can you help? How many roofs can you build?” Nuna goes on to say, “All the resources they might have had when they came, maybe they’re completely gone. Kids are growing, they have new babies, families are growing, people are getting married and the resources are so little. What they’re building is really…a shack.”
A Forgotten Crisis
There’s just not enough food, clothing, and shelter. Getting donor support has been challenging because the crisis has fallen off the front page, but Nuna says while the refugee crisis has changed, it hasn’t gone away. “We have to remember that these people are growing in numbers and they’re growing in needs and even though much help has been given, it’s consumed and we have to rebuild again, now.”
Aside from the logistics of meeting emergency needs, there are spiritual needs that weigh heavily, too. Nuna and her staff take the time to listen to the stories of the Syrian refugees, to hear their hopes, of their lost dreams and what’s left of their future. As a result, “They know that we have the compassion of Christ that is compelling us to do something. Jesus says ‘when you see somebody who is hungry, you give him food; somebody who is in prison, you visit him.’ So, when you see somebody who has no shelter, you just do something about it. When you see somebody who has no clothes or shoes, you do something about it.”
Hope For A Future
When the refugees spy a Triumphant Mercy van, they see people coming to them, as Christians, opening their hands, extending a hand of help. It speaks volumes, explains Nuna, adding that she wants other believers to be praying, “That God would just have His way in the midst of misery, that He would be the hope of people and that He would just show them that they are precious in His eyes.”
One last thing: they’re asking for financial help, but the team also needs revitalization. “Also pray that all the people who are working with the refugees, that we would have the human resource, the financial resource and the strength to continue (because it’s draining)….so, a renewed strength, a renewed vision.”
Renewed strength and vision are focal points, especially now that increasing demands face the ministry team. By the way, this weekend’s forecasts calls for more cold temperatures and rain.
Header photo of Syrian Refugee Camp in December, courtesy of Triumphant Mercy Lebanon.