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Situation Report: Middle East Crisis

Be a part of the response:

Pray
Please pray for people who have been affected by the Middle East crisis. May God’s healing presence give them peace and hope in their time of need.

Give
Thanks to generous donations, Lutheran Disaster Response is able to respond quickly and effectively to disasters around the globe. Your gifts to Lutheran Disaster Response (Middle East Crisis) will be used to respond to the crises throughout the Middle East.

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To learn more about the situation and the ELCA’s response:

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  • Download the situation report and share as a PDF.

Healing Amidst Turmoil

 

Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me.” 
Psalm 30:2 

Caring for the Caretakers

For decades, the Middle East has been a region of tumult. Civil wars, political instability, and an increased number of refugees and displaced peoples have impacted millionsIn countries like Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, the majority of the population has been affected by some kind of strife. The collective trauma of the region was a sign to the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), an ecumenical partner of the ELCA, that there was a need for help.  

Leaders in the MECC saw how the turmoil in the Middle East negatively affected the emotional wellbeing of people across the region. In 2018, the Theological and Ecumenical Department of the MECC began a Trauma Healing and Spiritual Counseling program to address the mental health issues in communities throughout multiple countries. A few months after the program began, Lutheran Disaster Response began supporting its development. 

However, healing as a community begins with individualsAs one of the participants statedWe need to be healed at a personal level. Without the [program] I would have run away from the problem.”To address personal emotional and spiritual health, the program had three main objectives: provide psychological, moral, and spiritual healing to participants, provide training to identify strategies and coping mechanisms to respond to trauma, and build a network among ministers and laypeople from different contexts to share their experiences with each otherBecause clergy are often in the position of counseling and supporting those who have experienced trauma yet have no one to turn to in dealing with their own mental health, developing techniques to manage their personal trauma was an important first step in helping entire faith communities heal. 

Addressing Trauma

Since 2018, the ongoing Trauma Healing and Spiritual Counseling program has held multiple workshops throughout the Middle East, originally targeting ordained ministers and later expanding to include laypeopleAs faith leaders, they were able to develop their mindsets to better serve their communities. When asked about the workshop, faith leader said it was new experience, as if I was in a spiritual exercise. I felt that it was important to build myself for the sake of my internal peace. I learned how to transfer the information to the others and how to make decisions without hesitation.  

Workshops last five to six days and have group sessions that include an Introduction to Stress Symptoms and Traumas, Emotional Maturity, Emotional Support, Spiritual Accompaniment, Art and Music Therapy, and Physical Activity. Later iterations included one-on-one sessions to work through personal anxieties. 

The array of sessions took varied approaches to address different aspects of trauma, how to work through them and how to build resilience. “I started to better hear what is going on inside me, to think of others, especially my children. I started to feel my ability to confront. I learned to absorb anger,” said one participant. “The sessions – the personal and group sessions – helped to empty myself and to listen well. 

During post-workshop evaluations, many participants voiced similar reactions. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive as faith leaders expressed a new understanding of the trauma they experienced and how to navigate it: “I learned not to exert too much on oneself and to elevate my self-esteem. I learned to take the initiative towards others, but with continuous self-care,” expressed another participant.

Not only does this counseling program support faith leaders that have experienced trauma, but it also gives them the skills they need to go back and assist their communitiesParticipants were invited to follow-up Training of Trainers workshops to help them engage with those who might come to them for guidanceAccording to Father Gaby Hachem, director of the Theological and Ecumenical Department, many groups are still in contact with one another and have participated in follow-up virtual programs.  

Adapting to New Challenges

With each new workshop, the program evolved. Participants expanded beyond rostered ministers to nuns and laypeople. The first workshops were in Iraq and later ones were in Syria and Egypt. Then, COVID-19 hit, and travel and in-person gatherings were out of the question. While new workshops were postponed, the team continued online follow-up with past participants. The previously planned sessions will continue once travel is viable again, says Hachem. 

In the midst of the pandemic, tragedy struck again in LebanonOn August 4th, a set of explosions in the port of Beirut damaged the city for miles and killed 190 people. It shook the city to the core. “The Trauma Healing and Spiritual Counseling team could not but think of all these people and what could be done to help them,” Hachem said after the explosion. “Many MECC contacts who know about the program are calling for the demand to help in this aspect.” 

A new program is being developed by the team, targeting youth in Beirut. The goals of these workshops are to help participants understand the disaster and accepting the resulting trauma and the impacts of losing loved ones and property. A group of psychotherapists, pastors, and nuns have already been recruited to guide and support participants. Additionally, the youth will receive training on how to accompany their peers on their healing journeys.  

“Our participation was meant by God”

As turbulence continues in the Middle East, the transformative value of the Trauma Healing and Spiritual Counseling program is clear. As one participant stated, “Before the workshop, I was nervous; I used to shout without listening. The workshop gave me a balance within myself. The emptiness and the worries inside me were removed. After the workshop I discovered that I could help [others].” 

As participants face their trauma and start to understand their emotions, they can begin a journey of resilienceThe experience allowed participants to reframe how they thought about daily problems and approach them from a different angle. I gained the audacity, courage and self-trust to speak about what we went through with our friends and people,” expressed a participantOur participation was meant by God.” With continuous self-care, faith leaders will be in a healthier mindset to continue their pastoral roles in helping their communities heal. By taking mental health seriously and building a network of support throughout the Middle East, the MECC is bringing God’s hope and renewal to communities throughout the region.  

 

Syria: Raising Awareness Against Gender-Based Violence

 

Children from Za'atri camp attend a puppet show that raised awareness against gender-based violence.

Children from Za’atri camp attend a puppet show that raised awareness against gender-based violence.

Since the onset of the Syrian conflict in March 2011, the crisis has continued to grow in size and scope. Millions of Syrians are seeking refuge in neighboring countries. In coordination with Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Lutheran Disaster Response is assisting the Syrian refugee population in Za’atri camp, located in northern Jordan. Za’atri camp is hosting approximately 125,000 Syrians, who are all seeking life-saving assistance.

In addition to providing shelter and non-food items, LWF is also implementing psychosocial interventions at Za’atri. In August, LWF hosted a puppet show to raise awareness against gender-based violence. The show was attended by many women and children, who are the most vulnerable among Syrian refugees as they are particularly at risk of sexual harassment and exploitation. The activity provided a fun and safe atmosphere for the attendees.

These refugees have been driven from their homes due to violence and hunger. Through your generous gifts, we are there to provide basic humanitarian needs, and we are also there to implement these important programs that educate about conflict and how to re-build. As security in the area of Za’atri continues to be a concern, these programs can be life-saving. We will continue to work with LWF to provide assistance to this impacted population.

Jordan: Making Life “More Bearable” for Children at Za’atri Refugee Camp

Children in the Za’atri refugee camp play outside their newly installed winterized shelter. Credit: A. G. Riisnes/NCA

Children in the Za’atri refugee camp play outside their newly installed winterized shelter. Credit: A. G. Riisnes/NCA

When we give a gift to say, Lutheran Disaster Response, it feels good. We most likely have read a story that made clear to us the need, connected with us and called us to action. Then we go on with our lives, work calls our attention, events with family and friends fill up our calendar; life keeps moving. Possibly from time to time we think back and wonder what may have happened with our gift. This is one of those times.

In January the ELCA, working through our membership in the Lutheran World Federation, responded to the needs of Syrian refugees in Za’atri camp on the northern border of Jordan. (see previous post) The main purpose of this need was around the harsh winter and its affects upon particularly children within the camp.

“We received the shelters during the rains, but before the snowfall. Our first night in the prefabricated shelter was the first night we felt safe and warm in Za’atri refugee camp.” – Omar Yaser, Za’atri camp resident

This effort made it possible for children and families to find warmth in the midst of the cold as well as a sense of peace and home in the midst of uncertainty and fear. And thus seemingly small gifts, easily forgotten, and seemingly commonplace items, like insulated walls and blankets, have been transformed into safe and potentially life-saving spaces for families in need. A true moment of neighbor helping nameless neighbor.

To learn more about this effort, check out the LWF post Winterization Kits Make Camp Life “More Bearable” for Syrian Refugees.

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Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond globally in times of need. Donate now.

Syria: Cold Temperatures & Warm Hearts

Girls line up before starting school in the Zaatari Refugee Camp, located near Mafraq, Jordan. Opened in July, 2012, the camp holds upwards of 50,000 refugees from the civil war inside Syria, but its numbers are growing.

“Thank God for our humanity.”

This quote is from Isam Alhuniti and is in reference to the Syrian refugee crisis. It is borne from his personal experience. You see, Isam lives in the Jordanian capital of Amman, where he owns an apartment building. Some of his tenants are Syrian refugees who are fleeing the violence in their home country. Though some families, like that of Souad Kasem Issa, her husband and their six children, have not been able to pay their rent in many months he is still helping supply them with food and blankets. He shared that this is because that at one time he had lived in the U.S. and was nearly bankrupted by his daughter’s medical bills. It was only through the help of some Catholics and social service groups that he was able to keep his family surviving.

Isam is not alone in both his personal story of struggle nor in his willingness to extend a helping hand and a warm heart to his neighbors. Dhamyah Mahdy Salih, a volunteer with International Orthodox Christian Charities, which has been working with Syrians both inside and outside Syria, has also connected Issa’s family with assistance. Salih is a refugee from Iraq, whose family has been in Jordan for nearly ten years. She said it was ordinary Jordanians who helped her family make it and now she wants to return the favor.

All of this is happening in the midst of one of the harshest winters in the region with blowing winds, dropping temperatures and heavy rain and snow. Many are suffering from these conditions, particularly the 612,000 Syrian refugees who are trying to find shelter and safety in neighboring countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. In places like the refugee camp of Za’atari, on the northern Jordanian border, the situation is quite bad, with children and older adults being most susceptible.

Prior to this current situation the ELCA, through generous gifts of people like you, has given $450,000 to address the needs of Syrians within and outside Syria. Through our membership in the Lutheran World Federation, this response been helping to meet the needs of refugees at Za’atari. In the past week the ELCA has committed another $100,000 to the work in the camp to help meet the needs of children, to help keep them “warm and dry”. Yet as the situation within Syria and the weather in the region worsen, the need continues to be great.

As we continue through this season of Epiphany, of Christ revealing, may we stay aware of the needs in God’s world. And in this moment may we particularly lift up or brothers and sisters in Syria and the entire region, that though violence may rage and temperatures may drop, we can still thank God for our humanity and the opportunities will all have to reach out with warm hearts to meet our neighbors in their need.

For more information on the situation please check out the following reports:

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Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond globally in times of need. Donate now.

Syria: A View Inside a Jordanian Host Community

Fleeing the conflict in Syria, Abir, 5, and his family found shelter in a cement factory in the north Jordanian town of Al Toura. Credit: ACT/Magnus Aronson

One of the major areas of the ELCA’s Disaster Response program is working with international companions and partners to meet the needs of refugees. As people are driven by hunger, disaster or violence to leave their homes and enter into neighboring countries, we work to be there, to help meet their immediate humanitarian needs as well as walk with them in the journey to re-establish themselves. In communicating about this good work it is easy to keep the focus on the needs of the refugees and look past the gifts given and potential strains on host communities.

A recent Lutheran World Federation article about the current situation regarding Syrian refugees flowing into Jordan (below) reminds us that not all refugees end up in refugee camps and that even when they do the communities who host them are altered, sometimes overnight. Take a look at the article and also remember that as we pray for those who must take on the life of a refugee we also remember those communities into which they come.

Read the full article: Welcomed into Homes, Garages and Local Town Hall
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Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond globally in times of need. Donate now.