God in the Hussein Neighborhood
There is a west wind here that blows strong above the flat rooftops. It originates from the Mediterranean. It drops most of its moisture over the neighboring land of Israel before it reaches the desert surrounding the dusty town we call home in Jordan.
The Spirit of our Lord is like that strong wind—moving, freeing, turning over. Thousands of years ago in this land, God Himself made His very presence dwell over the Ark of the Covenant. The Lord of the universe hovered over a box made by human hands! God literally moved into the neighborhood when He made His presence known in the temple. But what is more, He now calls us the temple. What a miracle that the Spirit of the Lord lives in us! He calls us to move into the difficult places of this world.
Father to the Fatherless
By now you have surely heard a lot about Syrian refugees. The Alliance Church of Mafraq, Jordan, has been reaching out to Syrian refugees since they first arrived in 2011. Two years ago, the church decided to start a school for them in the hardest part of town. We found the place with the most Syrian children lacking education is also the place with the most poverty and crime. Just as the last Christian family moved out of the Arab neighborhood, we moved in. We bought a house and converted the bedrooms into classrooms where we now have 147 students.
“We have to show these children love,” triumphs our principal, Egab. Before they left Syria, our students saw things a child should never see. Many of them have lost parents or close relatives as well.
Egab is a father to the fatherless. He was born in this dusty town called Mafraq, and he sees his ministry as helping children recover some of the lost part of their childhood. Last school year he created opportunities for the children to have fun by bringing them on field trips to the zoo, the children’s museum, Roman ruins, and a small amusement park.
When the bus full of teachers shows up each day to the students waiting early, they excitedly yell, “Egab!” The refugee children and parents know that The Alliance has started this school, but they don’t call it by that name. They call it “Egab school.” It is built around a personality, not an institution.
Not Without Hope
One of our seven-year-old students, Salaam, loves the school and wouldn’t miss a day. When her parents came to register her last year, the classes were already full. Egab didn’t want to turn Salaam away because he knew it would break her heart.
Egab had visited the family before and knew that they had very little. They didn’t have what they needed for winter, and Egab often brought them food packages. He would sit with them and visit in the one-room apartment filled with smoke from Salaam’s mother, a chronic smoker.
It wasn’t until Egab saw their UN papers during registration that he realized that Salaam’s father was born in 1926. All along Egab thought the man was her grandfather or maybe great grandfather. How could a man in his 90s be married to someone in her 20s? But it was true. Salaam was born to his second wife, who, like her husband, was unemployed. They had quickly descended into poverty.
Halfway into spring semester, 20 days after Salaam’s mother gave birth to Salaam’s little sister, the family awoke to find that Salaam’s mother had died. They believe she died of blood poisoning. Salaam and her newborn sister were stuck. Without a mother and with a father who is elderly, Salaam and the baby would be raised by their older brother from the first wife, who is in his 60s.
Egab is afraid for their situation, but they are not without hope. The same day her mother died, Salaam’s teacher, one of the Jordanians from the Alliance church, brought some other students and visited the family to mourn with them.
One week later, Salaam was back in her favorite place: the school. I heard of this as I was going over the school accounting in Egab’s office.
“Do you want me to go get her?” Egab offered. He called her out of her class into the office. He got down to eye level with her and asked, “How are you doing?” She broke out in tears, and when Egab offered a hug, she held onto his neck for the next five minutes. Egab and his wife, Heba, the school secretary, lead the school with discipline and love.
Salaam wants to be a teacher when she grows up.
His Comforting Presence
God has moved into the neighborhood—into the difficult neighborhood of Al Hussein—not as an institution but as a person, rather, as the people of God.
Out of all the places in town, the west wind blows strongest at the school. It constantly reminds me of the Spirit of the Lord, who lives in us.
Egab’s name means “hawk” in Arabic. To these Syrian children who have experienced so much trauma, he is like the presence of God hovering over them.
Thanks to generous Alliance donors, we were able to buy the house, convert it into a school, and build a playground and now a third floor to take on more students.
“Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18)