These are difficult times. It once seemed that a major change happened in the world every three to five years, but now upheaval appears to be continual: religious extremists commit brutal crimes in their march across Iraq and Syria. Refugees continue to pour into surrounding nations, deepening a humanitarian crisis. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that if the Ebola infection rate continues as is, 1.4 million people could be infected in 2015.
The daily news is somewhat frightening.
The Alliance has been called by God to offer hope. In 1972 the U.S. Alliance created Compassion and Mercy Associates (CAMA) to respond to the massive needs of refugees in Southeast Asia. More than four decades later, CAMA continues to aid people ravaged by war and disaster, bringing a Christ-centered approach to relief and development, most recently in the Middle East.
Syria is often overlooked by the mainstream media. Yet the civil war that began there in 2011 continues, claiming almost 200,000 lives. Nearly three million have fled to nearby nations. The majority—up to three quarters in some locations—are women and children.
An Alliance church in a small Arab town began serving the needs of Syrians as soon as the refugees entered the city. An Alliance missionary couple started assisting the church, and CAMA sent other workers to handle logistics—writing grant proposals, doing the financial reports for donors and managing short-term workers.
In that city alone, they have served more than 4,600 families—usually with five to seven people in one family, minus the older boys and the husbands, who are either fighting or have been killed. The team—comprising church volunteers and an army of Arabic-speaking expatriates—does visitation seven days a week, taking food packets and praying with people as well as listening to stories of survival and loss.
In Iraq, thousands of people have been displaced by the horror of religious extremists, and many others have been brutally killed. There are about 1.4 million displaced persons in Iraqi Kurdistan, and most are in Dohuk and Erbil, two cities with strong Alliance churches. CAMA workers visited recently to assess how to support the local pastor in relief distribution. Refugees are living in any empty space, even partially completed buildings that often lack windows or doors. Sometimes, up to nine people are crammed in a decrepit cinderblock building with a blanket hung as a curtain to keep the wind out.
The mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan can get miserably cold. To prepare the displaced people for the winter, we are purchasing small propane tanks and heaters. Blankets, pillows and small mattresses provide a bit of warmth. Finding enough of these items is difficult, and of course, prices rise with demand. CAMA has released funds to help an Alliance pastor hire a local to assist him full-time in distribution.
It is a blessing to see the Alliance worldwide family working together. The Mosul Alliance Church pastor and the entire church family fled in the middle of the night, making it out just in time. They left everything behind. Their homes and the church building are now in extremists’ hands. The Alliance Church of Erbil has taken them in, and they are now one church. I have met with Arie Verduijn, president of Alliance World Fellowship, and Sami Dagher, a person of great influence in the Middle East, to coordinate the Alliance response. Sami is marshaling resources through his many contacts, and the Alliance World Fellowship is raising money and helping the Middle Eastern churches. It is a full-on, seven-day-a-week effort.
As The Alliance joins with national believers and other agencies to bring the gospel to those devastated by violence and disease, how do we deal with the spiritual reverberations of our fallen world?
I met Moise Mamy, the Guinean Alliance pastor murdered while conducting Ebola awareness training, only once or twice, but his death hit me deeply. I found myself wrestling with the hard questions that revisit me in the night when someone close has died or something horrific has happened to people I know.
Inevitably, I embrace the things I believe. 1 Peter 2:9 says: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you might declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” I am strengthened as well by Hebrews 10:19–25: “Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, . . . and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God . . . Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
The Christian life is a team sport; we can’t do it alone. I exhort you to draw near to God like never before—because you really need Him and so do I. Hold fast to what you believe and aggressively encourage one another. When you ask someone “How are you today?” and the answer is a little wavy, don’t walk away—lean into it. Draw near.
Now is not the time to hunker down. It’s not a time for a “just wait and see” attitude. It’s not a matter of “will things go wrong?” or “will I have difficult days?” It will happen. Life is only going to get harder, so we really need one another. These are tumultuous times that require great courage from everyone. Some days my courage fails, but in those moments God calls people alongside to help.
We can do this because of who we are in Christ. In Him, our hope is secure. We have tremendous confidence to enter into that Holy Place because we have a great high priest who has gone before us. We are chosen. God gave us gifts. We are called—and we are enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit.