Tent settlements. Everywhere you see them. Many thousands of Syrian refugees in Eastern Lebanon live in these makeshift tarpaulin tents. They are mostly white. Some were given by the UNHCR as the blue stamps tell. Other tents are made of tarpaulin that serve as banners for various companies, making them colorful from the outside. One is partly covered with big golden letters of a Golden Tulip hotel. But these tents are far from luxury hotels.
Nazmi*, one of the workers of a local church, takes us on a visit to several Syrian refugee families. They are all Muslims, but “some are on the way to becoming Christians,” he says. The car stops close to a single tent at the edge of a vineyard alongside a narrow and dusty road. In the shadow under the roof of the leaves of the vine, Aisha* and her daughter Shereen* are cutting zucchini, cloves of garlic and other vegetables. A big black pan filled with water stands on an improvised fire place made of some bricks. Here they cook their food.
Although the shade under the vine seems more attractive, they welcome us into the tent. We sit on matrasses on the ground of the very hot tent. Damping tea is served in tiny glasses, typical for the region. Hospitality is part of the Middle Eastern culture.
Like all other families, the war in their country forced this family to flee to a safer place more than three years ago. They came with three children (now ten, eleven and thirteen years old), another was born in Lebanon and is now two years old. “We expected this to last six months to a year, no longer. We never could have imagined that we would end up living in a tent as a family. We had a big house, we had air conditioning and a car. This is too difficult. In the beginning we rented a house here in Lebanon, but we ran out of money; we sold our things and our car, but that money also went. After one year we had to move to this tent. Only in the summer can I do some seasonal work in the fields and earn a little money.” Even their ten year old son is working as a car mechanic to add a little to the family income.
‘We are now trying to bring our children closer to Jesus’
The children participate in children’s activities hosted by a Christian organization. “We also attend the Sunday service at church,” the father says. “In Syria we didn’t hear anything about Jesus Christ,” he says. “Now we benefit greatly from what we hear, it is as if we came from one world into another. For us it was a surprise that the church took care of us as Muslims.” This has impacted the family. “We’ve seen the love of the Lord Jesus so much. We are now trying to bring our children closer to Jesus, we hope they will leave Islam and follow Him,” says the father to our big surprise.
“I really hope that my children can return to school soon so they might have a future. My second dream is that we can return to our hometown.” The children themselves agree with their dad about school. “I want to be a teacher,” says the 13-year-old boy, while the daughter says: “I want to be a doctor, a children’s doctor.”
We leave the tent, the women return to their work with the vegetables. “A lot of refugees become interested in the gospel, they are really open,” says Nazmi on our way to another visit. God is doing amazing things in a region where the church is as old as the stories in the Book of Acts.
*Names changed for security reasons