Date: August 22, 2013
(Photos courtesy Baptist Global Response)
Syria (MNN) ― Rumors of chemical weapons being used in Syria are surfacing again.
If they prove to be true, not since Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein gassed thousands of Kurds in 1988 has there been usage of equal proportion.
This time, there are 1,300 bodies accompanying the story. The Syrian government denied that it had used chemical arms. Jeff Palmer with Baptist Global Response notes, "The news just came out, but these are things that have been accusations and implications that have been going on for a long time. Again, they're trying to find ways to confirm what's true and what's not true."
Syria is one of just a handful of countries that are not parties to the international treaty that bans chemical weapons. There are unconfirmed reports that the government has secret stores of the banned substances.
Now going on two years, the Syrian crisis is driving thousands of families from their homes. Cities, villages, and homes have been destroyed with close to 5 million people internally displaced by force. People are living under siege without the basic necessities of life. "Our folks on the ground and the folks that we're working with, that are responding, we've not encountered this particular thing that's happening. We've encountered several other things--a danger inherent when responding in an armed conflict area. But again, it's a tragic thing, if these reports are true."
BGR is partnering with local churches to help meet basic needs by providing food parcels, medicines, and hygiene items for affected families. If they are helping the refugees, are they also at risk of exposure should the tales be confirmed? Palmer says they ARE at risk, but not for the assumed reason. "So far as we know, they're not at risk from this particular threat. They're at risk from a lot of other things. We've had some happenings with our folks who actually deliver goods. We've had some intimidation, and definitely, they've been in harms' way."
Syrian Christians are a big part of the migration. Some of them have arrived in a neighboring country, where a Syrian church is willing to help them find shelter and basic needs. Work is hard to come by, and daily wages are minimal. Adequate food also is in short supply. Palmer says their team isn't stopping work. Rather, "We're finding pockets of [Christians]. They're either living with families who have taken them in, sometimes public buildings, sometimes just little hovels or places that they can find, like an old garage that they can convert and make comfortable and safe and secure for their family."
Many basic resources have been rationed, including electricity, water, and heating oil. "We're helping to provide some basic food essentials, health and hygiene needs, and we still continue to try to provide physical things that help make the shelters a little bit more liveable."
Pray for protection for partners as they distribute these items. Pray for favor with men--not just with those who will be receiving the help, but also with any government or community authorities who can help or hinder the project. Palmer adds, "They minister, and they minister well to the physical needs. But they also have a chance to go deeper, when opportunity presents itself, and share spiritual insight. So really, the Gospel flows through demonstration and through proclamation."
Using resources provided by Global Hunger Relief (formerly the World Hunger Fund), BGR partners are planning to provide food vouchers for 350 people that can be redeemed in local markets for food and hygiene items.
Implementation will be a cooperative effort between the local Assyrian church, Istanbul Compassion, and BGR. Pray that these refugees will be encouraged and not lose heart. They have endured difficult times in Syria and now face even harder times as refugees. Pray for cooperative marketplaces so the voucher system will function well and enable the refugees to obtain the food they need.