By Bob Armstrong
Special Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
AMMAN, JORDAN (ANS) -- Several thousand Syrian and Iraqi Christian refugee children (and their parents) were given a genuine Christmas this year, in spite of their horrific circumstances.
Isam Ghattas and William J.
Multiplied thousands of displaced Iraqi Christian refugees have recently come to Jordan because of the July, 2014 takeover of the city of Mosul by Islamic State Sunni fighters that was so heavily reported in the media. Most escaped with just the clothes on their backs. Islamic State Sunni fighters took their homes and gave them a choice: "Renounce your faith, leave or die."
Many Christians chose to flee for their lives. One 72-year-old man, living in the basement of a Jordanian church, described his situation: "In one moment, I lived in a comfortable home with 1,800 square feet; and now I exist with my entire family in only 180 square feet!"
William (Bill) J. Murray, head of Christmas for Refugees (under his umbrella Washington, D.C.-based organization (www.religiousfreedomcoalition.org), teamed up with Isam Ghattas, President of Manara International, headquartered in Amman, Jordan, to make the best Christmas these refugees have ever experienced, in spite of their u rban plight. Many were forced from their mostly comfortable homes in Iraq.
A boy refugee in a Santa suit
Christmas for Refugees and Manara Ministries supplied Christmas dinner, the Christmas story, Christmas carols, a bag of candy, an entire week's worth of food for an entire family (called a "Joy Bag"), and prayer the week before Christmas to those needy Christian refugees. Over 300 children and their parents received this humanitarian Christian program the week before Christmas at just one event held at the Orthodox Church. In all, over 1,000 refuge children in Jordan will be reached during the Christmas season.
Bible Society of Jordan participated as well by giving each family an adult Bible, a children's picture Bible and children's coloring and activity books with stories from the Old and New Testaments.
Even Santa Claus and Winnie the Pooh visited the new St. Ephrem Orthodox Church in Amman (headed by Priest Emmanuel) to give out bags of candy to the delight of the refugee children.
Refugees with their Joy Bags
Bill Murray explained the current crisis in both countries; most of the Middle East, for that matter: "We are experiencing the worst refugee crisis perhaps in all of history. Nearly two million Syrian refugees have crossed over into Lebanon and now make up one-fourth of that nation's entire population. The population of Beirut has doubled just in the last three years!"
He had just entered Jordan from a few days in doing the same with Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Murray had traveled extremely close to ISIL, or Islamic State (IS) -controlled enclaves to help develop relief to those who suffer.
Murray, the Christmas for Refugees founder, stressed: "Our main thrust is to assist Christian refugee children and their families. But if Muslim parents' consent that their children can receive the Christmas message at the dinners, that is a part of the mission given us by the Lord. We doubled the amount of what we did last year at Christmas. We hope to double it again next year!"
This 72-year-old Iraqi refugee had
Manara Ministries' Isam Ghattas urged: "No one can conceive how great the need really is. These refugees are creating a humanitarian crisis." His evangelical relief and development agency met many needs. The popular Ghattas was overwhelmed by grateful parents and children. One can tell from the smile on Isam's face that the years of he constantly helping people is extremely rewarding to him personally. The exact same with Murray.
Most Iraqi refugees in Jordan fled their homeland with almost nothing. In one church basement (a church near Amman; no name mentioned for security reasons), 56 refugees live in 12 - 10' x 10' cubicles. Some are being moved to "trailer homes". Forget the "double-wides," these supposed "homes" are about one-third of a regular mobile home. Refugees use a different trailer for communal cooking for 20 families. Over 95% of Iraqi Christian refugees cannot get employment.
Most are considered "in transit" to permanent residence in another country that will take refugees. However, for most, that dream will always remain a dream.
Refugee kids enjoy their
Murray met with some leading pastors of the Assyrian and Chaldean churches, who also participated in the feeding programs. Here was the tragedy: looking into the "pleading" eyes of that Chaldean priest who showed the list of over 800 children he had registered for the meals. Unfortunately, the original budget was for only 100 meals. The priest had to make the tough decisions.
It is Murray's prayer that next year, everyone who wants, will be fed and blessed. Fortunately, the program was able to increase the number to 200 children, all newly arrived Iraqi children from Mosul, at that church.
Despite deplorable conditions and an extremely bleak future, the laughter of the children could be heard and the ear-to-ear smiles could be seen at distribution points in Jordan and Lebanon, as they experienced a true "Christmas to remember" especially in a very unfamiliar place.
Grateful refugee parents shed tears of joy at seeing the children being able to have a Christmas time despite the horrid situation they find t hemselves in currently.
The Christmas program events presented in both Lebanon and Jordan were truly non-denominational. Christmas events were held at evangelical, Orthodox and Catholic churches. The Christmas for Refugee program was accepted by and cooperation received from churches of all faiths in both nations.
In the face of the disgraceful refugee crisis this Christmas there was a positive outcome due to the generosity of many people. Multiplied thousands of refugee families greatly benefited, and were blessed, because of this successful program.
Note: William J. Murray has appeared on ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC nightly news as well as various Fox News programs. He is a regular guest on numerous radio talk shows. Murray also speaks at numerous conferences and church events each year. He is the author of seven books including his bestselling autobiography, "My Life Without God," which detailed his childhood in the dysfunctional home of atheist/Marxist leader Madalyn Murray O'Hair.