Christmas Dinner for Christian Refugees – Success and hardship
We made a difficult day special – On Monday, December 16 the Christmas for Refugees dinner for Christian refugee children was held in Jordan despite deep snow and lack of power. A last minute location change and splitting the event date saved us from disaster!
The dinner for the refugee children – part of it –went on as planned despite the worst snow storm in decades hitting Jordan hard. To prepare for the dinner I arrived into Amman, Jordan on a flight at 6:00 PM on Friday the 13th just as the snow began. By the time I had cleared through customs and immigration the snow was already an inch deep. Normally the drive from the airport to downtown Amman takes about forty-five minutes, but just before midnight I had to call the hotel to tell them that I was on my way and not to cancel the reservation. Finally I arrived at the hotel at 2:00 AM the next day. The drive into Amman had taken eight hours!
The airport road was totally closed as drivers in smaller cars were caught unprepared. There were accidents every 100 yards or so, and at one point our SUV driver crossed a barrier and drove on the unfinished section of the new airport road for many miles. We almost made it to the hotel, just two blocks away, when we were involved in an accident. Fortunately there was not much damage to our vehicle and no one in either vehicle was seriously injured.
If the volunteer who picked me up at the airport had not had a four wheel drive vehicle, it is more than probable that I would have spent the night on the roadway. When I went for breakfast at the hotel Saturday morning, people who were on the same flight with me were just then checking in to the hotel. It was by the grace of God I slept most of the night in a bed and not in a car seat in a snow drift.
Most Americans have a picture in their minds of the Middle East with desserts and camels. The reality is a landscape that is as varied as North America. The winters in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria in particular can be brutal. As I looked out my hotel room window Saturday morning I could not help but think of the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees living in unheated tents, driven out of their homes by a war sponsored against the secular government of Syria by President Barack Obama and Saudi King Abdullah.
Preparation: A brunch had been planned for Saturday morning as an opportunity for me to meet with the volunteers who were preparing the dinner. The Jordanian Army had worked the entire night to clear the streets of the capital of snow, but the meeting still had to be put off until late on Saturday. Sadly most volunteers still were not able to make the final planning meeting on Saturday and a second meeting had to be held on Sunday. All of us were confident about the dinner on Monday, but we did not know there was no power at the hall.
Churches of all denominations had come together to help with the Christmas dinner for the children. Catholic and Orthodox priests had given their blessings to the dinner and evangelical church members worked side by side with Catholics and Orthodox. Dozens of Jordanian Christians became involved in preparing the dinner or participating in some way.
The dinner: There were children present from many different areas of Syria. Over one hundred of the children were Iraqi. The majority of the Iraqi children at the dinner had been in middle class homes in Iraq that were lost, and their families had rebuilt their lives in Syria only to be run off again. These children lived in warm homes in winter and at Christmas they had a fresh cut tree with decorations just as do families in America. Now many live in unheated tents, often with dirt floors that turn muddy when it rains. Some of the families who were able to take a little money with them when they fled, share apartments together with sometimes three or four families in a two bedroom, dark basement apartment in Amman or another Jordanian city.
We were not able to rescue any of the children from the horrid lives they live now, but on December 16th for just a few hours some of them could have their former lives back. We were able to give them the joy they once had in their homes that are now gone. I was saddened by the fact that many of the children could not attend.
The church volunteers had done an amazing job in decorating the hall for the children and in preparing the food and the music. The Christmas tree was larger than I expected and was decorated with ornaments many volunteers had brought from their own homes. Christmas lights were strung along the walls and each table had some Christmas decorations. Without the volunteers this joyous event for the children would not have been possible. The volunteers were a true blessing. But because of the snow we were forced to split the dinner locations and dates.
The few hours the children had together to celebrate our Lord’s birth ended with each child receiving a “joy bag” to take home to their refugee families. Each bag contained rice, dried beans, cooking oil and other staples for their family members. The bags were upgraded from what was planned because our fundraising just the week prior to the dinner had a positive upturn. I arranged a second hall for a dinner for the children who could not attend for Friday when they could finally leave their camps. There were additional costs because of the storm and the forced changes, but I could not allow my promise to the children to be broken.
The dinner occurred Monday as planned but scaled down and at a different location because of the storm. The backup dinner for those children that could not attend because of the snow and power situation will be held the day the Chairman’s Report is mailed. Although I have had to return to the United States I know the volunteers who made a really bad situation work for the first dinner have will provide for the rest of the children at the second dinner.
Background of how I got involved in the Middle East: Even before the first church bombing took place in Iraq in 2004 I knew there was a serious problem with the American attempt to install Jeffersonian democracy in nations that were majority Islamic. I saw, as did a few others, the worrisome outcome in Afghanistan when the mujahedeen backed by the United States in the 1980’s forced the withdrawal of the Soviet Union and an Islamic republic was formed there. The radical Islamic Taliban government of Afghanistan killed the last few Christians living there, and then supported the 9-11 jihad attack on the United States. Earlier, in the 1970’s President Jimmy Carter had pulled the rug out from under the Shah of Iran and helped to install there the current government run by the radical Islamic Mullahs. In the name of “democracy” President Carter installed a government in Iran that represses religious freedom and human rights in general. In the 1990’s President Bill Clinton bombed Christian Serbia into the dark ages in order to establish an Islamic government in Kosovo. Now Barack Obama is trying to finish off the last few secular governments in the Middle East including Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria.
Within a few months of the 2003 American led invasion of Iraq to bring “democracy” to that nation, Christians were fleeing villages their families had lived in for nearly 2,000 years. Then came the church bombings and a flood of refugees into Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Europe and the United States made a point of favoring Muslims over Christians among the Iraqi refugees. The majority of Iraqi Christian refugees slowly migrated to the safety of secular Syria. Now the civil war planned and financed by Saudi Arabia’s extreme Wahhabi royals is forcing Christians to flee the place the first church outside of Jerusalem was founded.
The Religious Freedom Coalition is not a relief organization although as a 501c3 we have been able to work with some local Christian groups in the Middle East to make the lives of Christian refugees better. Obtaining bulk medical supplies from MAP International and giving them to a free clinic operated by a church in Amman, Jordan has been one such ongoing project.
At a Christian youth summer camp in Jordan we replaced the entire water system. Last year we also replaced mattresses and canvas sideing for the kids of all age groups that use the camp. We also financed or obtained needed equipment for churches that work with Christian refugees. I also found some various needs that we helped with as well. One of those was a special sound system used for translation at an evangelical church in Amman. The specially designed system allowed the church to translate the Arabic services into English, French and German through headphones, to allow Westerners to attend services. Over the years we have completed dozens of such projects.
In other words, we have done what we could with the funds we were able to raise while still doing our main job of advocating for social conservatives on Capitol Hill.
This Christmas we are making it possible for hundreds of kids to receive a hot Christmas meal as traditional Christian hymns such as Silent Night are sung. I can guarantee you that any meal served by the Red Cross here in Amman would have no Christmas hymns and no reference to Jesus at all, because that organization accepts government funding.
In the New Testament we are told numerous times to care for our “brothers and sisters.” Timothy 5:3-16 concerns which widows “in the church” to assist. The passage contains carefully worded definitions of types of widows with a warning not to assist very young widows for fear they will “learn to be idlers.” In modern English we would use the word “dependent.” The New Testament makes it clear that relatives should care for those in need first, and then the church should step forward to help if relatives cannot.
As the year 2013 comes to an end, it is my prayer that those Christians who believe with me in reaching out to persecuted Christians in the world, particularly Christian children who are refugees, will step forward to help. It is my heartfelt prayer that we can increase the number of Christmas dinners for refugee children to at least twenty next year. Please help with a year-end tax deductible gift to the Religious Freedom Coalition. You can also donate directly to the Christmas for Refugees program at ChristmasForRefugees.com
Finally, please keep abreast of all that the Religious Freedom Coalition is involved in at www.ReligiousFreedomCoaltion.org, and at the two Facebook pages we manage. Links to all of our stories are also tweeted from @RFCNET.
William J. Murray, Chairman
Religious Freedom Coalition, 601 Pennsylvania Ave. NW #900, Washington, DC 20004 * (202) 543-0300