December 24, 2015 – Christmas Eve
First Christmas for Refugees dinners of 2015 held in Lebanon
The smiles on the faces of the children say it all: The first Christmas for Refugees event for children was held at a Baptist Church in the majority Christian governorate of Mount Lebanon, in a coastal city to the north of Beirut.
The general content of the program for the children at the first event in Lebanon was to be repeated at all of them. The programs begin on a weekend day, with worship that includes the singing of Christmas carols such as Silent Night and also
Christian children’s songs that are interactive. A Christmas message is delivered by the pastor of the church or a youth minister and then a play or puppet show is performed illustrating the Gospel story.
There is a break in the program for some fun and games followed by the hot meal, in this case a lunch. The food served is typical of the area including roasted chicken, rice with gravy and vegetables, bread and a dessert.
Each child is presented a gift bag as well that contains a warm hat, a scarf and pair of gloves for the winter months. Before leaving the children also receive a picture Bible and some children’s work books that are Gospel oriented.
The events were planned in size from 50 to 150 children depending on the size of the church. At this very first event there were 60 children.
In Lebanon, families receive food vouchers valued at $60 each instead of a box of food, and can choose their own food at stores. The United Nations average allotment for an entire refugee family is $19 per month; however, Lebanon has no UN camps for Syrians or Iraqis. The food supplied to families by the Christmas for Refugees program really makes a difference.
Some Christian refugees live in tents on land they rent from farmers, while others live in the basements of slum buildings.
A United Nations refugee camp would not benefit the Christians anyway. In Jordan, as an example, Christians are afraid to stay in the United Nations camps because of attacks on them.
A firsthand experience: The first event I attended with our Christmas for Refugees team was in the north of Lebanon, several miles west of the port city of Tripoli. Like the other ten events, all were paid for well in advance by the Religious Freedom Coalition.
Rather than being held at a church, this event in Lebanon was held at a rented soccer practice area that is semi-indoors. Under a tin roof, the cement floor covered with artificial grass was fenced in, with plastic on the fence during the winter. This Christmas event was slightly larger than the first one, with about 75 children, and lasted five hours, from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM. (REDACTED)
Because the location was further inland than the first event held in Lebanon this year, it was somewhat cooler, and many of the children kept their jackets on. Of course a totally indoor area would have been preferable to us, but there was nothing in the area large enough for this many children that we could obtain.
Before the meal there were games, songs, and a puppet show. The puppet show used Biblical and current Christmas images to keep the attention of the children while explaining the Gospel story in detail.
After the puppet show the children were formed into small groups by age and gender for discussion where they were asked questions about the puppet show and guided into the realization of the divinity of Christ and his role as sacrificial Savior of mankind. The children really had paid close attention.
I stayed with one of the small discussion groups and listened as one little boy excitedly told that Jesus came to forgive us of our sins. Some children at these events come from families that are really only Christian by heritage and tradition, and for them the program is meant to reinforce their faith and help them find a real, heartfelt relationship with Jesus Christ. I cannot overemphasize the spiritual aspects of the program. We are not merely feeding refugee children as do large aid agencies; this is a Christian program bringing the reality of Christ into Christmas.
There were a total of eleven such events scheduled for Lebanon for the children, with some events larger than others but the elements remaining the same. Of all the events in Lebanon our team was scheduled to attend two. The first event we attended was scheduled before traveling to Jordan and then a second one on a special one-day trip back to Lebanon on December 18th after monitoring two events in Jordan.
Church attacked: Our schedule in Jordan has been affected by an attempted arson of an Orthodox church west of Amman. Since the Saudi sponsored Sunni revolt in Syria, more and more Sunni Muslims in Jordan have become “radicalized” and many young Sunni men have gone to Syria to fight Jihad including the son of a member of the Parliament.
Because of our printer’s Christmas schedule this newsletter had to be printed well in advance and does not contain reports or pictures of the events in Jordan or Iraq. A full report on the Christmas events in Jordan and Iraq will be in the next Chairman’s Report in January, 2016.
A Nativity scene with a live camel at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC
I and other Christian leaders in Washington, D.C. took turns reading the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ aloud at several sites including the steps of the Supreme Court. Setting the scene for the reading were volunteers in Biblical period dress and some of the kind of animals present in Bethlehem at the birth of Jesus, including a donkey, two sheep, and a camel.
This was the fifth year of the live Nativity that vividly portrays to those working and visiting Capitol Hill the true meaning of Christmas. The Gospel is presented through faithful volunteers who have Jesus in their hearts and desire to share Him with others, and through those of us who read the Gospel from Matthew and Luke.
The project is a public witness to both remind people of the powerful message delivered on the very first Christmas, and to address the growing hostility toward public expressions of faith, especially during the Christmas season.
This was no small undertaking, as the camel required permits from the Supreme Court, the Capitol Police, the Washington, DC health department as well as the Washington, DC police. The Drug Administration even got involved to approve the shots for the animals. This may sound like a hassle, but keep in mind that each bureaucrat dealing with the permits was also reminded of the real reason for Christmas.
Islamophobia or real danger in immigration from the Middle East?
RFC Legislative Coordinator Alyssa Mitchell monitored a House Immigration Subcommittee hearing held to examine the Syrian refugee crisis and its impact on national security. Five witnesses testified on the vetting process for Syrian refugees and discussed HR bill 4038, which would require the FBI to certify each individual refugee.
Representative King (R-IA) was the only committee member to speak up on behalf of the persecuted Church and question witnesses on aspects of religion. King challenged Leon Rodriguez, Director for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services: “You’re telling me that you thoroughly vet [refugees] but you aren’t even able to ask what their religion is?” Testimony of Obama Administration officials revealed that while claiming to do “rigorous” background checks, immigration officials do not check a prospective immigrant’s religious affiliation, even though that information could lead to a connection to a radical mosque.
Liberals on the House Committee such as Representative Gutierrez (D-IL), tried to dismiss concerns about Islamic immigration saying that Republicans are simply “fear mongers” who are driven by “bigotry,” “hatred,” and “prejudice.” Obama Administration witnesses said ISIS infiltrating the refugee program is not possible and that “no terrorist in his right mind would use the refugee program as a means to enter into the United States.” Tell that to the French!
The fears of Americans are far from groundless; at least two of the terrorists involved in the recent attack in Paris used fake ID’s to enter Europe through the Opatovac refugee camp in Croatia. And the female terrorist in San Bernardino lied on her fiancée visa application.
Congressman King explained that the problem of excluding religion is that UN refugee camps are almost exclusively Muslim and overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims who are exceedingly vulnerable to infiltration and radicalization. “In the last 18 months,” Representative King said, “70 [individuals] have been arrested in America with ISIS plots including refugees who had been given safe haven … The hot spots [in western Europe] are proportional to the refugees that they brought in from Syria and Northern Africa.” This is not surprising considering a survey that a large percentage of Sunni Muslim Syrian refugees are sympathetic to the Islamic State.
The omission of religion in the vetting process for refugees from the Middle East has caused discrimination against Christian refugees. Due to the high number of Muslims in the refugee camps, Christians are ignored by the refugee program, which receives immigrants only from official United Nations camps. Syrian and Iraqi Christians cannot live in the UN camps because of violence toward them by radical Muslims. Christians have been forced to live in urban slum areas or as is the case in Lebanon, rent space from farmers for a tent in an open field.
Representative King suggested that the United States ought to establish “an international safe zone for the Assyrian and Chaldean Christians” who pose no threat to our security at all. The Obama Administration refuses to recognize the continued persecution of Christians.
During the hearing process all Democrat members of the committee referred to the Islamic State as the “Daesh” refusing to use the word Islamic in any way other than complimentary. Daesh is an Arab acronym for the Islamic State.
William J. Murray, Chairman
Religious Freedom Coalition, 601 Pennsylvania Ave. NW #900, Washington, DC 20004 * (202) 742-8990