January 21 , 2019
In this issue of the newsletter:
New: First Christmas party for isolated Christian children in Bethlehem
New: First Christmas events for displaced Christian children in Syria
Update: Most events ever for Christmas for Refugees in Jordan – Both Iraqi and Syrian
New: First Diaper distributions in Jordan for the Diapers for Refugees program
Christmas for Refugees in the Middle East (Part 2)
Christmas in the West Bank: The Christian population of Bethlehem and the entire “West Bank” area has been on a major decline since President Bill Clinton’s celebrated “Oslo 2 Accord” that handed the majority Christian areas to the Palestinian Authority, which was headed by Yasser Arafat at the time. Bethlehem and most other Christian towns are in Area A, the first area under full PLO authority. One of Arafat’s first acts was to increase the boundaries of Bethlehem to make the Christian population a minority.
Saudi Arabia then set up a banking routine that would lend any Muslim buying a Christian home 200% of the appraised value. In other words, a Christian could sell his home for double the value and hopefully, move to a friendlier environment. The Christian town of Beit Jala now has more former residents living in Chile than there are Christians left in Beit Jala.
Since the signing of the Oslo 2 Accord and the Palestinian Authority takeover of Bethlehem, the Christian population has sunk to just 10% of the population. It is no longer safe for a Christian woman to leave home unaccompanied unless she wears a hijab.
The Christian population is no longer self-sustaining. It is with that understanding that Christmas for Refugees agreed to hold a Christmas party for 800 Christian children still living in the Bethlehem and Beit Sahour area, to bring some joy to the shrinking Christian population.
Note: Christ was actually born in what is now Beit Sahour, and the Christians of that town have held fast and refused to move regardless of the money offered to them for their homes — in a stark contrast to the Christians of Bethlehem who have mostly left the area. Beit Sahour is the location of the Shephard’s Field and Mary’s Well.
A large public hall was rented for the Christmas in the Holy Land celebration. Each of the 800 children attending received a hoodie with John 3:16 on the back and “Christmas in the Holy Land” on the front. Each child also received a gift at the end of the Christmas party. The event itself included puppet shows, singing, games and a coloring contest.
Our journey to the Holy Land: The distance from Amman, Jordan to Bethlehem is less than 70 miles by car using the Allenby Bridge (which is highly discouraged by the U.S. State Department because it passes from Jordan into the Palestinian Territories). Regardless, Israel controls the border crossing.
To get to our event in Bethlehem we had to drive to the Allenby Bridge, leave our vehicle and then take a bus across the bridge. On the other side we had to pass through Israeli immigration and customs and then take a new vehicle we had arranged for.
A car with special license plates was provided for us by an Orthodox bishop, and this allowed us to pass through security check points between Israel and the Palestinian Authority areas.
The wall that Israel has built separates Jerusalem from Bethlehem and the other Christian towns on the “West Bank.” There is, of course, a security check point to get through the wall. We stayed at the St. Gabriel Hotel in Bethlehem. I have known the Christian family who owns the hotel for nearly thirty years.
The Christmas Party for the Christian children still living in the West Bank was a huge success. Please pray for the Christians who remain in the “West Bank,” particularly the children who are being raised under circumstance that are very difficult for them.
More than ever in Jordan: A number of Christmas for Refugees events were held in Jordan this year, more than I could attend. In all, my wife Nancy and I were able to attend three of the Christmas parties for refugee children in Jordan. Unlike in Lebanon, most of the refugee children in Jordan are Iraqi.
At one of the Christmas parties, every single one of the children present was from Iraq, almost all from the Nineveh Plain. The children called off their names and hometowns one at a time for us, and most of the town names I knew, such as Qaraqosh, Bartella and Mosul.
One church in Jordan is providing three hours a day of schooling for these 250 children from Iraq. One of the Christmas for Refugees events was held at the school. The children were incredibly well behaved but had fun.
The church had requested that we supply Big Macs, fries and Cokes from McDonald’s for the kids because it was a treat that none of their families could afford. No meat can be served at the school because of the cost.
We buy all services and products locally to help the economy there. The Christmas party in Qaraqosh not only encouraged the children but furnished income for local people. In addition, gifts were given to all the volunteers.
The length of each event varies depending on location and the difficulty in returning children to their homes. In Qaraqosh this process was relatively simple and the party lasted almost four hours, with different types of entertainment and of course all pointing to the real reason for Christmas, the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
More than 1,500 children attended the three events held in Iraq while I was present. Every event was centered on Jesus, from coloring contests to puppet shows. There were also traditional Christmas line dances centered on songs about salvation.
Christmas for Refugees is about hope and considering the devastation that has been done to Christian towns on the Nineveh Plain, these children really needed the hope and joy that can come from events such as these.
First year in Syria
The first two Christmas events: The first two events held in Syria were held in the Homs area and both lasted around 4 to 5 hours. There were 211 children at the first event and 100 at the second, but total attendees were around 500 including the parents or guardians. The comments from all the adults were overwhelmingly positive and appreciative.
The events included some worship time with a short message shared by the local pastor. Most of the time was consumed by plays and skits presented both by the Sunday school children as well as by the local church members who were in charge of the program. The joy on the children’s faces was unmistakable!
Most of the children were either orphans or internally displaced children who had undergone all kinds of trauma throughout the crisis in Syria. All of them were from areas not yet liberated by the Syrian government. It was evident throughout the event that it had been a very long time since the children had enjoyed themselves to this extent. They were enthusiastically indulging in their meals as well! Sanctions against Syria by the United States that were intended to punish the secular government have caused hunger among the most vulnerable of the population including the orphaned children.
We learned that it had been quite some time since these children had access to such a nice, warm and healthy meal. That is because obtaining more than cereals and rice in some parts of Syria is very difficult even in areas that were not overrun by Sunni Muslim jihadists.
The gifts provided at the end of the program consisted of winter jackets, a set of three Christian books, toys, winter shoes, and bags of sweets or candy. Both the children and their parents or guardians expressed deep gratitude and excitement for the presents.
One thing that really stood out from the first event was the very evident joy on the faces of all ages, regardless of the tragedies they had endured. Many of the children had lost some of their family members as well as their homes. Most of the children came from areas in Syria that are still not liberated.
Also, something that truly touched the heart of the ministry volunteers was the children with special needs who were seen dancing and laughing and expressing their joy. It was, according to the adults caring for them, the first time they had seen them being so expressive and happy. One of the guardians mentioned as the event ended that she was very surprised the church did not ask for anything in return for all that had been provided.
One mother mentioned that they were invited to another children’s Christmas party but that it required an entrance fee. She was overjoyed that at this event children from lower economic circumstances all got the opportunity to participate and receive presents and food.
The main message of the events was that Jesus loves us all. All the children who attended the second church wore the new coats that had been given to them prior to the event and had big smiles on their faces. Many of the children did not want to leave at the end of the events that were organized for them.
In all 14 Christmas events were held in 8 different locations in Syria for 1,950 children!
Please pray that the war in Syria will end, for the sake of the traumatized children of that nation. Please pray that Christians who left Syria can now move back.
William J. Murray, Chairman
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