In this issue of the newsletter
Update: More results from Christmas programs in Middle East – New photos!
Update: Christmas program in Lebanon expanded – Over 5,000 children reached
Update: In Syria program expanded to 3,823 children, with new towns served
Update: Nigeria orphanage conducts traditional Christmas programs
Christmas for Refugees success despite Covid-19
Children celebrate coming of the Lord: The Christmas for Refugees program was drastically altered in some areas while in others the program continued as usual. Depending on the age of the children, programs varied in the same city.
Bethlehem and Beit Sahour: Despite the declining Christian population in Bethlehem there are still many thousands of Christians and many Christian schools. The Church of the Nativity, which marks the place of Jesus’s birth, is located in Bethlehem. It is an active church, not just a tourist attraction.
Still, Christians are an ill-treated minority in this area that had been majority Christian for centuries, going back to the time of the Apostles.
Jerusalem was Christian and Jewish, and Bethlehem was nearly 100% Christian when they were invaded and taken over by the Muslim army of the Rashidun Caliphate in 637. Prior to that they had been ruled for hundreds of years by the Byzantine Empire. In 1099 Crusaders liberated the area but it was lost again in 1187. Much destruction came as the area changed hands between warring Muslim factions for centuries more.
Through all of this, Christians remained and were a majority in Bethlehem and the area currently referred to as the West Bank. In recent times the West Bank was ruled over by the King of Jordan until Israel took it over following the Six Day War in 1967. At the time, it was still majority Christian. Since it was handed over to the Palestinian Authority by Israel in a deal brokered by President Bill Clinton in 1994, the Christian population has declined rapidly.
What is the situation now? The faithful face persecution in Bethlehem, the place of the birth of our Savior. Christmas trees set out for display were set on fire this Christmas, and a Muslim man standing in front of the Christmas tree in Manger Square made a video that was profane and insulting to Christians to post on TikTok and Facebook.
The Christmas for Refugees program is helping lift the spirits of what is left of the Christian population. Our various programs there are called Heart for the Persecuted Church.
For two years we held large Christmas events in Bethlehem and Beit Sahour, but this year that was not possible because of Covid-19 lockdowns. We were able though, to hold some more traditional events for the youngest in kindergarten.
Because of their age, the younger children were allowed to come together in groups. More can be done for the forgotten Christians of the “West Bank.” Over the last two decades I and others have done our best to help, but Christians have still been forced out.
For many years the Religious Freedom Coalition worked with Hope School in Beit Jala. The town, which is just next to Bethlehem, was 100% Christian at the time. But with the Saudi Investment Bank willing to pay Christians double the value of their homes if they would sell them to Muslims, the population has dropped to 75%.
To stop break-ins, the Religious Freedom Coalition paid to have bars placed on all the windows at Hope School. The kitchen was also remodeled and modernized and refrigeration units that no longer worked were replaced. A new sanitary drainage system was also installed.
At the Talitha Kumi school in Beit Jala assistance was given to children for uniforms and books. At the school run by the First Baptist Church in Bethlehem, we assisted families with scholarships for many years.
For several years we imported Jerusalem stone crosses and other items carved by hand by Christian artists and offered them in return for donations for our work there. This allowed us to support Christian businesses in Bethlehem.
I am still doing my best to help the beleaguered Christians of the West Bank, not just with the Christmas programs but with expanding our diaper program to provide diapers for the elderly in Christian care centers who cannot afford them. The Palestinian Authority will not support the care centers for elderly or ill Christians. The care centers do not have enough money, so family members must bring in the diapers — if they can afford them.
Currently we are also supporting the diaper needs of those infants and toddlers whose families cannot purchase them. The numbers are smaller than I would wish, but the cost is much higher than in other areas we serve with diaper programs.
In Bethlehem our commitment for 2021 is 1,800 diapers per month for elderly who are incontinent and 2,400 diapers for needy children at the House of God. The commitment for this very small diaper program is $1,830 a month. That is less than 10% of what it costs to support our Diaper program in Iraq, which is now centered in Dohuc rather than Erbil.
Christmas for Refugees in Jordan and Lebanon
Reporting disadvantages: In the nearly ten years of Christmas for Refugees this is the first time I have not been at events in the Middle East to report on them firsthand. Most of the photos that have appeared in newsletters the past nine years were taken by me or my wife Nancy.
Still, I am getting back some great stories from our ministry partners … the following report is about just one church in Lebanon that offered a Christmas for Refugees program to refugee children.
“In one church, the decorations are so captivating that all the children wanted to have their pictures taken there. Children are greeted at the door by costumed characters, making them feel like they have just arrived at Disney World when they enter. Awaiting them there is grandma’s bakeshop full of goodies, plus an old pot and stove.
As the grandma stands making Christmas candies, she is visited by her granddaughter. The grandma explains to her what she is making along with the symbolism of the Christmas candies–the red color represents the blood of Jesus, the white color represents Jesus cleansing us from our sins.
The candy cane is in the shape of the shepherd’s cane–after all, shepherds are caring. And this leads to the story of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who leaves the 99 to go find the one lost sheep. What’s more, angels appeared to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus. Though shepherds may be poor, and not many people want to talk to them, God chose to deliver the good news to them about Jesus’ birth!
After hearing the story, the children received their gifts before leaving. The purpose of these events is to show a message of hope to a lost world in the midst of its brokenness and to let these precious children, who have been neglected or whose parents cannot afford to buy them Christmas gifts, know that they haven’t been forgotten.
In these turbulent times, one might think that food is the only necessity, yet many children have felt like they have been left behind. But praise God! He sent his only son to children in troublesome days as well.
One of our churches in Lebanon stayed open for two full days so they could have small groups of children, one group at a time, to receive a full meal and have contests, games and music as has been done with large groups in the past.
In Lebanon I promised a budget for 4,000 children. Our ministry partners were able to stretch out the funds so that 5,234 children in all, mostly Syrian Christians, were able to participate in our Christmas program.
Syria: In Syria we were able to budget for 3,200 children. I promised the budget on faith before the funds were raised. Churches there were able to use the budgeted funds to reach a total of 3,823 Christian children in towns as far apart as Homs and Damascus.
It warms my heart to know that we held programs this year in Jaramana! Until the Syrian army won back the south of the nation last year, Jaramana was under almost constant rocket attack.
The Islamic State blew up several car bombs in the city because it is mostly Christian. One suicide bomber went into a church that was handing out food packages and blew himself up, killing several innocent people.
In 2020 we were able to welcome 350 children at the Jaramana Baptist Church to celebrate the coming of Jesus, without fear of rocket and artillery attacks. Praise God!
Jordan: In Jordan the program was extended to new towns. Since we could not hold large events because of Covid- 19, many smaller events were held. The Christmas program returned to Amman, Madaba, and Karak. New towns added in Jordan included Adr, Al Raba and Tal-Al and Remmah. Some of the these are so small that they are not on a map, but they have Christian families.
In most of Jordan the children had to arrive one at a time. In some areas though, gifts had to be delivered to families at their door. In a couple of smaller towns, normal events were held where the children could sing, play and worship the Lord.
Nigeria: Because all the children live together at the orphanage in Plateau State, normal Christmas events were held that featured singing, plays depicting the Holy Family, and games. One of the favorites for Christmas at the orphanage is the Scripture memorization contest. The children break up into groups and take turns reciting the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s birth.
In Nigeria this year, the children once again held coloring contests. In the Middle East, although we passed out the Gospel oriented coloring books, there were no contests.
Photos: There just is not enough room in the newsletter for all the wonderful photos of the Christmas events but there are plenty at our Christmas for Refugees Internet site: To see more go to: https://christmasforrefugees.org/christmas-for-refugees-2020-photo-gallery/
William J. Murray, President