World Missions Partner Helps Syrian Refugees

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As many Western countries prepare to welcome Syrian refugees from the Middle East, at least one organization* that partners with Christian Reformed World Missions stands in the gap to prepare them for a successful transition before they leave and to help the ones who stay behind. The organization, which has been sending Christians to teach English in hard-to-access areas in Asia for 33 years, is placing teachers in Syrian refugee camps and also partnering with schools in North Africa.

Gordon and Bettie Van’t Bosch, members of First Christian Reformed Church in Rocky Mountain House, Alta., talked about their work with this organization at a recent meeting of Classis Alberta South and Saskatchewan (a regional group of churches). “Teaching English,” Gordon said, “is all about building relationships while using the gift of teaching and living among [the people you are teaching]. Your example often leads to a deeper understanding of why you have hope.”

A young woman* who grew up in Sully (Iowa) Christian Reformed Church spent a month last summer teaching English in a refugee camp in Jordan.

One of the highlights, she recalled, was watching two sisters about 4 years old blossom. “The first week they attended school, they were crying and had to be coaxed into the classroom each day. The next week they were no longer crying. By the third week, they were running into the classroom. During the last week, they were giggling, shouting out answers,” she said.

“Giving students a stable place to grow and learn is essential to their ability to learn and concentrate,” she continued. “The older children have seen and remembered more as shown by the difference in their artwork that displayed bombings they have experienced in more details,” she explained.

Many students are three years behind in their studies because of the disruption of war, she said. “If they don’t have educational opportunities,” she surmised, “they won’t have the critical thinking skills needed to evaluate whether something is true or not.”

“Working in a refugee camp has changed my perspective,” she said. “Things aren’t as black and white as they appear. It is not ‘us’ versus ‘them,’ nor is it Islam versus Christianity.”

When asked if she would recommend the opportunity to go and teach she eagerly replied, “Absolutely!”

*Names are omitted for the safety of those involved.

About the Author

Patricia Vanderploeg is a freelance writer.

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This is truly God's work. One of our sons and I just spent a a month in Oman, Iran and Lebanon. In Lebanon alone over 200,000 children are registered with the UNHCR. For a normal Canadian classroom of 20 that means more than 10,000 (!!!) teachers are needed. The folks in these camps (and we saw lots of them) need to be screened for moving to another country. However, the people in Lebanon, Oman and Iran, we spoke to, said the first option is to stop the war in Syria and start the rebuilding process (a Middle East Marshall plan funded by oil money in wich the Middle East is swimming) is needed. If the Arab countries do not want to take those folks, the least they can do is support the camps with their Petro dollars. Putting their money in expensive high rises in Beirut, London, New York and other places, not the answer. English should only be taught to children whose parents have said, in no uncertain terms, they are not willing to go back to Syria. This of course is easier said than done. In Lebanon some of the camps are providing labour to the local farmers. In fact the bulk if not all of the camps in Lebanon are in rural areas. Living standards are very poor but the people are free to move around. They are in community and we noted lots of small playground. Schools are held in two shifts per day because space issues. Thank the Lord the temperature is very mild (95% of the time) so that this works.But there is a clear lack of teachers and of course material. I can also imagine the organization needed to do all this is probably very difficult. The number is teachers with both Arabic and English or German or French are in very short supply. It was still heartbreaking to see these camps knowing that some folks had been in these conditions for several years. Contrast that with the people who are paying to leave Syria and are lining up outside European borders is a clear injustice. Worse yet are the "photo ops" with politicians at airports in receiving countries. The quiet work of CRCWM and WR behind the scenes is what is being duplicated by other aid organizations from around the world. Our prayers should be for those who are working the front lines in the refugee camps.
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