When It Gets Personal

By Arthur Brown

Like many concerned with the news in and around Lebanon I receive regular updates from The Daily Star, one of the English language news providers in Lebanon. Almost daily, I receive via my phone a brief news feed with updates on the latest road side blast, suicide bomber or government attack, along with the fatality and casualty statistics:

Mortar shells hit Northern city of Idlib, killing 14…4,500 Syrians flee to Turkey in three days…20 surrendered fighters killed in Homs…7,500 confirmed cases of women being raped during the Syria’s 3-year-old conflict…At least 50,000 Syrian children in Lebanon are working, often for 12 hours a day…Strong blast in Syrian town near Iraq kills 8…ISIS militants accused of killing 15 Syrian Kurds, nearly half of them children…12 year old Syrian boy killed and three others wounded as Syrian warplanes carry out attacks on the outskirts of Arsal in East Lebanon…[1]

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates the death toll between 15 March 2011 – 17 May 2014 to be 162,402! According to the Washington Post:

  • Every minute: Three Syrians become refugees.
  • Every two minutes: Eight children inside Syria are forced to flee their homes.
  • Every 10 minutes: One person dies.

The lists could go on…and on….and on. And, the numbers only increase. It seems as if each time my smart phone bleeps, it is as likely to be news of more fatalities as it is my wife asking me to pick up some groceries on the way home.

I was sitting in church last Sunday trying to worship when my phone [which was fortunately on silent] vibrated. I know I should have ignored it, but like many others, I failed to subdue the temptation to look. As I subtly looked down to my screen, I read about the latest loss of lives as a result of the latest attack. I don’t remember where this particular tragedy took place. I don’t even remember how many people died. However, what I do remember is how I felt as I looked up from my screen and saw the people around me.

At that moment, I was literally surrounded by Syrian and Kurdish brothers and sisters who have not only sought refuge in Lebanon, but have found a place in my church. These people, some of whom I know personally, some of whom I have taught in our teen Sunday School classes, were my brothers and sisters.  They are also the brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, neighbors and colleagues of the people who were not able to escape and who have paid with their lives. They have names. They have stories, stories often shared with me. They have hopes and dreams. And, they have nightmares and despair.

On that Sunday morning it was personal. On that Sunday morning it hurt more than it normally does.

Don’t get me wrong, there will be [and have been] countless other news feeds that do not provoke such a reaction in me. However, that Sunday I found it hard to sing. I found it hard to hold back tears of sadness, of anger, and of despair. I found it hard to listen to the sermon. To be honest, I didn’t really know how to respond.  All I knew was that it hurt.

And maybe that was not such a bad thing.  In fact, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I know that this is what I was meant to feel. To feel the pain of those around me. If I had not felt such pain that morning, my ‘worship’ would have been mere parody.

I’m no fan of ‘Christian platitudes,’ found so often on T-shirts, bumper stickers, church signs, and the like. However, I once read the following words, words that have continuously stuck with me.

Jesus came to comfort the disturbed…

And to disturb the comfortable.

There is no doubt that on that Sunday morning, and many others like it, Jesus was comforting those Syrian and Kurdish refugees who had found a place of welcome and love among their Lebanese Christian brothers and sisters. It is also true that many Lebanese Christians have been disturbed by what God is doing in their midst – bringing ‘the enemy’ into their homes, breaking down long held enmity, fear and hatred. I too have been disturbed, and I am thankful that I have – though it can hurt. When we choose not to let ourselves be disturbed by events around us we lose something of our common humanity.

For those of us fortunate to be living in Lebanon in these days [and I do not say that ironically], we cannot avoid the tragedy of the Syrian conflict. It is in our face every day, as the ever increasing number of refugees continue to flood into our already ‘stretched-to-breaking point’ country. We see young children daily begging in the streets and women selling sex for $5 just to survive and feed their families. Nevertheless, it is still possible to ignore an individual’s personal suffering. It is easy not to know the names and stories of such persons, because, let’s be honest, the situation is “just too big.”

How much harder must it be for those living overseas and far away to grasp the personal anguish these individuals, created in God’s image like me and you, are experiencing? How much harder must it be to know their names and their stories?

Many of us do not want to personalize this conflict, because it hurts when things get personal. It is much easier to protect ourselves from suffering by not engaging in it. Yes, there is so much suffering going on in the world that we personally cannot engage all of it and I admit that I don’t have many answers. But perhaps we, the global church, must try and make at least some of it personal. Perhaps we must personalize this conflict in the same way that God decided to make things personal, by experiencing the suffering and death of His son, “The Word who became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” [John 1:14, The Message].

For the first time since World War II, the number of global refugees this year exceeded 50 million. This is a truly horrific and unimaginable number. So, perhaps your task today is to get to know the names and stories of at least one family who help make up this number.

I remember being deeply moved when I first read Rachel Held Evans’ reflection on Syria, “When It’s Too Big.”  It continues to resonate with me. So with many thanks to Rachel, I offer in conclusion:

When It’s Too Big (A Reflection on Syria)by Rachel Held Evans

When you’ve tried your best to educate yourself, When the more you learn the less clear it all becomes, When images of disfigured children creep into your dreams,

When you watch as things get politicized and theologized and shoved into 140 characters, When you want to love your enemies but don’t know how, When you’ve sent money for the refugees but feel foolish for the smallness of your efforts,

When you’d like to think you would open your doors to them, but aren’t really sure you would, When you catch yourself worrying about what to wear, what movie to see, When you doubt yourself, doubt your government, doubt your pastor, doubt God,

When you hate how the news has made graphics and theme music, When you realize that your opinion will do nothing to change the matter, When your utter helplessness follows you around like a dark presence and laughs at all the empty things you say,

When it’s just too big….

All that’s left is prayer and fasting. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

All that’s left are tears and ash. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

 All that’s left is to acknowledge your smallness. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

All that’s left is to sit in quiet with the world and beg for peace and wisdom and clear paths. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s enough because it’s all that’s left to do. So be faithful, and do it.  Be helpless for a while. Be at God’s mercy and pray.

__________________________

[1] Examples shown are for illustrative purposes, but are reports from The Daily Star.

About Arthur Brown

I am the Assistant Director of the Institute of Middle East Studies, based in Mansourieh, Lebanon.
This entry was posted in Syria, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to When It Gets Personal

  1. Cathy Gosden says:

    Arthur, thanks for this great post. I’m going to read it at our mission evening that we are having at church this Sunday, I’m including something on the Syrian refugees. Sadly, the Syrians could easily be forgotten about in the U.K.. There is hardly anything on the news about them nowadays.

  2. DanutM says:

    Reblogged this on Persona and commented:
    Arthur Brown again about children as victims of the conflict in Syria.

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