Hope and Sacrifice in One of the World’s Toughest Places
By Stephen Hunt
A’isha* lives with her teenage daughter in a tent at the edge of a refugee camp in the Middle East. She is Syrian, a war widow who lost her husband to the violence still ravaging her country.
The walls and ceiling of her tent are covered with old billboard sign material. The flimsy canvas struggles against oppressive heat in summer, freezing nights in winter. The ground all around is dirty, strewn with broken asphalt and concrete. But this is now her home. Other than her daughter the life A’isha knew is gone, left to rot, be stolen or destroyed.
People say she bubbles over with joy.
The refugee camp where A’isha and her daughter live in a tent much like this one.
A’isha did not always bubble over with joy. When she and her daughter fled Syria and arrived at the overcrowded refugee camp, she was angry and depressed. She lashed out at everyone. But her life began to change again when she met some followers of Jesus in the camp. They built a relationship with her, helped her process all she had lived through, and shared with her the hope and healing that Jesus provides.
Over time A’isha too trusted in that hope. Now she welcomes other refugee widows who arrive as she did, with nothing but the clothes on their backs and the children on their hips. Oftentimes she is one of the very first people to greet women as they enter the camp. She helps them get the critical supplies they need, builds friendships, and shares the hope of Jesus with them.
In December 2017 an international news agency reported on a Syrian family that had fled the fighting. They had nowhere to go, no shelter. They died of exposure overnight in the cold. A’isha told one of our team members, “That’s just the one that made the news.” Later that month she met some women who barely survived similar conditions. Knowing that more people were on the way, she prayed all night that she would have something to give them.
The next day was cold and rainy. Our partners in the area had also learned that people were arriving at the camp after journeying through harsh winter conditions, and they had just received a load of blankets and tarps from Unto™. They packed a vehicle as full as they could and drove to the camp. When they arrived Ayisha looked right past them to the blankets and said, “The Lord has provided.”
This small detail struck our team members as beautiful. A’isha did not see the workers as heroes. She does not envision herself as a hero. She sees everyone as an instrument of God, each one doing the part set before him or her to help relieve suffering, restore dignity, and reveal hope to people in need.
A’isha has been offered asylum in Europe. This is what all refugees long for — a way out. When going back home is not an option, asylum is the next best thing. To accept this offer would include its own set of challenges, but the benefits are many. Refugee camps are extremely tough places. Autonomous tasks like choosing your own groceries are stripped away; healthcare and quality-of-life standards are minimal; safety cannot be taken for granted. To leave would mean renewed freedom and opportunity. It would mean better job prospects for her, better education for her daughter.
A’isha has, in fact, received this offer several times. Each time she and her daughter pray about whether they should go or stay. Each time they have chosen to stay.
When the women close to her receive their own opportunities for asylum, A’isha assures them, “You can go. I’m only saying God has called me to stay.” But so far these women have said, “No, if you’re staying, we’re staying with you. If God will keep working through you here, we know He will use us, too.”
When they choose to stay, people can’t believe it. It would not be wrong for them to leave, but why is it so hard to believe they would stay? They have come to know that this world is not their home. They desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city (Hebrews 11:16, ESV).
A’isha and the women with her choose to stay in one of the absolute toughest places on earth — at great personal sacrifice — because they have secure hope that stretches far beyond their trouble in this world. They choose to stay, and because they do, they relieve suffering, restore dignity, and reveal this same hope to other angry, discouraged, broken people who even now continue to arrive in their camp.
Through your partnership with Unto, you are forever connected to people like A’isha and the women she welcomes and serves. Together we have the joy and honor to come alongside women like these to resource, strengthen, and assist them in their ministry. Whether blankets to comfort people in the cold winter months, new shoes to replace the ones that wore down as people journeyed to the camp, or school supplies and toys to give children who left theirs behind, your partnership enables our team members and women like A’isha to serve refugees with great kindness. Thank you.
*Name changed for security reasons
Published November 14, 2018
Stephen is a Content Writer and Researcher for Unto. He has been on staff since October 2017.