As Ukraine continues to be battered by Russia, Syrian refugees know what to pray for better than most.
“This is what happened to us,” said refugee students at the Together for the Family center in Zahle, Lebanon. “We don’t want it to happen to others.”
Born in Homs, Syria, to a Baptist pastor, Izdihar Kassis married a Lebanese man and then founded the center in 2006. She shifted her ministry to care for “her people” when the Syrian civil war started in 2011. About 50 traumatized teenagers find counseling there every year, and 300 have graduated from the center’s vocational programs.
As the refugees discussed the “horrible” situation in Europe during the weekly chapel service, Kassis suggested intercession. Bowing their heads, the 40 children and 30 Syrian staff and volunteers knew better than anyone what to ask for.
But one child wanted to be sure the Ukrainians would know of their solidarity. He went outside into the cold and snow of the Bekaa Valley, where most of Lebanon’s 1.5 million Syrian refugees take shelter.
His sign proclaimed, “Praying for peace.”
Since the invasion, about 4 million of Ukraine’s population of 43 million have become refugees. Another 6.5 million are internally displaced.
Yet 11 years since its civil war, most of Syria’s 6.8 million refugees—out of a population of 20 million—still live in limbo. Europe largely shut its doors, certainly in comparison to its warm welcome of those fleeing Russian aggression.
Many have taken offense.
“There is the perennial double standard and selective outrage of global news media, Western governments (and, sadly, even Western Churches) when it comes to reporting on wars, conflicts and the plight of refugees,” stated Vinoth Ramachandra from Sri Lanka, a senior leader with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES), affiliated with InterVarsity.
“If Ukrainians were not blonde and blue-eyed, would their plight have occasioned [this] outpouring of compassion?”
It is a fair question. Is European hypocrisy—even racism—on full display?
Arab Christians are not quick to judge.
Born in Syria, Joseph Kassab today heads the Beirut-based Supreme Council of the Evangelical Churches in Syria and Lebanon. He notes the more than one million countrymen taken in by Europe—Western Europe, primarily. Eastern nations, he said, are still recovering from the communist era and have not yet developed the same sense of human rights.
There should be no discrimination, yet even this he understands. The early church struggled to open its mission to non-Jews.
“Racism is in every society,” Kassab said. “But Europeans have been more welcoming to the Syrians than many Lebanese.”
Being Muslim is a factor, said Elie Haddad, president of Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut. But also important is that most are rural, uneducated farmers. Legitimate or not, people are uncomfortable with difference.
Europe is a bit hypocritical, but so is he.
“If a faculty member needs shelter, I will open my home,” Haddad said. “For a stranger, not so much.” One who did open his home is a Frenchman…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today on March 25, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.