By Lyndsey Koh
MENA (MNN) — At least 5,000 Syrian refugees living in Lebanon have voluntarily gone home since the start of August when five crossings opened between the two countries. There are still about 1.5 million refugees in Lebanon, but the slow trickle back to Syria has begun since Beirut and Damascus struck a deal.
The Syrian refugees returning from Lebanon represent just a drop in the bucket. While each individual government works out how and when to start the reparation process, Syria’s public administration minister Hussein Makhlouf says over half of the six million internally displaced Syrians have gone home.
Syrian president Bashar al Assad is eager to show that his government has regained control and territory from the rebels after eight years of civil war. Makhlouf says 5,000 schools and 250 hospitals have been restored by the government.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees asserts that Syria is still too dangerous to return to. However, they are willing to help home-going refugees with documentation and to make sure their returns are voluntary.
Denise Godwin with International Media Ministries says that for displaced Syrians, the longing to go home is real.
“I was at a conference and there were some Syrian refugees and people working with them that said there is such a desire to go back and rebuild their country. I thought, isn’t that interesting? Some of us think if there is war, we’re just going to run away and we’re never going to go back. But there is this heart’s desire to go home and to fix what was broken.”
IMM creates videos that share the Gospel with the intent to put Jesus on every screen in the world. The ministry is currently working on a video series called The Heritage Project. It tells the stories of early Christians in North Africa.
One story is of Quodvultdeus, a Christian man who was exiled with other believers and became a refugee himself.
Godwin explains, “He and his fellow believers were expelled from what is now Tunisia, but at the time it was Carthage. They were expelled in a boat that the conquering people, the Vandals, thought would sink. But God miraculously brought them to be refugees in Italy.
“They start building a community and again asking, ‘What does God want of us while we’re here?’ Quodvultdeus really leads his people to recognize that Carthage isn’t our home and neither is Rome, neither is Italy. Our true home is with God in Heaven…and how can we serve Him where we are — wherever that is and whenever that is — as we keep our true hope in Heaven?”
Quodvultdeus’ story in The Heritage Project will soon encourage other Christian refugees in the Middle East and North Africa when it broadcasts.
“We have several different outlets,” says Godwin. “There are some satellite channels that are planning to broadcast through North Africa and the Middle East, not just in Arabic or one of the larger languages, but also in some of the smaller heart languages of regional people.
“We also have an internet TV channel that is interested in using these, as well as the local workers who have great plans — sometimes at personal risk — to get these onto screens, maybe have showings in towns or in churches and get people in front of these stories.”
Among The Heritage Project’s eight video stories, there are several accounts of men and women in North Africa who were part of the early Church’s greater story. Godwin suggests that really, these stories are relevant to Christians across the globe as well.
“We all have a heritage that comes from these North Africans who helped support the Church at a time when it was persecuted, when it was challenged. I think as believers all over the world, we can look back and gather strength from these people who stood for truth in times when it meant persecution. It was hard. But today, we as believers can stand ourselves, strong in our faith, but also stand with refugees and people who are persecuted.”
IMM’s process of filming for The Heritage Project has even become an outreach in itself. “We have had people from North Africa who volunteered to be extras who aren’t believers. So here we are on set sharing with them the purpose of these stories and asking them to participate. So we just need God’s anointing and touch on every aspect of this.”
To that end, you can give in support of The Heritage Project with IMM! And please pray for IMM as they finish filming for The Heritage Project.
Godwin says, “Right now we are doing the drama part of the Heritage Project stories and while we’re doing this we find some pretty intense spiritual attacks, that there is an opposition to what we’re doing. We really covet people’s prayers over our team members, over our volunteers, over our travel, over the vehicles we’re in, over the equipment we’re using, and just that we would have wisdom and creativity in everything we do.”
Pray for refugees in the MENA region, especially Syrian refugees going home, to rest in God’s guidance and comfort. Ask the Lord to strengthen the Church in Syria and that local believers would sense His calling to reach their nation for His glory.