Every month 3,000 Syrian refugees are given food aid by Heart for Lebanon, an Open Doors partner organisation working with displaced Syrians living in Lebanon. “We want to restore integrity and dignity to the refugees. They have already suffered a lot, and now in Lebanon they suffer again because of rejection, lack of opportunities and a lack of resources.” said Camille Melki, head of Open Doors supported organisation, Heart for Lebanon.
Melki has seen a huge impact in the refugees they work with. “It restores their dignity, people see they have brothers and sisters in their host community. But it also helps people to realise that they have the opportunity to reach out to fellow refugees. We focus on relationship building, we’re not a one-time distribution agency. We listen to the people; they know we come back to them.”
But it hasn’t always been easy for Melki, “Our country was occupied by Syria from 1976 till 2005,” Melki said. “So the Lebanese have an issue with the Syrians because of that period in which Lebanon suffered a lot. The Syrians came as peacekeepers, but they ended up as occupiers of the country.”
In 2012 when civil war broke out in neighboring Syria, over one million Syrians poured in to Lebanon looking for a safe place to live. Now Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in the world and Melki set about to help them.
“People ask us why Heart for Lebanon is helping Syrians,” said Melki. “I see them as people on a train ride from despair to the destination hope. We want to disciple, to strengthen and to connect them, to help them to not grow weary because of persecution or rejection.”
Sometimes Melki’s work leads to problems, “We recently helped a Syrian mother who was physically abused by her husband. She is now in a safe house. Her husband figured out who helped her. He has been threatening us. Last Thursday he came to the main office looking for me. He threatens us and accuses us of wanting to Christianize people. But we don’t want to change someone’s religion, we share Christ.
“We help the Syrian and Iraqi families, Muslims and Christians, unconditionally. We are open about what drives us. That fits in our culture. In some countries, social conversation normally begins with talking about the weather; in the Middle East it’s more about politics and religion, conversations about religion are common.”
Heart for Lebanon works in refugees camps across Lebanon, supporting an average of 3,000 families each month with food package – 900 families are from Iraq, the rest fled from Syria. Melki leads a team of 56 dedicated workers from different Middle Eastern countries who are passionate about seeing the people they care for find hope.
Open Doors has launched Hope for the Middle East, a seven year campaign uniting the global church to ensure every person in the Middle East, no matter what their faith, has a home, a future and a voice. As part of this, Open Doors is asking people to sign the Hope for the Middle East petition, which will be presented to the UN on 11 December 2017. The petition currently has over 750,000 signatures from 143 countries including Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iraq and even one signature from North Korea. People have until 8 December to sign the petition and speak out for Noeh.
Syria is number 6 on the 2017 Open Doors World Watch List. In the midst of the civil war, Christians are targeted by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS), as well as other radical Islamist groups. This year, churches and Christian-owned businesses were targets of IS bombings, and there have been many reports of Christians being abducted, physically harmed and killed. IS's propaganda magazine has said that IS fighters are allowed to rape non-Muslim women. Despite this, some Christians are committed to staying in Syria and hope to play a part in bringing reconciliation to their communities.
Iraq is number 7 on the 2017 Open Doors World Watch Lis t. Iraq was once home to one of the largest Christian communities in the Middle East; today, the church in Iraq is in danger of disappearing completely. The IS militants have forced thousands of Christians to flee their homes. Even in areas of Iraq that aren't controlled by IS, Sharia is the basis of the law and Muslims are forbidden from leaving Islam.
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Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians in over 60 countries for over 60 years. Last year it raised approximately $70 million to provide practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources. Open Doors UK & Ireland raised over £11 million.
Every year Open Doors publishes the World Watch List – a ranking of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. This is produced using detailed information provided by Open Doors co-workers in more than 60 countries, as well as independent experts. Data is gathered on five spheres of life - private, family, community, national and church life – plus a sixth sphere measuring the degree of violence impacting Christians. Persecution in each country is recorded by Open Doors using a point system. Open Doors' research methods and results have been independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom. The 2017 World Watch List accounts for the 12 months ending 31 October 2016.