Reaching refugees

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, May 3, 2017
“You know, a Muslim Syrian refugee probably has more in common with us here than most people would think,” says Ethan Anderson. “A teenage girl is a teenage girl, a teenage boy is still a teenage boy.”

Ethan and Bethany Anderson, West Liberty couple, recently traveled to the northern border of Jordan, April 5-14, where they witnessed, first hand, the Syrian refugee crisis.

The couple’s biggest take-a-way: despite war, poverty and religion the people were just people, struggling to survive, get jobs and support their children.

“I talked to guys my age and they’re just trying to make their way in this world just like anybody else,” adds Anderson. “We’re not that much different.”

Syria, east of the Mediterranean Sea in the Middle East, has been torn apart by civil war. It’s estimated that 6 million of its citizens have been displaced in their own country since 2012.

Meanwhile, approximately 4.8 million have fled the country according to UNICEF. Currently it’s the largest refugee crisis in the world, and more than half of the refugees are children.

To the north of Syria is Turkey, which has received the most refugees, 2.7 million to date. Lebanon (west) has 2.2 million, Jordan (south) has 1.2 million and Iraq (east) has 230,000.

The town of Al Mafraq, north Jordan, is where Ethan and Bethany found themselves aiding and learning about humanitarian efforts by Alliance Church.

Near the city is a fenced in refugee camp of about 60,000 currently being aided by the United Nations UN). However, Alliance Church is focused on helping refugees in Al Mafraq, where there are no UN efforts.

Instead, the church is leading the way in handing out the supplies needed to live daily life for the thousands of refugees crowding into apartments with their families.

“We were looking to help someone who is working with Syrian refugees directly,” says Bethany Anderson. So, she searched the internet and came up with Alliance Church.

“Jordan was a place we knew was receiving a lot of them,” she adds. Accordingly, the Anderson’s scrapped their vacation to make the trip.

The couple ended up raising $10,590 in funds before they went, all of which went to the church’s efforts. They also brought suitcases full of toys, toiletries, clothes, tooth brushes and more for the refugees.

They left their three children with family and made the trip to the other side of the world, where they spent a little under two weeks helping and talking with refugees.

“One of our big goals was to provide people with a way to support an outreach that’s helping them, a lot of people told us they were looking for a way to help the refugees,” says Bethany.

The people of West Liberty and nearby areas just wanted to do more. In that vein, the six-year couple of the community gave them that chance. A chance to give, a chance to do good.

Besides border counties, Germany has taken 600,000 and Saudi Arabia 500,000 refugees. There are also large numbers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Egypt, Sweden, Hungary and Canada.

What about the USA?

Well, as of November, 2016, the United States has resettled 16,218 refugees within its borders. Resettle means to find a new place of living.

That’s the struggle for the refugees. They’re attempting to resettle in new places all over the world while civil war rages on back home.

The Andersons spent a majority of their time going to the homes of the people, homes that could include several families at one time in spaces a half or third the size of that which Americans have grown accustomed.

They also helped deliver goods via Alliance Church, from food and bed mattresses to silverware and propane tanks. Samaritan’s Purse and other nongovernmental agencies help support the church’s effort with money.

So there they were, two Iowans in the middle of an Arabic speaking and predominantly Muslim city in Jordan, an area that’s not exactly a tourist destination.

“You hear this sentiment here in the U.S. that a lot of these Muslims just hate America,” says Ethan. “That just couldn’t be further from the truth. “They were very welcoming.”

“We never once felt, from anybody on the street, at any point, any kind of hostility for us being Americans,” says Bethany. “There were no people giving us dirty looks.”

Obviously Al Mafraq is not a utopia. What it is, a lot of people in need just trying to make a living.

Many will remember the ‘Arab Spring’ in 2012, which resulted in uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen. The uprisings inspired protest in Syria as well.

The Syrian Army intervened and the entire country descended into civil war. It became a shifting conflict between President Bashar Hafez al-Assad’s government, rebel groups, ethnic groups, and Islamic extremists.

While there where refugees in 2013, most Syrian inhabitants relocated to less troubled parts of the country. However, the ongoing violence and deteriorating humanitarian situation opened the flood gates in 2014.

By August 2015 around 6.5 million were displaced within their own country while 3 million had completely fled its borders. As of January, 2017, UNHCR counted 4,863,684 registered refugees outside their country.

The United Nations has estimated that as of 2016 around 13.5 million Syrians have required humanitarian assistance. However, it’s hard to find any hard numbers as of right now.

Perhaps in years to come well get more precise graphs and numbers. But right now those numbers are real, breathing, living people that need help.

And if you know Ethan and Bethany, you know their idea of good-fulfilling fun isn’t sipping martinis on a far away beach or resort for two weeks. It’s helping people.

“It feels strange to say that we had ‘fun,’ but it was an adventure,” recalls Ethan.

They were able to talk to refugees in a way few Americans can claim. Specifically, Bethany was able to see the real women behind the black-veiled masks staring at us on the news.

While refugees are far from perfect, many are just trying to survive. Many would also like to return home to Syria should that day ever come. It’s a bleak horizon.

Bethany recalls a women’s only English class during which one of the ladies insisted that everybody take a selfie with their American visitor.

Ethan helped the kids get stretched as Alliance Church organized a soccer tournament and teams. They play a lot of soccer to keep the kids busy.

The two basically shadowed Alliance Church and puts their hands and legs to use when they could.

“We went on home visits, we went to the school for refugee kids, we went on a distribution, we helped with the English class, I visited the sewing class,” says Bethany.

They were never able to go into the fenced in area designated for refugees in Jordan, though they noted that from the outside they could see it was full-functioning community.

However, their purpose was to serve the people of the town not getting aid from the United Nations. A lot of Al Mafraq’s refugees are just trying to start over on their own merit and effort.

“We sat in their homes, on there floors, they served us tea and coffee and we just talked to them,” says Bethany. “For me that was the highlight, I wanted to show them that people care about them.”

The Andersons have been sharing their story with churches and organizations in the community.

Should you run into them, feel free to ask more about their trip.
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