Over 4,000 Iraqi Christian and Syrian refugee children (normally ages 6 – 12, receiving no church assistance, but who have registered through a church) and their entire families are being given a genuine Christmas, in spite of their shocking circumstances. The Christmas for Refugees program is about encouraging and strengthening the faith of Christian families. Many believe that Christians are the most persecuted group in the world today.
This Christmas, the Christmas for Refugees project, headed by William J. Murray, expanded inside Iraq, as well as in Lebanon and Jordan to touch the hearts of Middle East refugees with not only food, games, Bibles, and gifts, and some blankets, but with a specific Christmas presentation of the real meaning of Christmas.
Each participating family receives either a parcel of about $50 worth of food staples to last at least a week, or a voucher for $50 or $60 worth of food depending on availability of local food stores willing to participate.
William J. Murray, who is known for his outstanding work of helping persecuted Christians, is the son of one of the most famous atheists and Marxists in America, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, founder of American Atheists. When she enrolled William in the school in the early 1960s, she was enraged at prayers and mentions of God in the school setting. Her lawsuit led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling officially banning Bible reading in American public schools in 1963.
One dozen Christmas events for refugee children were arranged in Lebanon, six were held in Jordan and for the first time, two large events of more than 300 children each was held in Iraq itself. Bill and his wife Nancy Murray personally participated in two events in each country.
As a Board Member, I also did some fact-finding efforts into new Iraqi areas and towns for next year’s expansion. My ministry, Love-Link Ministries, has once again partnered with Christmas for Refugees. No advance public advertisements are made of the events in order to insure the security of each site; to better protect the children and their refugee parents. In fact, for security sake, the sites and coordinators of the Lebanon and Iraqi events are not made public.
Murray states, “If the funds were available, the list of children would be in the tens of thousands. The program size doubled in 2015 and we hope to double it to 8,000 children in 2016!”
Multiplied thousands of evacuated Iraqi Christian refugees have literally escaped to the country of Jordan. Most had only enough time to flee with just the clothes on their backs. Many are from the Iraqi city of Mosul, where ISIL fighters raided their homes and sections of town and gave them a choice: “Renounce your faith or we will shoot you!” reports several refugees in unison.
Bill Murray sadly relates: “There are many touching moments during these events. At one event in Lebanon a very young girl, perhaps five years old, began to cry when she realized the event was over and she would have to go back to the refugee area her family lived in. Other touching times include the children involved in genuine play away from the problems that face their families.
“The most rewarding aspect of the Christmas for Refugees program is the moment the children forget the tragic situation their families are in, while participating in our Christmas program that includes puppet shows, singing, games and a hot Christmas meal.”
In Aman, Jordan, joining Bill was Isam Ghattas, President of Manara Ministries, to make a seemingly joyful Christmas season, regardless of the dilemma of these refugees. Isam Ghattas tells: “Joseph Stalin once said, ‘A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.’ For Christians, however, one single death some 2,000 years ago made all the difference as it provided salvation from eternal death to millions of people. Jesus Christ lived and prescribed two ingredients that constitute a panacea for people’s foremost spiritual malady; SIN! These are SALT and LIGHT.
“Christians has since used symbols to denote their allegiance to Christ and express their faith; first the fish then the cross symbol some 400 years after Christ’s death. Recently, another sign has emerged but this time from the enemy ISIS stigmatized the houses of Assyrian Iraqis from Mosul with the letter to denote Nasara (Christians).
“Christians need to turn these calamities and persecutions into opportunities to serve the afflicted. As the number of world refugees has reached 60 million this month, Syrians being the highest nationality among them, Christians are invited to embody Christ’s panacea by the “word that sustains the weary” (Isaiah 50:4). Christians must first be this salt and light as they heed a life of sanctity, faith and love.
“Therefore behooves the church to sustain these refugees with their basic needs (food, water, shelter, medicine, clothes) but also with a touch of mercy and love that preserves their dignity. Having lived this ‘salt and light’ sharing the Good News with them becomes an easy thing to do! And Christmas for Refugees is doing just that!”
Murray, facing some obstacles, not to mention at one point being only 30 miles from ISIL-controlled territories, felt led of God to expand the program this year into two areas of Iraq, near Erbil, the capital city of Kurdistan. Murray is aggressively planning for next year to further help develop relief to those who suffer, no matter what our news headlines say.
“It’s all about the children and how they can briefly escape their terrible, ongoing circumstances as displaced refugees,” Nancy Murry painfully relates.
Over two million Syrian refugees have crossed over into Lebanon making up for one-third of the country’s entire population. Not quite as bad, but Jordan is experiencing a similar displacement of refugees squeeze on their economy. Most refugees, even though they want to work, are not allowed to work in Jordan. The economy of Iraq remains in shambles, causing more Iraqi people to seek relief, not just mere “handouts,” but life-saving food, clothing and shelter.
Bill summarizes: “Courtesy of ISIL, Christians around the world are finally beginning to truly understand the horrible conditions refugees face. And for Christian refugees, it is much, much harder. I pray that many more Christians will see the plight and send urgently-needed donations.”
Against the backdrop of staggering, appalling surroundings, out of the very depths of despair, one can hear the laughter of children as they play and experience a Christmas that they will remember for the rest of their lives. After all, it is just like a Christmas they once knew. The tears and smiles from the parents as they receive their much-needed food, is priceless.
That is exactly what Christmas is all about, not just about the birth of a Saviour, but about true compassion and love shown, just like our Lord showed.
Even the most desperate experienced the true gift of Christmas!
EDITORS NOTE: Rev. Bob Armstrong is a published author or co-author of numerous books, this month is the release of “Beware: Earthquakes Prophesied” (Creation House), as well as “Razor’s Edge: from Bin Laden’s Home to Divine Appointments,” “Stop the Y2K Madness,” among others. These may be ordered on his ministry website: www.lovelinkministries.com. He is also an ordained minister for over three decades and has trained 50,000 pastors in 13 countries in leadership conferences. He heads up an evangelical and humanitarian organization for three decades called Love-Link Ministries. He has traveled in 47 countries. He and his wife Kim, and daughter Brittany reside in Bradenton, FL. He serves on the boards of several ministries. (firstname.lastname@example.org)