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September 2015

Fear the Walking Refugees?


We are all witnesses to a seismic moment in modern history.  It is being called the greatest refugee crisis since World War II as hordes of desperate men, women, and children from lands of chaos and conflict seek safety and hope in Europe.  The news over the past weeks has been dominated by apocalyptic scenes of crowds swarming razor wire fences and overwhelmed police trying to contain the tens of thousands.  The haunting image of the little two year old boy, Aylan Kurdi, whose body washed up on Turkey’s coast, has become a symbol of the refugee’s desperation and the West’s inability to handle the crisis.

Of course, what is happening with migration in Europe now has been going on for many years around the world on a smaller scale.  Donald Trump, the surprise leading Republican candidate for the President of the United States, has been blasted by many for his stigmatizing comments on illegal migrants.  During his presidential announcement speech of June 16th he said:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you (pointing to the audience). They’re not sending you (pointing again). They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’re bringing drugs.  They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people!

But I speak to border guards and they tell us what we’re getting. And it only makes common sense. They’re sending us not the right people. It’s coming from more than Mexico. It’s coming from all over South and Latin America, and it’s coming probably from the Middle East.”[1]

Despite his charged comments, his popularity continues to remain high despite his lack of political experience and civil service.  In fact, so far, among white Evangelical Republicans, Trump has garnered the most support even though he is twice divorced, a casino owner, and well-known for his personal attacks against others.

Therefore, it should not be surprising in the current political climate, that the United States, though often praised for its history of open arms towards the poor immigrant and refugee, has been slow to act in the face of this Syrian-Iraqi refugee emergency.  Even more, since the Al Qaeda attacks of 9-11 and the subsequent Islamist attacks against world citizens, the United States has made great strides to insulate itself from future violence.  In doing so, it has not only sealed itself off from the evil that may lurk outside its walls, it has also muted its national character of service and compassion.  Since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, and despite ISIS’s highly publicized reign of terror, only 1500 Syrian refugees have been allowed in the United States.[2]  While some would argue that caution has built these walls, fear is the true culprit. 

Israel has also faced its own refugee-migrant challenge over the last decade.  In the wake of the Darfur genocide of 2003 and civil war in Sudan, many thousands of Africans began crossing over the Sinai Peninsula seeking safety and a better future in Israel.  Later, Eritreans joined the migration from their abusive totalitarian homeland.  In 2013, Israel completed a security fence on the Egyptian border that has essentially stopped the arrival of refugee-migrants.  Today, there are around 46,000 African asylum seekers in Israel.  They are predominantly from Eritrea (73%) and Sudan (19%), while a small minority (8%) are from other countries.  Because of Israel’s desire to be a majority Jewish state, it does not want to add another group to its demographic balancing act.  Just as Israel has experienced this African influx, so too, a significant percentage of Europe’s refugee-migrants are coming from Africa—particularly Somalia, Nigeria, Eritrea, and a handful of West African countries.

Often there is an attempt to separate the sheep from the goats when defining a migrant versus a refugee.  But in reality, these theoretical lines that may help us distinguish between the desperate “having to move” and the aspiring “choosing to move” are lines that are blurred by real life situations.  Jørgen Carling, a scholar at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, recently explained:

The ‘two kinds of people’ argument is further undermined by the drawn-out trajectories of many current migrants. A Nigerian arriving in Italy might have left Nigeria for reasons other than a fear of persecution, but ended up fleeing extreme danger in Libya. Conversely, a Syrian might have crossed into Jordan and found safety from the war, but been prompted by the bleak prospects of indeterminate camp life to make the onward journey to Europe. Regardless of the legal status that each one obtains in Europe, they are both migrants who have made difficult decisions, who deserve our compassion, and whose rights need to be ensured.[3]

Now, the average person with a heart will see another person, like a refugee, who is suffering, and they will feel compassion towards them.  They might even try to help the refugees in some tangible way—donating money or goods, opening their home, or volunteering their time, but the average person with a mind will also realize that helping the refugees long-term logistically is a complex and difficult proposition.  It makes much more sense to deal with the root problems—in Syria’s case—the regime of Assad, the existence of ISIS, and the anarchy of rule, rather than forfeit the land of the Syrian people and transplant them to Europe or elsewhere.  Yet, right now, there is a political stalemate involving the powers of the United States, Russia, Europe, Turkey, and Iran who have the most influence in the region.

Conservative estimates foresee 850,000 refugees entering Europe by the end of 2016. Germany is expected to take over 800,000 in the coming months.  While most are crossing into Europe via Turkey, more than 600,000 have reached Europe since 2013 by the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean.  Nearly 3,000 have died at sea this year, equivalent to how many died in the 9-11 attacks.

Yet, Europe’s challenges are nothing compared to the countries that surround Syria.  Jordan, for example, officially houses 630,000 Syrians but the real number is closer to 1.3 million people which now makes up 21% of Jordan’s entire population.  Tensions are running high in the region, as money from the United Nations is running out due to donor nations not fulfilling their obligations.  There are worries that the destitution of the refugee situation—no home, no status, no jobs, and little food—will only fuel desperate, illicit actions on both sides.

So, what can we really do to help the refugee situation?  What can one follower of Jesus do?  This is a question many of us are asking.  I think however each one of us decides to help, we should respond with courage and not with fear.  Fear and conspiracy have no place in the Kingdom of God.  We should work on perfecting our love for all people so that it casts out all fear.[4]  Love is never easy; it’s a narrow gate, but if we walk with Jesus, we must walk through it.  Love, and not fear, should color our prayers, our thoughts, our words, and, ultimately, our actions towards all, including refugees and migrants. 

Greek orthodox priest, Papa Stratis, who lived on the Greek island of Lesbos, demonstrated that love.  Before his recent death, he was well known for his work in helping the thousands of refugees who landed on his island after floating across from Turkey. He said in an interview two years ago:

“What I see are people. People in need. I cannot turn them away, nor can I kick them, nor imprison them.  I cannot send them back to where they came from. Nor can I throw them in the sea to drown.” [5]

Even when it seems impractical, impossible, or unpopular, may we have the courage of the Lord to reach out and love.

[2] Recently, US Secretary of State, John Kerry, announced that the United States would accept 85,000 refugees in 2016 and 100,000 refugees in 2017.  These totals are for all refugees though many would be Syrian refugees.

[4] I John 4:18

Charity Report: Your Gifts Helped these Individuals, Families, and Ministries during June, July, and August 2015 

Mindy is an Ethiopian Jewish believer who has five children and health problems. Her husband has financial difficulties owing the bank money.  JCF contributed $263 to help their family pay some monthly bills.

JCF helped the Beit El Ethiopian Messianic Congregation take a trip to the Jordan River for baptizing new believers ($233).

Anna is a divorced Israeli mother with two adult children. She lives from disability funds and is treated in a psychiatric ward. Her son who is a soldier lives with her. Anna had to declare bankruptcy recently.  JCF helped cover part of an outstanding water bill before the water company repossessed items from her home ($213).

Karen is a 32 year old Israeli mother of four daughters—two from her first marriage and two from her second.  She is currently pregnant with her fifth child and she and her second husband are separated. She has sought help from social services in the past for abuse. Even though she works, she has accumulated a debt of $2900 which she owes to her landlord for rent.  She is currently under threat of being evicted from her apartment with her four daughters.  JCF helped cover part ($811) of the immediate amount that she needed to pay in order to continue living in the apartment. Karen will be meeting with social workers to develop a plan on how to handle and pay back the debt owed to the landlord.

Rick is an Israeli Arab Muslim who was appointed by the Israeli courts to be the manager of a company in Jerusalem to settle a dispute between the two managing partners. While he worked there, the partners made several bad financial and illegal decisions. They refused to pay his wages and he was then held liable for the illegal actions of the company that he was not involved in.  JCF gave a gift ($1000) to help him with the financial difficulties resulting from the freezing of his accounts due to the court procedures where he is fighting to prove his innocence.

JCF helped Rosa, a Christian Arab from Jericho, to cover her son’s college tuition fees of $500. He received a scholarship for the second semester but needed to cover tuition for the first.

Cammy is an Israeli mother with a 4 year old and a 1 year old baby.  Cammy is battling cancer.  Two months ago she had surgery and will need to undergo more surgery in the future. As she is undergoing chemotherapy, she needs help caring for her children while her husband works.  Cammy is not allowed to lift anything including her one year old baby. JCF helped cover a longterm babysitter for their family ($537).

Samuel is a 5 year old whose mother is being treated for psychiatric issues. JCF helped cover a babysitter during the summer to allow for his mother’s treatments ($540).

Tabitha is a 71 year old Israeli divorcee who has difficulty seeing.  She gets around with the help of a dog.  Recently, she fell and broke her hip and has had difficulty getting to her doctor appointments with a broken hip by bus and needs to take a cab which she cannot afford.  JCF has helped with her transportation costs ($269).

The Allenby family has seven kids including three that have developmental, emotional and behavioral issues and live in an institute. Due to several crises, the family is unable to make the payments to keep the kids in the program. JCF is helping cover some costs ($534).

JCF contributed $1000 to buy Rosh haShanah gifts for needy families in Southern Jerusalem.

Over the summer, JCF contributed $2500 to the medical expenses of Maryam, a Syrian Catholic refugee toddler who was in Jerusalem to receive surgery with Shevet Achim, a Christian AppleMarkorganization that helps children from the Middle East come to Israel for life-saving heart operations.  She and her family are refugees from Qaraqosh, an Assyrian city in northern Iraq that was overrun by ISIS in the summer of 2014.  Qaraqosh had been the largest Christian enclave in Iraq (40,000 people) before its eradication by ISIS. Her father, a barber, and family fled to and are currently living in another Assyrian city in Kurdistan.  Maryam and her mother have since returned to Iraq after her successful surgery.  Read more about her story here.


An Update on JCF’s Support of the Refugees in Jordan


In August I returned to Jordan along with friends, family and JCF staff members to continue our partnership with individuals and groups assisting refugees from Syria and Iraq.  The refugee crisis began shortly after the start of Syria’s civil war in March, 2011.  Soon after, fighting erupted between Syrian government forces and allied rebels, such as the Free Syrian Army, Islamic Front, Al-Nusra and other militias.  An additional front was created by Kurdish fighters in the north of the country in an effort to protect their territorial interests and oil fields.  By April, 2013 the Islamic State (ISIS) entered the bloody arena and now controls large expanses of Syria as well as Iraq.  Most of these armies have terrorized and brutalized local residents of different ethnic and religious backgrounds resulting in terrible tragedy with appalling human suffering and forced emigration.  Over 250,000 have died in Syria, while 7.6 million people have been displaced from their homes and more than 5 million have fled to other countries.

I have been to Jordan on numerous occasions, but this was my first time to view one of the refugee camps (Al Za’atari) which is about 4-5 miles from the Syrian border.  Anywhere from 60,000 to nearly 150,000 people have been crowded into a space of about 800 acres.  Currently, it has about 80,000 residents.  It is certainly one of the most sobering things I have ever seen.

Since Israel and Jordan have diplomatic relations and several border crossings, it is relatively quick and easy for us to cross over for short trips.  Members of our JCF team have made three trips in the past ten months to find the most effective ways to support the refugees.  Because Jordan is on ISIS’s path towards capturing the Islamic holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, Jordanian forces are on alert for any threat.  Although Jordan is predominately a Muslim country, it is considered to be very pro-Western which is what ISIS strives to eliminate altogether.  From Jordan it would also be easy for ISIS to launch attacks against Israel since they share a long border. 

For now though, JCF’s main concern is assisting refugees.  During this year, we have been particularly drawn to the plight of Christians from northern Iraq.  There are currently about 11,000 Christian Iraqi refugees living in Jordan.

During our August visit, besides the visit to Al Za’atari, we also stopped in the northern Jordanian city of Mafraq where we visited a Christian hospital that treats tuberculosis patients, as well as two local churches where refugees find assistance and social activities.  It was here that we met Abraham, a local pastor who donates much of his time reaching out to refugee children. 

Abraham makes multiple trips to the Al Zata’ari Camp twice daily with his small car to help transport about 100 children to his small church compound where he offers food, entertainment, and compassion.  He laughed when describing how many children he could effectively cram into his small four-seater car.  Some of his Christian Arab neighbors have criticized his efforts to work with Muslim refugee children, but we were very impressed with his faith and determination to resist the negative social pressures. 

JCF has decided to help Abraham acquire a larger used vehicle, perhaps a 12-seater van, to help transport these kids.  JCF will also contribute towards the educational programs that he is running for these Muslim refugee kids whose parents do not mind that they are receiving daycare and education from Christians.  Our hearts were moved, and Isaac provided a ray of Gospel light and hope to a situation that otherwise would be considered dark and depressing.

This year JCF has donated over $40,000 towards refugees in Jordan plus an additional $5000 to refugees in Lebanon which includes preparation and distribution of aid packages.


News in Israel and the Middle East

  • More on the Refugee Crisis
    • Nine questions you were too embarrassed to ask about the Refugee Crisis, here.
    • Short background video on the Syrian Refugee Crisis, here.
    • Berlin's Trinity Church welcomes hundreds of refugees as many convert to Christianity , here.
  • The Antichrist and ISIS.  "There is one prophecy about the Antichrist that the Islamic State and its fans have studiously avoided, even though it is in a collection of prophecies they revere: The Antichrist will 'appear in the empty area between Sham [Syria] and Iraq,'" wrote Will McCants, director of the Project on US Relations with the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution. "That, of course, is precisely where the Islamic State is located."  More, here.
  • Israel's soaring population: Promised Land running out of room?  Israel's birth rate, the highest in the developed world and once seen as a survival tactic in a hostile region, could be its undoing unless measures are taken to reverse the trend. More, here.
  • Israel’s population hits 8.4 million. Here.
  • Dawabsha Family Attack.  On July 31st a Palestinian family’s home was attacked with firebombs by the infamous Jewish extremist group, Price Tag, which JCF’s June 2015 newsletter discussed.  The attack claimed the lives of the father, mother, and one son.  Another son, five-year-old Ahmed Dawabsha, survived the attack with serious injuries from burns.  The Israeli anti-racism group, Tag Meir, has begun a fundraising site for Ahmed.  So far, they have raised around $80,000.
  • Rosh Hashanah Stone Attack in Jerusalem.  On Sept 13th, the eve of the Jewish New Year, an Israeli car was stoned in south Jerusalem causing it to crash and killing its driver.  Four Palestinian youth have recently been arrested on suspicion of having carried out the rock-throwing.  Since the attack, there has been a controversial directive by the Israeli security cabinet to toughen measures against rock throwers: “The cabinet agreed to back legislation to allow live fire in any case in which lives are endangered; use of .22 Ruger sniper rifles against rock throwers; a minimum four-year prison sentence for rock throwers, including imprisonment and fines for minors aged 14-18; the cancellation of welfare benefits for minors in prison; and an evaluation of fining parents of convicted children aged 12-14.”  More here. 
  • Jewish New Year, 5776, began at sunset on Sept. 13th with Rosh haShanah.  The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), where many Jews fast from food and water, occurred ten days later on Sept. 22nd.  Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) will run from Sept. 27th to Oct. 4th.


Narkis St. Congregation’s Bible Readings for 2015-2016

Download Narkis St. Congregation’s Bible Readings for the Jewish Year 5776 which follows the weekly Torah portion (Parasha) of the first five books of Moses.  Narkis St. Congregation’s Bible Readings include the Parasha, the Haftara, a New Testament link, and a portion from the Gospels and Acts.  The new schedule for the Parasha begins on Oct. 4th. Download, here.

Canon White Speaks at Narkis St. Congregation in Jerusalem

Canon Andrew White, known as the Vicar of Baghdad, recently spoke at Narkis St. Congregation on what God is doing in the Middle East among the refugees and, even, surprisingly, among members of ISIS.  Listen to his message from Sept. 26th, "Pots, Perplexed, Persecution, and Power," here.


Prayer Requests and Praise Reports

  • All refugees and migrants who are seeking safety and hope. 
  • Recent Violence on the Temple Mount and Growing Tension with Gaza.  Since the beginning of the Jewish New Year on Sept. 13th there has been violence on the Temple Mount.  Here and here. Video, here.  Also some rockets have been fired from Gaza.
  • Bet El, a Messianic Ethiopian congregation, has been meeting in the center of Jerusalem close to the religious Orthodox community where they have been harassed on a weekly basis by Orthodox Jews. Because of this, the attendance has gone down from 140 (when they used to meet in Talpiot) to around 80 to 100 people a week. They are now trying to move to the Talpiot area to a larger facility so that they can accommodate more people and offer daily programs instead of the weekly service they normally have. The rent for the places they are considering ranges between $3,200 to $4,200 a month. They need prayer to find funds for the rent since most of the attendees do not have well-paying jobs.


JCF has been giving toward Holocaust survivors living Jerusalem.  This is an update from the International Christian Embassy which we have been partnering with.

There are approximately twelve needy and very lonely Holocaust survivors in Jerusalem who have been receiving loving care and companionship from an aid organization with whom we partner.   These Survivors receive monthly checks to support them economically and receive regular volunteer visitors, which is also very important to them.  A very nice program was begun to link boys from a local institution for disadvantaged children and youth, to some of these Holocaust Survivors.  This has greatly benefited both the teenage boys and the elderly survivors.
Loneliness is a huge problem to people who have lost all their family and often their spouse.  Visiting some of these Jerusalem Survivors regularly ourselves, we know how important this program is which supplies both financial and emotional support.  
The donations of JCF have been used in part with help to maintain the ongoing expense of supporting these survivors in Jerusalem with monthly help in form of coupons for food items.  The other part has been used to cover maintenance problems in their homes. For example, when our staff visited a 90 year old Survivor, her small, modest apartment was quite dark owing to a broken slatted shutter which could not be raised and had been like this for more than a week.   Having received the gift from JCF, we were in a position to immediately arrange its replacement.  One of hermost  terrible memories is from her home town of Yasi in Romania where she suffered terribly from violence and terror.  She lost most of her family and witnessed people being pulled out of their homes and killed.  She finds it very difficult to talk about those memories. She is suffering from many health problems, does not have children, and lost her husband many years ago.  Visits from Christians like us mean the world to her.