CHRISTMAS DINNER FOR CHRISTIAN REFUGEES SUCCESS AND HARDSHIP
Facing nearly certain disaster from the storm, all denominations became one family in the Lord working to provide a special day for refugee children. All came together to agree that regardless of the downed trees and power lines and roads littered with wrecked autos and trucks, that the children would have their Christmas dinner.
We made a difficult day special – On Monday, December 16th the first ever Christmas dinner for Christian refugee children was held in Jordan despite deep snow and lack of power. A last minute location change and splitting the event date saved us from disaster!
The dinner for the refugee children – part of it – went on as planned despite the worst snow storm in decades hitting Amman, Jordan and the rest of the Middle East.
To prepare for the dinner I arrived in Amman, Jordan on a flight at 6:00 PM on Friday the 13th just as the snow began. By the time I had cleared through customs and immigration, the snow was already an inch deep. Normally the drive from the airport to downtown Amman takes about forty-five minutes, but just before midnight I had to call the hotel to tell them that I was on my way and not to cancel the reservation. Finally I arrived at the hotel at 2:00 AM the next day. The drive into Amman from the airport had taken eight hours!
The airport road was totally closed as drivers in smaller cars were caught unprepared. There were accidents every 100 yards or so and at one point our SUV driver crossed a barrier and drove on the unfinished section of the new airport road for many miles. We almost made it to the hotel, just two blocks away, when we were involved in an accident. Fortunately there was not much damage to either vehicle and none of us were injured.
If the volunteer who picked me up at the airport had not had a four wheel drive vehicle, it is more than probable that I would have spent the night on the roadway. When I went for breakfast at the hotel Saturday morning, people who were on the same flight with me were just then checking in to the hotel. It was by the grace of God I slept most of the night in a bed and not in a car seat in a snow drift.
Most Americans have a picture in their minds of the Middle East with desserts and camels. The reality is a landscape that is as varied as North America. The winters in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria in particular can be brutal. As I looked out my hotel room window Saturday morning, I could not help but think of the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees living in unheated tents, having been driven out of their homes by a war sponsored against the secular government of Syria by President Barack Obama and Saudi King Abdullah.
Preparation: A brunch had been planned for Saturday morning as an opportunity for me to meet with the volunteers who were preparing the dinner. Although the Jordanian Army had worked the entire night to clear the streets of the capital of snow, the meeting still had to be put off until late on Saturday. Then on Saturday, most volunteers still were not able to make the final planning meeting, so a second meeting had to be held on Sunday. By Sunday evening, all of us were confident about the dinner on Monday, but we did not know there was no power at the hall.
Churches of all denominations had come together to help with the Christmas dinner for the children. Catholic and Orthodox priests had given their blessings to the dinner and evangelical church members worked side by side with Catholics and Orthodox. Dozens of Jordanian Christians became involved in preparing the dinner or participating in some way.
The dinner: Those children who could attend the first dinner were from many different areas of Syria. Dozens of the children were Iraqi. The majority of the Iraqi children at the dinner had lived in Iraq in middle class homes which were lost; then their families had rebuilt their lives in Syria, only to be run off again. These children once lived in warm homes in winter and at Christmas they had a fresh cut tree with decorations just as do families in America.
Now many of these formerly middle class children live in unheated tents, often with dirt floors that turn muddy when it rains. Sadly many of these children were stuck in the snow and unable to attend our first dinner. Some families, who were able to take a little money with them when they fled Syria, share apartments together, with sometimes three or four families in a two bedroom apartment. Many of these “apartments” in the Amman area are in unheated basements. (I visited many of these and shortly an article with photos will appear here.)
We were not able to rescue these children from the horrid lives they live now, but on December 16th for just a few hours at least some of them could have their former lives back. We were able to give them the joy they once had in their homes that are now gone. I was saddened by the fact that many of the children could not attend because of the storm.
The church volunteers had done an amazing job in decorating the hall for the children and in preparing the food and the music. The Christmas tree was larger than I expected and was decorated with ornaments many volunteers had brought from their own homes. Christmas lights were strung along the walls and each table had some Christmas decorations.
Unfortunately we had no power the day of the dinner. Everything had to be packed up and moved to a smaller church in an area where power had been restored.
Without the volunteers this joyous event for the children would not have been possible. The volunteers were a true blessing. In a matter of hours we were able to change plans.
The Christmas dinner for the Syrian refugee children was not just a church event, it was a coming together of the Lord’s family, of the brothers and sisters in Christ to help those among them in need. Not just brought together for one day, but with the intervention of the storm for a full week of work and prayer.
Facing nearly certain disaster from the storm all denominations became one family in the Lord working to provide a special day for refugee children. All came together to agree that regardless of the downed trees and power lines and roads littered with wrecked autos and trucks that the children would have their dinner.
The day of the planned dinner, all involved faced a great challenge and by His intervention and grace the day was saved! It was His purpose that the Christmas for Refugees dinner be two smaller events rather than one large one and that the various denominations serve His purpose rather than their own. Everyone involved will remember this day as a special day. In the course of the day I was involved in a second auto accident in just three days. Still, I saw the day as a blessing.
The few hours the children had together to celebrate our Lord’s birth ended with each child receiving a “joy bag” to take home to their refugee families. Each bag contained rice, dried beans and other staples for their family members. The bags were upgraded from what was planned because out fund raising just the week prior to the dinner had a positive upturn. I arranged a second hall for two dinners for the children who could not attend the first planned dinner because of road conditions. There were additional costs because of the storm which forced many changes but I could not allow my promise to the children to be broken.
The first dinner occurred Monday, December 16th as planned but scaled down and at a different, smaller location because of the storm. Two later events for those children that could not attend the first dinner were held on December 23th and another December 30th. Although I had to return to the United States, I knew the volunteers who made a really bad situation work for the first dinner would provide for the rest of the children at the two remaining dinners.
Photographs are problematic as they have to be edited in such a way as to make sure none of the children or their families are exposed to danger by extremists in the camps. We carefully have to select those we have permissions for and then blur faces of some others. Photos will be posted as soon as all dinners are complete and I believe it is safe to publicly publish them along with the actual dates and times of the dinners. Some edited photos should be available here at ChristmasForRefugees.org shortly after the last dinner. Safety is better than publicity in this case.
William J. Murray
Program Director Christmas for Refugees