Last Modified: Monday, December 23, 2013 4:04 PMYou can lose your appetite at the dinner hour while watching the evening news. My wife closes her eyes because the suffering of little children is more than she can bear to watch. Yet, that is the way daily life is for children in Syria, and the rest of the world seems incapable of doing anything about the slaughter that has already claimed the lives of nearly 12,000 children.
The minute Jo Ann and I read a devotional Friday morning from “The Upper Room,” I knew I had to say something today about those children as we approach Christmas. We need to keep them in our hearts and minds as our children and grandchildren enjoy the season, free from fear, hunger and disease.
Over one million children have fled Syria since the effort to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad began over 1,000 days ago.
I don’t want to offend non-believers and those who practice other religions, but the only way I know how to talk about the human tragedy in Syria is from my Christian perspective. And it was a Scripture from the Book of Mark (Chapter 10:13-16) that convinced me the issue could not be ignored.
“People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant,” the Scripture said.
“He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.”
You want the same blessings for children like Abeer, 7, whom NBC News said was among a group of children holding pots and buckets outside of a food hall in Damascus, Syria. She was waiting for a handout for her 11 brothers and sisters.
“She waits for more than an hour before she is given some hot noodle soup, then struggles to carry the contents of her metal pot down the street through traffic...,” said Keir Simmons, foreign correspondent for NBC.
Watching Abeer trying to get that pot of soup to her hungry brothers and sisters without spilling it tears your heart out. You long desperately to be able to give her a hand, but she’s another world away.
News reports tell you there is no time for a normal childhood in Syria. And hunger is only one of the dangers. NPR talked about children who were interviewed on the streets of Homs.
“A little girl says she has seen many dead bodies. ‘When there is an attack, bodies are brought to my school,’ she explains. ‘My dad helps with the burials.’ ”
War Child, founded in 1993 during turmoil in Yugoslavia, said the two filmmakers who started the organization were shocked by the way children’s lives were being torn apart by that conflict. Now, the group is focusing on Syria, where it says 12 children on average are being killed per day. Nearly 4.3 million children inside the country are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
World Vision, another relief organization, said Syrian children are especially susceptible to malnutrition, disease, lack of food, poor sanitary conditions, sexual abuse and exploitation. More than 6.5 million people have been displaced within Syria and some 2.2 million have fled to Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, the agency said.
NPR talked with a 10-year-old girl in Beirut, Lebanon, who was on the street at night selling packages of gum to earn money for her family.
“I am from Syria; there is always shelling. I was afraid I was going to die,” she said.
Mathew Hollingworth, who is a director for the World Food Program, told NBC, “A year ago,we were feeding one million people, today we are feeding 4.24 million. We have to have some kind of solution politically in Syria because the humanitarian crisis is getting to the point I’ve never seen in any other country I’ve worked in.”
World Vision said the displaced Syrians live where they can find shelter — in abandoned buildings, sheds, spare rooms, garages and in tent and camp settlements. UNICEF said at an Iraqi refugee camp there is snow on the surrounding hills and the camp streets are thick with mud.
War Child said the conflict in Syria “has grown into a war on childhood that has been characterized by more grim milestones than any other in recent history.”
The organization said the everyday brutality of the Syrian civil war on children is rarely newsworthy. There also doesn’t appear to be any solution to the brutal war, and that speaks volumes about the failure of political systems around the world to come together to try and end the turmoil.
At this point, we have to concentrate on what we can do as individuals to help relieve the suffering of those Syrian children. The organizations mentioned here have done great work in Syria, and there are others equally effective. Give through them, if you can.
We can make this Christmas more meaningful if we remember those words of Jesus: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”