Every year on August 19th, World Humanitarian Day, the United Nations shines a spotlight on the millions of civilians around the world whose lives have been caught up in conflict, honoring also those courageous men and women who risk their lives to provide humanitarian aid and protection.
When violent extremists burned down his mother’s medical clinic and attempted to kidnap him, Al and his parents fled Iraq and were eventually resettled in the U.S. Watch his incredible journey, then join the campaign to help refugees rebuild their lives.
by Maggie Konstanski
World Relief Middle East Programs Technical and Operations Coordinator
Last month, I stood in Iraq while looking out over Syria. My heart was heavy. New challenges emerged by the hour and all of our efforts felt insufficient when compared to the immense and ever-growing needs. As I stood in one land and looked out over another—both of which are entrenched in horrific conflicts, my frustration grew. I was overwhelmed by the news cycle that day: violence, terror, hate, persecution and unimaginable atrocities perpetrated against children. And, as violence continues to cause mass displacement around the world, this same news cycle showed many countries adopting increasingly restrictive policies that result in closed doors, preventing the persecuted from finding refuge.
At the end of most days, I find myself crying out questions of why and how long people must be left to languish in such circumstances. I struggle with the knowledge that we’re too often paralyzed when confronted with suffering at such magnitude—oftentimes believing there is no hope, that there is only darkness and that the dawn will never come. Today, too many of us have come to believe that the darkness is impenetrable, the conflicts too entrenched and that our resources are too small to make a difference.
But there is another story. It is the story of a small but persistent church body, isolated and under-resourced, yet powerfully engaged. It is a story of hope and light amidst the darkness.
The Middle Eastern conflict and disruption has been devastating for millions of men, women and children. Yet, this terrible struggle has also given the church an unparallelled opportunity to reach out to their vulnerable neighbors. Though these churches are usually small and often face significant challenges, their leaders deeply desire to serve faithfully and extend love, compassion and refuge to the thousands of suffering around them.
Today—perhaps more than ever—the church in the Middle East has the opportunity to break down damaging historical perceptions and cultural stereotypes, and foster restored relationships in their communities. And as the world looks to see how the global church responds to this conflict, its legacy will be one of love and welcome. It will be a “light for the world.” A town built upon a hill that gives light to everyone and shines a path forward, one of hope and of peace.
I have seen enough to believe that there is no place secluded enough, no place dark enough and no place disguised enough to keep the oppressed hidden from a God who hears their cries. I have seen the church reaching the furthest corners of the most vulnerable communities, identifying the neediest for emergency assistance and connecting them to the services and resources they need. I have seen them reaching the unreached in fearless and compassionate service.
This is a place where I know morning will come. The dawn will break upon us. The sun will rise. Darkness will be vanquished. This is a place where the church is truly stepping out in faith as the hope and light of the world. And I have already seen this light.
I see it in the faces of children who laugh, play and show compassion to others in our kids clubs and safe spaces programs. I see it in the displaced community as they seek to serve one another and make sacrifices for others. I see it in parents here who give up their own lives and comfort in hopes of providing a different future to their children. I see it in families who welcome the refugee, the stranger and share their homes and dinner tables. I see it in the person who forgives words said in anger and frustration, and extends undeserved grace. I see it in the grace, forgiveness and kindness that have been extended to me by so many.
And above all, I see it in the church that chooses to boldly and compassionately reach out, even when they themselves are under pressure and persecution.
We may not be able to end all conflicts. We may not be able to meet all the needs on our doorstep, but we can answer God’s calling and follow the church's lead to love those in front of us. We can work through the church to push back the darkness in our own spheres of influence. We can advocate for more action. We can show compassion. And we can be peacemakers.
Across the Middle East, the church is bringing light to places of great darkness. In the valley of the shadow of death, churches are agents of peace, light and reconciliation in communities entrenched in conflict. To witness their love in action and commitment to guiding the region towards a path of peace inspires me with renewed hope each day.
Maggie Konstanski has been a part of the World Relief team for over 4 years, and currently serves at the Middle East Programs Technical and Operations Coordinator. With a passion for international human rights, Maggie often uses work-related travel as a platform to tell the powerful stories of the vulnerable families and communities we serve.
Below is an update from our Disaster Response Manager, Maggie Konstanski, in Iraq. The best way I can think of to describe what it is like being here is whiplash—constantly being thrown back and forth between two extremes you did not know could coexist.
Independence. Just four short years ago, the people of South Sudan voted to break away from the north and form their own independent nation with the hope of a fresh start. Finally free from their opponents in the north, they could now look forward to a better future.
But freedom is not the reality that the people of South Sudan have come to know.
While the people of South Sudan became citizens of a new country in 2011, they could not escape conflict for long. Before South Sudan became its own country, the Sudanese in the north and south expressed differing political, economic and religious views.
Four years later, the people have, once again, found themselves in the midst of conflict. This time, the president and vice president are vying against each other for power – inciting ethnic differences to mobilize fighters around the country. After nearly a year and a half of calm, the renewed fighting has left tens of thousands of people in need of protection, basic provisions such as shelter materials, cooking supplies, food items and peace. Though another Independence Day has passed, it’s important to consider the reality of the situation in South Sudan.
After 17 years, World Relief’s efforts continue despite intensifying conflict, evacuations and the loss of two staff members. Our teams, as well as those of other organizations working in the region, have had to take a step back and reevaluate our work. But, we continue to provide emergency health, nutrition and safe-child programming while we distribute food and essential goods in Unity State.
In Western Equatoria State, which has been more peaceful, we’re taking a groundbreaking approach. This year, church leaders across denominations began to meet together to serve their communities with their own resources. These pastors have great hope that their churches can be a foundation for change and peace in South Sudan.
At World Relief, this is our hope as well. The people of South Sudan are still facing great adversity, but our God is faithful. We continue to work and pray, believing that South Sudan will come to know true freedom like Jesus promises.
On July 9 South Sudan celebrated its Independence Day. While we realize the tremendous challenges that still lie ahead, we celebrate the independence they have now and the freedom that is to come.
Let’s remember the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:17: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” God’s presence is real and active in South Sudan, and he is our ultimate hope for true freedom.
Since 1998, World Relief has responded alongside the local church in South Sudan. Through disaster response, agricultural development and health programs, we’re laying the foundations for lasting peace.
You can join us today as we continue to provide emergency food and medical supplies to the people most affected by the unrelenting conflict.