Some time ago I spent a week in a Middle Eastern country visiting with Syrian refugees. Day after day on that trip, I sat on concrete floors in crumbling urban apartments with Syrian women and their children. Each time I looked into the women’s faces, their empty eyes told the silent stories of losses and grief.
In Syria, these women had been comfortable, middle class women, just living their day-to-day lives. Then suddenly, one day, they were running for their lives. They had watched their friends and family members die. They had seen their communities exploding, literally. So they did the only thing they could. They grabbed their kids and crossed country borders in the middle of the night, sometimes with bullets chasing them, in search of some kind of future. In search of some kind of hope.
Fortunately, many of those women ended up safely in the neighborhood where I was visiting, where a church I knew very well was providing food and basic necessities for these refugee families. On the last day of my visit, the pastor asked if I would speak to 200 of these women. He explained how they came to the church once a week to get bags of food and to let their children play in a safe place. While the children played, the mothers attended meetings where they’d learn how to deal with grief, how to help with their children’s trauma, and how to adapt to a new culture.
With the help of a Palestinian Christian friend who translated my words into Arabic, this is what I said to the women:
“I wish I didn’t have to stand up here in front of you. I would much rather sit beside you on a cushion on the floor and have a cup of tea with you. I would love to snuggle your baby in my arms. And I would love to hear your story. I know you each have a sad story, and if I heard it, I know I would weep. I know you are good and loving women. And I’m sorry you have lost so much. I am sorry you had to flee to a country, a city, and a house that’s not your own.
I can imagine in your own country, you were strong women who graciously served others.
I can imagine you making delicious food and sharing it with your family and friends.
I can imagine you caring for your mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, sisters and brothers and friends, just like I do.”
That’s what women do. We are compassionate. We give. We serve, protect, and work hard to make the world better for the people we love.
Wherever I go in the world, I discover we women are a lot a like. We may have different clothes, hair, religion, culture or skin color, but in our hearts we are the same. That’s why we can look into each other’s eyes and feel connected. We can talk without using words. We can smile, we can hug, we can laugh. And sometimes we can feel each other’s pain. While I was with those women, I prayed that God would help me feel their pain. And oh how I wished I could remove it, or help them carry it.
“Your Faith Has Healed You”
I told the women gathered before me that while I prayed for them the night before, I was reminded of the story in the Gospel about the woman who had been sick for many years. No one could heal her body or comfort her mind. People had given up on her and were ignoring her. But she believed Jesus could heal her if she could just touch his robe. So she pushed silently through the crowd that followed Jesus. She was afraid he would turn her away if he saw her, so she stayed quietly in the shadows. Finally, she reached out and touched his robe.
Immediately he stopped, “Who touched me?” He asked.
“Power has flowed out of me and I want to know who touched me.”
She was afraid, certain he was angry and would punish her, but she felt compelled to answer, “It was me. I am the one who touched you!”
The crowd hushed, anxious to see what this great man would do.
Jesus simply looked into her eyes and said, “Daughter your faith is great. Your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”
I told the women that when I read that story I wondered why Jesus stopped and made that frightened women speak up, and I prayed for God to help me understand.
This is why I think Jesus stopped: I believe Jesus wanted that woman to know he saw her.
She wasn’t just an anonymous person in a huge crowd. She was an individual woman and he saw her.
Jesus knew she was suffering and it broke his heart. He called her daughter so she would understand how much he loved her. He said she had great faith in her God and he honored her for it. And he healed the wounds of her body and soul.
As a Christian, I believe Jesus shows us what God is like. He shows us that God sees each of us as individuals. He calls us sons and daughters because he loves us. He honors our faith because he knows it can make us strong. He cares when we suffer. He wants to bring healing, comfort, and peace into our lives. Some verses in Scripture even tell us that Jesus weeps, which means that God weeps, too. He weeps for all of His suffering children.
“I Will Not Forget You”
Then I looked at the women seated before me and said this,
“I wish I could end the war that’s ravaging your country. I wish I could gather all the money in the world to make your lives easier. I wish I could bring back all that you have lost. I can’t do any of that, but I can do this: I can go home and tell others what I’ve seen. I can tell people how you are suffering and how amazing Christians are lovingly walking with you. Both you and your Christian friends need the prayers and support of Americans. And I will tell my friends that.
“I will also tell my friends how beautiful, strong, and loving you are. I will tell them you are women of deep faith, women who adore your children and grandchildren, just the same way I adore mine. Women who sacrifice willingly for those that they love.
“I will tell them that when I look into your eyes, I see that we are all a part of the same human family, all created and loved by God. I will not forget you. I will pray for you. I will tell your stories. I will weep when I hear anew of your suffering, and I will rejoice over any goodness that comes your way.
“Truly I will not forget you. God has placed you in my heart.”
It was over three years ago that I met those women. Since then I have told their stories many times. They and their stories continue to break my heart, but they also compel me to action.
One final story has impacted me greatly…
After their home was destroyed by rockets, Hana and her children fled Syria to relative safety in a neighboring country. There they found leaders like Saeed and Clara providing help and hope for refugee children. I hope that as you watch, their story inspires you as much as it inspired me.
More than 80% of the beneficiaries of our programs are women and children. World Relief works through local churches to protect, celebrate, and raise the value of women by taking a holistic approach—addressing immediate needs and harmful belief systems simultaneously. Learn how you can join us and create a better world for women.
Since 1975, when Lynne & Bill Hybels started Willow Creek Community Church, Lynne has been an active volunteer in the compassion ministries of the church. She has served with ministry partners in Chicago, Latin America, Africa, and more recently in the Middle East. Increasingly, Lynne is partnering with women in conflict zones who are committed to reconciliation, peacemaking, caring for refugees, and creating a better future for their children. Lynne is actively engaged with a grassroots organization, One Million Thumbprints, which raises awareness and funds for women suffering from the violence of war in Syria and Iraq, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In recent years she has traveled repeatedly to the Middle East to meet with Syrian refugees, Iraqis displaced by ISIS, and Israeli and Palestinian women working for security, dignity, and peace for all the people living in the Holy Land. Lynne and Bill have two grown children, Shauna and Todd, one son-in-law, Aaron Niequist, and two grandsons, Henry and Mac, who run the family.