Valley Voices

Will Stoll: I’m helping Syrian refugees, and I hope you will, too

The Rev. Will Stoll, right, pastor of Fresno’s Northwest Church, visits with a Syrian father and son. They live in a refugee camp tent in Marg, Lebanon, about a mile from the Syrian border.
The Rev. Will Stoll, right, pastor of Fresno’s Northwest Church, visits with a Syrian father and son. They live in a refugee camp tent in Marg, Lebanon, about a mile from the Syrian border. Courtesy of Will Stoll

What should the U.S. do about 10 million Syrian refugees? They could be dangerous; their backgrounds can be difficult to vet, and housing them will be expensive.

So do we ignore them, reject them, send them aid, or take them in? This is the question that has been tossed about over the last few weeks. It’s a popular topic for presidential candidates, political pundits, and even op-ed pieces. I don’t know what America will do, but I understand my responsibility.

Six weeks ago, I traveled to Lebanon with my wife, Katie, and three others from Northwest Church to see the influx of over 2 million Syrian refugees and their encampments. We wanted to hear their stories and tour with one of our longtime mission partners who serves the teenage youths in three camps near the Syrian border.

What we experienced was both heart-wrenching and heart-warming. Each family has a story of tragedy.

They left Syria only after a neighbor’s house was destroyed in a bombing.

They left after being imprisoned in a basement without light for 20 days. They left because one faction or group entered their village demanding that their husbands and sons pledge allegiance to their cause. If they didn’t pledge to fight, their entire family would be killed.

So many chose to flee. It made me stop and ask, “What would I do, if that was me?”

These families live in squalor in tent camps on the outskirts of many Lebanese cities. In the tent communities, refugees have been given next to nothing. The tarp that is draped over wooden pallets says “UNICEF.” But tarps were purchased and not given. They pay rent for the ground their tent occupies.

There is no running water, heat, insulation, plumbing, etc. Imagine someone trying to take care of seven siblings and a sick baby in freezing conditions. You receive enough food from the United Nations to fed your family for 11 days of each month. Now imagine that the “someone” is you. This is a terrible existence.

Our mission partner began an outreach to three of these tent communities a year ago. Two Saturdays a month, teens are taken by bus to a nearby school campus to play games. During this time, the kids can be kids again. They laugh, smile, and joke around as if war was not destroying their homeland. They also receive all the food that they want to eat.

This program is more than food and activities. It is hope! A distraction is fine, but reality returns on the ride home. A full stomach is fleeting. We need to give them a hope that no circumstance can take away. The hope I am speaking of is not only the hope of the refugees, it is the hope of every town, city and community of the world, and his name is Jesus Christ.

This program shares the message of Jesus through dramatic and comedic sketches. Each time these teens return they learn more about the message of God’s love, grace, forgiveness and mercy. After the sketch, they break into small groups with an adult leader and talk about what they have learned.

This is such a popular ministry that we have to limit how many are able to come. As one bus was leaving the camp to go to school, I saw an amazing sight. A father was trying to get his 10-year-old boy on the bus through a window.

This sight vividly illustrated a need, an opportunity, and the answer to my question. I had asked, “What can I do?” Sure, I can form a political opinion about what the U.S. should or should not do. This is very easy, cheap, and also useless for me to do. Or I can act. This sight led me to what I must do.

I knew we needed more of this. This ministry should happen every week but in hundreds of tent communities. We were able to capture amazing high-definition footage of their stories, living conditions and the joy that has been brought to their community.

If you would like to learn more, Northwest Church is hosting our “Weekend of Hope” on Saturday and Sunday. I invite you to attend. I hope that this weekend allows us to see these people in a new light. I also hope that many of us will be moved to act.

The Rev. Will Stoll is senior pastor at Northwest Church. Write to him at wstoll@nwc.org.

Weekend of Hope

  • Time: Dec. 12 at 4 and 6 p.m.; Dec. 13 at 8, 9:30 and 11 a.m.
  • Where: Northwest Church, 5415 N. West Ave.
  • Details: https://vimeo.com/147748904
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