After Rebin* heard about the hope found only in Jesus Christ from a local barber in the Near East, he dedicated his life to sharing the Good News. “In 2003, I made Jesus Lord of my life. In 2004, I was baptised, and immediately after that, I started serving my people,” he shared.

As the only pastor in his region and as a partner in OM’s relief work amongst refugees, Rebin has never looked back from his decision, faithfully and sacrificially serving his people amidst the war that has now raged for ten years.

Looking at the social landscape of the Near East, one OM leader noted widespread economic crises in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, as well as the continued impact across the region of extended lockdowns due to the coronavirus. No one has been hit harder than the refugees, however.

“In every way, the situation couldn’t be worse,” Rebin described. “Death, loss, no work, sickness everywhere. It’s literally a nightmare, and it just keeps getting worse every year.”

According to the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency: “An estimated 11 million [Syrians] need humanitarian assistance and more than half of the population remains displaced from their homes - including 5.5 million refugees living in neighboring countries and another 6 million internally displaced inside Syria. Women and children comprise more than half of those displaced.”

For the 80 per cent of Syrian refugees living below the poverty line, neither job opportunities nor education is available. Unemployment, inflation and the coronavirus pandemic have all contributed to a continually declining environment, where refugees struggle to meet their basic needs.

“Over the years Syrians have shown remarkable resilience, but as war continues, hope is fading fast,” UNHCR reported.

Providing aid as an expression of God's love

Despite the hopelessness he encounters, Rebin continues to serve. He heads up a small team that delivers food and hygiene packs to thousands of people in multiple refugee camps, some with as many as 1,000 tents. They “are completely and utterly dependent on food packs from NGOs, like the ones that we offer,” Rebin explained.

“I try to meet people’s physical needs with the food packs and their spiritual needs with the truth.”

“People always ask: ‘Who’s giving this aid?’ We say: ‘This is coming from the love of God in the name of Jesus Christ. He is providing this,’” Rebin said.

Amidst the hustle of managing the distribution team, which puts the relief packages together—preparing them, buying the materials, packing them in the truck and distributing them—Rebin also takes time to personally connect with the refugees receiving the aid. “Most importantly, while we give them food and everything, we seek their spiritual needs and try to cry with them and share the comfort of the Lord with them,” he said.

That consistent love-in-action is bearing fruit in a region where, just a decade ago, there were no known Jesus followers. In the last two years, Rebin has baptised nearly 80 new believers. In one refugee camp, he started a church in a tent, which was then converted into a simple structure with four walls—a haven for those who have found hope in Christ.

Many more Jesus followers amongst the refugees meet in small house groups. Rebin visits them, too. “I spend most of my time teaching people,” he said.

Training new leaders

Though many of the local leaders he has discipled have left the country—a challenge not only affecting the Church but also the culture at large—in the last year, Rebin has started again to try to raise up new leaders amongst the house groups and pour into their spiritual development.

Even finding men to disciple is a challenge, however. The communities he serves are predominantly female. “A big chunk of men have left, either through immigration, trying to make their way to Europe, or they have died in the war,” he shared. Many of the older men remaining in the communities suffer from depression, the result of losing their homes, security and life’s work.

Still, with new groups of spiritually interested people continually multiplying, Rebin needs help. “I’ve told him many times he needs to distribute the duties to others, but he says there’s no one else around who’s mature enough to take on [the responsibilities]. That’s his biggest challenge right now,” said an OM leader who regularly connects with Rebin via messaging.

*Name changed

Pray for Rebin and others serving refugees in the Near East to have energy and perseverance as they continue to meet the needs of those devasted by a decade of war. Pray for them to be filled with the peace of God as they show His love in tangible ways. Pray that the house churches and Bible study groups would flourish and that more local leaders would be raised up.