Middle East—Christian worker Peter Matheson* is working to bring hope to refugees. But the ongoing crisis has taken a toll on the many he serves—and on him personally—as he ministers in the midst of tremendous suffering.
Syrian and Iraqi refugees have become victims of a rebellion being fought against the Syrian regime and brutality caused by the self-proclaimed terrorist group ISIS and other Islamic extremists.
“The hardest thing in this ministry is just sitting down and listening to their hurts,” Matheson said about spending time with the refugees. “They come, they arrive with little children just with the clothes on their back, because back in Syria their homes are destroyed, their businesses are destroyed … women have been raped … real torture goes on among men and young men in Syria.”
Images and reports of beheadings, cruelty and pure evil continue to shadow refugees—numbering in the millions—from any light of hope. But Matheson is there to tell them about a loving God who cares deeply for all who are fleeing violence and that only He can push back the descending darkness.
Through the support of Southern Baptists, Matheson and fellow workers are able to distribute boxes of food and other critical necessities provided through gifts to Global Hunger Relief along the Syrian border.
“We are able, through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, to focus 100 percent on the ministry that God has given us as workers … as laborers in the field,” Matheson said. “We’re able to give all of our attention to people who are hurting by ministering to their physical, emotional and, most importantly, their spiritual needs.”
U.S. churches also are playing a direct role in ministering to refugee needs alongside Matheson. A medical team from Mandarin Baptist Church of Los Angeles came to see the work firsthand and to help.
Nurse Katherine Lee* recognized that their physical presence to provide medical assistance is important, but the ongoing presence that Matheson provides is key to lasting hope. Matheson’s physical presence, Lee said, has allowed him to listen and give comfort to the refugees, as well as to offer help and hope. She noted it makes a real difference in their lives.
“Giving to IMB is just one of the ways we can help,” Lee said. “It is very important to support … the local workers here. Without funding, they … cannot stay here and build relationships…, and they cannot provide for their physical needs. They cannot provide for food or medicine or diapers or milk.”
As more and more Syrians flee the violence, Matheson hopes he can help the refugees out of at least one aspect of the darkness in which they’ve been living.
“My aim is to move them from one level of understanding to another, building into their lives one brick of truth after one brick of truth until—by God’s grace—the spirit of God (is) working in their lives,” Matheson said.
Seizing this moment is critical, said Paul Tu,* pastor of Mandarin Church. “God is working definitely in this area in such a mysterious way, way beyond our understanding but yet God is working … we must join God at His work and then take advantage of it … and respond to it quickly.”
Medical doctor Stephanie Lim* said, “We as churches in the United States, we’re really blessed with a lot of resources that God has given us, and He has called us to help others who are in need as well. And there’s a lot of local churches here who are meeting the demands, the needs of the Syrian refugees who cannot help themselves. They just have no resources, and the resources are being depleted because the need is so great. So, as Christians we are called, and we are responsible to help.”
Matheson noted, “From the bottom of my heart, I thank Southern Baptists for giving to the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas (Offering) to keep us as workers … on the field.”
He added, “Yes, it’s hard, (but) we’re able to minister to their physical needs, showing the love of Christ in a practical way to these people and thus opening an opportunity for them to listen.”
Matheson is providing tangible hope in what may appear to many to be a hopeless place.
“My friend here asked me why we are doing all of this,” Matheson said after he had explained to a refugee father and his family why the group from California had come.
Matheson told him there are 46,000 Southern Baptist churches with approximately 16 million people to lift “your group, all the refugees and the people back in Syria, before the Father.”
Matheson noted the man responded that if this many are going to lift them before the Father, it gives him hope.
Find resources for churches at imb.orgto help promote the Lottie Moon offering. While Southern Baptists are encouraged to give to the offering through their churches, a “Give Now” option is available for individual online gifts. (IMB)
Editor’s Note: The Week of Prayer, with the theme “Because of Who He Is” from Psalm 96:3 (HCSB), undergirds the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. The offering, in tandem with Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches, supports international workers in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. This year’s goal is $175 million.