An agreement between Syria and Lebanon seems to have cleared the way home. However, as Lebanon approaches its eighth year of the crisis. Heart For Lebanon’s managing director, Daoud Arnaout, describes the return process as slow. “Unofficial total numbers in Lebanon for the Syrian refugees is two million, roughly speaking, based on the total number of refugees that have already returned, in the past six months, was 87-thousand.” Plus, there are complications for some. “It (returning) will take some years, and again, that does not mean everyone will return. Many of the families don’t have yet any way their documentation, their IDs.”
For Syrians, future in Syria is bleak
For others, reluctance to go back is rooted in the trauma that forced families to flee in the first place. The stories among the refugees in Lebanon are similar, bound together by a common thread; the unforgettable memory of violence. For this reason, Arnaout says Heart For Lebanon remains active with the refugees. “We want them to have the opportunity to know God and reconcile because they are suffering. They have struggled a lot with bad memories. We want them to reconcile with themselves, with others and with God at the same time.”
In fact, considering Syria’s occupation began during the Lebanese Civil War and ended in 2005, Lebanon could be considered hostile territory. Yet according to Arnaout, this is also the very reason Lebanon’s Christians were well-poised to respond to the flood of refugees. ”We have experienced the love of God and the peace of God that has been put into our hearts and helped us overcome our suffering and our trauma. From the beginning, our goal is to share this with the families.”
Returning refugees strengthen President Bashar al-Assad’s credibility as a viable head of state. Interestingly, it is his presence and the continued fighting in the north, as well as the lack of infrastructure and the risk of being forced to serve in the military or face probable incarceration that still keeps away many who would be otherwise happy to return.
Compared to what awaits some families in Syria, the harsh living conditions in Lebanon feel like a better option. Arnaout explains, “That means that Heart For Lebanon will still be involved by helping, approaching these families, and doing programs that will help these families to survive—get some kind of education.” From the beginning, Heart For Lebanon was looking at recovery and what that might look like for Syria’s refugees. ”Our intention was not only to provide food and cleaning/hygiene items (holistic care) to these families, but our ultimate goal was to try to help them overcome their fears and sufferings and struggles– emotionally, socially spiritually—not only physically.”
Moving from despair to hope
The Heart For Lebanon programs also aim at equip these families for whatever their future holds, despite shattered dreams. That comes with an introduction to Christ, reconciliation and restoration, explains Arnaout. “We want them to have the opportunity to know God and reconcile because they are suffering. They have struggled a lot with bad memories. We want them to reconcile with themselves, with others and with God at the same time.” That does not happen with only providing food, he adds. “It happens when you share with them what the Bible teaches, [what the love and peace are] that are the basics of the Christian faith.” The Heart For Lebanon programs are also aimed at equipping these families to be solid well rooted Christians so when they return to Syria they will help there local church in the rebuilding process, in spite of shattered dreams when they came to Lebanon.
The story of the refugees in Lebanon speaks of lost dreams, of tragedy and triumph, of impossibilities and hope for a future. Arnaout is the first to admit that after eight years of crisis, people are weary. Upon reflection, it all comes down to God shaping the people involved. “We sometimes think prayer is a simple thing, but it’s one of the hardest things when you don’t know what you are praying for, especially when you are not here, when you don’t see it firsthand.” It’s hard to share the experience but, “…we believe that prayers are being answered. We encourage everyone to join us in prayer because God is doing miracles in the lives of the people.”