First Sunday of Lent (February 26, 2012)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Gen. 9:8-17; Ps. 25:1-10; I Pet. 3:18-22; Mk. 1:9-15
On Thursday, Daryl traveled with Caritas Jordan staff to Mafraq – on the Jordanian-Syrian border — to talk with Syrian refugees arriving in Jordan and to see Caritas’ distribution operations. According to a BBC report, there are 70,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan. The Associated Press places the number at more than 80,000. MCC plans to ship material resources to Caritas and to provide cash for local purchase of items such as milk powder and diapers.
Daryl talked with several Syrian families. They were fearful of reprisals from the Assad regime and would not give their full names or allow their pictures to be taken. One woman said it was o.k. to use only her first name in telling her story.
Salwa is from Homs and came with her husband and four small children to Mafraq six weeks ago, after two neighbors in Homs were killed and her husband’s grocery store was taken over by Syrian security forces. In order to get out of Syria, Salwa and her husband told border officials that they needed to give their small children a break from the violence. They promised that they would return to Syria after 15 days. They came to Jordan with only the clothes they were wearing.
In Mafraq they are renting a small flat near a cemetery for 100 JD ($140 USD) per month. Salwa said that everything is more expensive in Jordan. Whenever her children hear fireworks or gunshots, they fear that the violence has followed them from Homs to Jordan. Her husband has not been able to find work in Mafraq. She described her family’s most urgent needs as security, milk and mattresses. She said the family has not had yogurt (a staple) for 30 days.
Salwa said she never could have imagined that the Assad regime would turn on its own people. She now thinks Assad is motivated by fear of a Sunni Muslim takeover in Syria. She asked whether most Westerners were on the side of the Syrian people or the Syrian regime. Her last words: “Please do not forget the Syrian people.”
In Mafraq, Caritas is temporarily operating out of the local Latin Parish church and school complex. Caritas is logging about 20 new Syrian families per day. On Saturday, Feb. 25, Caritas is planning a distribution of material resources to 100 Syrian families (623 individuals). Each family will receive 5 blankets, 10 kilograms of rice, two boxes of food items (cheese, milk, tuna, oil, biscuits, lentils, sugar, tea), and a kerosene heater.
Next we visited a soon-to-be-opened refugee camp just outside of Mafraq. The camp will have capacity for several hundred families. The 7-8 acre camp looks like a large shopping mall parking lot – black-top surface and electric light poles. The perimeter is ringed with some thirty 2-cubic meter water storage tanks, with two septic systems still under construction. Tents have been purchased but have not yet been set up. The Jordanian government is building the camp; UNHCR plans to operate it. Currently all the Syrian families in northern Jordan have found temporary lodging elsewhere; the camp will be used only when no other lodging options are available.
Caritas has significant experience in working with several waves of Iraqi refugees that came to Jordan in 1991 and again in 2003 and thereafter. Like the Iraqi refugees, many of the Syrian families are afraid to register with UNHCR, for fear that their government will find out. The main difference Caritas staff has noted is that, from the beginning, Iraqi refugees had a goal of resettling in third countries, whereas the Syrian refugees all say they want to return to Syria.
International pressure against Syria continues to mount, as the situation inside the country – especially in Homs – continues to deteriorate with dozens of deaths almost daily.
Also in the region this week:
- On Friday, a coordinated series of car bombings and shootings in Iraq – apparently targeting Shia Muslims — killed 55 persons in 15 cities across the country.
- In Jerusalem, Israel soldiers clashed with Palestinian worshippers after Friday prayers. One Palestinian man was killed.
- IAEA inspectors in Iran said they were not able to visit a sensitive military site where some suspect that activities related to Iran’s nuclear program are taking place.
The Common Lectionary readings this first week of Lent are about God’s salvation.
Amidst the assaults of his enemies, the psalmist prays: “Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.” (Psalm 25:5)
In the Old Testament reading, after the great flood, God makes a covenant with Noah and all living creatures: “Never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” (Gen. 9:11)
In the Gospel reading, immediately after his baptism and temptation in the wilderness, Jesus proclaims a simple message of hope and salvation: “Repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mk. 1:15)
In the Epistle reading, Peter writes that Christ suffered for the sins of all, “in order to bring you to God.” (I Pet. 3:18). Peter says that, just as Noah and his family were saved from the flood waters, water baptism is now a symbol of God’s salvation in our lives (vv.20-21).
With the psalmist, and with Salwa and the growing stream of Syrian refugees, we wait for God’s salvation. We count the days until the violence will end, until justice will be served and peace returned, and until children will no longer be afraid. As we wait, we seek to be faithful in doing our small part to help this reality come to be.