Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Little Perspective, Please

I was planning to write about a sideline incident at the Rams/Cowboys game last Sunday. It seemed like a good reminder of pulling together in tough situations rather than letting adversity drive us apart. But I just came back from an informational meeting and somehow an NFL sideline issue doesn't seem quite so important anymore.

The Men's NetWork's parent organization, Lutheran Hour Ministries, has many international ministry centers. Yesterday, (Monday) the director of our Lebanon ministry center gave a report on the plight of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Before the war, Lebanon had a population of 4.4 million. Then between 2012 and 2014 about 1 million Syrian refugees crossed the Lebanese border to flee atrocities by Bashar al-Assad's Syrian government. With this year's sudden rise of the even more brutal Islamic State (also known as ISIS and ISIL), another 400,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq have crossed the border into Lebanon. Adding 1.4 million refugees to a country of 4.4 million has been overwhelming for Lebanon.

Sunday night I watched a 60 Minutes report on ISIS that kicked off the new season. It spoke of a village of Christians where men were separated from the women and children; the men were trucked off to a nearby mass grave, lined up, and shot with multiple weapons. The interview included two wounded brothers who crawled out of that grave when a plane flew overhead and scared off the Islamic State soldiers.

This morning we saw a slide of a house in Mosul, Iraq. In the middle of the night ISIS had painted the Arabic letter "nun" (its shape is essentially a rounded "u" with a dot over its center) on the wall. It's equivalent to our letter "n" and stands for Nazarene, referring to Jesus -- of Nazareth. It notified the Christians inside they had 48 hours to make a choice: convert to ISIS' oppressive brand of Islam, pay an exorbitant war tax on each individual in the house, or face barbaric execution for the men and enslavement for the women. Defying this choice, most Christians flee. A few days later a second announcement was spray painted on that wall: "Property of the Islamic State."

I couldn't help thinking of the victims of Nazi Germany in World War II. The Star of David was painted on the homes of Jews, and their possessions confiscated by the government. Stories circulated about terrible atrocities and genocide, but they were unbelievable -- even when reports spread from Soviet soldiers coming across places like Auschwitz, as they drove through Poland toward Germany. How many memorials have we built so the world will never see another holocaust like that one? God give wisdom to the leaders of our nation and the world, and guide their considerations!

Of course, Christians aren't the only people fleeing ISIS. Refugees include anyone who is not willing to join the Islamic State such as Shi'a and Sunni Muslims, and other ethnic minorities. Now more than a million refugees are living in tent cities scattered across Lebanon. Hundreds of thousands of children are living without adequate food, hygiene, education or the prospect of a future.

If there is a bright light, it is the brave staff of our Lebanon ministry center. They are going into those camps, sitting down with these displaced families, learning their stories, and addressing individual needs that organizations like the UN and the International Red Cross are unable to meet (medication, diapers, baby formula, etc.). And most importantly, our ministry center personnel are sharing the victorious love of Jesus Christ with people who are homeless, hurting, and in desperate need.

This week I was going to write about a sideline incident in the NFL, but in the big scheme of things it's just that: a sideline incident. I'd encourage you to keep up with the Lebanon story by going to its blog. Click here to read!

Please keep the victims, those who help them, and the entire Middle East in your prayers. If you'd like to learn how you can help fund our Lebanon ministry center's individual care for families, you can do that here.

Reach out to victims of ISIS persecution in Syria and Iraq: Click here!

Your comments on the Men's NetWork blog are always welcome. To tell us what you think, click here!

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