Hear my prayer, LORD, listen to my cry for help; do not be deaf to my weeping. I dwell with you as a foreigner, a stranger, as all my ancestors were. – Psalm 39:12
Isis overran Mosul like a bulldozer lining up on a sand castle. They captured armories and ATMs, millennia of priceless history and religious artifacts. What’s more, in a single summer week in 2014, they destroyed the resolve of a nation and crushed the remnants of resilience yet belonging to the already war-weary people of northern Iraq.
A woman named Mara lived with her husband and three children near Mosul. Isis didn’t completely take over her neighborhood, but when they put a dead rat on the family’s doorstep and left a threatening message, Mara decided it was time to flee. They hurried from their home, moving around the allegedly safer quarters of Iraq before departing the country altogether and arriving in Beirut in October 2015.
Inundated with Syrians and, for decades more, Palestinians, Lebanon is unable to give Iraqi refugees the aid they require. Those who fled Mosul and the Nineveh Plains immediately after the city’s fall made it onto lists with local relief organizations, and so, ironically, were fortunate to have bolted early. Mara’s family, however, came too late. The aid groups targeting Iraqis had their hands tied, working beyond their capacities to assist those already present. Iraqis who arrived after January 2015 were having a hard time finding help.
A relative helped Mara’s family wrangle an apartment—a small room with a little kitchenette for which they pay $400 a month. Inside, the stress is almost tangible.
Making ends meet is a tall order. Mara doesn’t have a paying job. She must care for her children and husband, who worked as a taxi driver in Iraq, but now suffers from stress and a worsening case of diabetes that hinders his chances at employment.
The answers to Mara’s problems are not as simple as quoting Bible verses or saying prayers. They never have been.
It is a neighborhood health clinic under the auspices of the Middle East Council of Churches that helps Mara’s family by giving them food support, clothing, and checking on their health needs.
It is a local church that took them in and calls them family.
It is a group of Beiruti nuns with whom Mara volunteers who give her bread to supplement her family’s meager diet.
To be sure, there are secular and Islamic NGOs doing terrific work for refugees in Lebanon and around the globe, but for many like Mara and her family, it is the Church, through local Christians and congregations, that gives help and hope—even and especially when all other helpers fail.