“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:3-10
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” Luke 6:20-21
God teaches us in surprising ways.
Over the last few days, God has been teaching me about gratitude and joy through refugee children.
An Al-Jazeera article, published on August 14, 2017, details the plight of the 50,000 Syrians currently stranded at the border. (http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/08/50000-stranded-jordan-syria-border-170815004814548.html)
Roughly 4000 refugees living in a region called Hadalat are subsisting on little more than water and flour. In other border areas they have been exposed to air attacks. The majority are women and children, and they represent a small portion of the nearly 5,000,000 Syrian refugees worldwide (with an additional 6,000,000 internally displaced).
Over the last week or so, I’ve been following the journey of Imam Omar Suleiman (resident scholar of Valley Ranch Islamic Center, President of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, and professor of Islamic Studies at Southern Methodist University). Suleiman, along with other members of the Islamic relief group Helping Hand for Relief and Development, has been working to build schools and homes for the refugees living near the northern border of Jordan. He has posted regular updates during his stay, sharing pictures and stories of the children he has encountered in the camp under the hashtag #HumansofSyria.
Among the stories he has shared:
Ghuroob, a 10 year old girl, whose name means sunset. While making their escape from Syria, her brother passed out two hours from the border. The two had nothing to eat until they caught and killed a snake.
Abdulkareem, a young man unable to walk. His father carried him on his back as they fled their home. He had been trapped inside a tent for over a year after arriving in the refugee camp. HHRD provided him with his first wheelchair.
Mahmoud Ammara, a 12 year old boy whose father had just died of cancer.
Aminah, a six month old girl suffering from kidney stones. Her family hung her bassinet above the ground to keep snakes and scorpions from crawling into her bed.
Despite the hardships they have faced, the children are smiling in almost every picture. In videos, they laugh and play, giving Suleiman high fives and showing off for the camera. In one photograph, a group of the children are racing members of the HHRD team.
“They don’t have toys, but they sure love to race,” Suleiman wrote. “Somehow, they seem to be the happiest kids in the world.”
I don’t want to romanticize their plight. Beyond the physical of injuries and illnesses they struggle with, many of them face issues like post traumatic stress disorder. Still, the pictures and stories of their joy and resilience cannot be dismissed. These children can teach all of us what it means to live a life of gratitude, about how to embrace joy in any circumstance. Despite all that they have lost, all that they have suffered, they are still able to find happiness. In the words of the Psalmist, God has turned their mourning into dancing, has taken off their sackcloth and clothed them in joy.
When I look at them, I also hear the words that Jesus spoke in the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain. When He talks about the Kingdom of God, He says that it will be made up of people like Ghuroob and Abdulkareem. He tells us that the poor and humble will be blessed, that those who suffer today will be granted joy and peace in the Kingdom tomorrow. He repeatedly says that those who are trodden underfoot will inherit the earth. In other parables, Jesus tells us that God’s Kingdom will be like a great feast and that children like Mahmoud and Aminah will be the honored guests. They will be given the best seats at the King’s table. If this is how God views them, can we do any less? Is the servant greater than his Master?
I do not believe that God caused the tragedy and misery that has destroyed so much of Syria. I do not believe that God causes death and destruction in order to serve some greater purpose, but I do believe that God is at work in in the refugee camps. I believe that God can craft miracles out of rubble. In the #HumansofSyria, I see God at work, teaching us how to love, how to live in gratitude and what it means to live in the Kingdom.
To view Imam Omar Suleiman’s #HumansofSyria series, you can visit his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/imamomarsuleiman/ or follow him on Twitter @omarsuleiman504. You can learn more about the work being done by Helping Hand for Relief at http://www.hhrd.org