Update on Syria

WINS given at Anglican church – Advent Sunday 29 Nov 2020

Deacon Margaret Holt

During the time 2007-2010, when I was living in the ME, I assisted Manara Ministries, a local Christian Jordanian organization, with food distributions for Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria. It was during this time that I met Amer who was a project officer at Manara…

Amer told me that there were a number of Iraqi women who had ended up in prostitution in Syria because they were alone and unable to support themselves after fleeing from the violence in Iraq….

Iqbal is an Iraqi woman, who came to Syria in 2007 in the hope of appealing for asylum through the UN and getting safely to another country. Her story is typical of many of these women we have assisted in Syria….

Her mother and father were dead and her two brothers were murdered in Iraq by terrorists…. Hence, Iqbal has no male protector left in her family and this made her extremely vulnerable in ME culture. She came to Syria alone and expected she would be there for only a short time. …

Time went on, Iqbal heard nothing from the UN, and then she was no longer able to support herself (not legally able to work).

She was lured into prostitution to survive and had been living this life for 3 years when we met her in 2010…

Amer and I visited Iqbal in an outer suburb of Damascus, and sat with her and listened to her story. Amer asked me to pray and I put my arms around her and she is crying as I’m praying.

We gave her some money for food and other needs and leave but we continued to keep in touch with her. Within the following year, Iqbal had become the mentor and leader of all the other women and remained so for almost nine years… we have cared for around 600 woman and their children over the 10 years, with usually around 60 – 80 women and their families at any one time.

When Amer was so dangerously ill for a year from June 2013 to late 2014, Iqbal faithfully led the monthly meetings, distributed the food parcels, shared the devotions we sent and prayed with the women…

By mid-2018, the war, which began in Syria in 2011, had dragged to its end but the country is devastated. The beautiful city of Aleppo is destroyed and the infrastructure in Damascus still hasn’t recovered, two years later….//

Iqbal started to get some regular work in the Iraqi school in Damascus in 2018, helping care for the children which she loved, and early in 2019 the process for her to get a visa to the US began. Iqbal left for her new life in the US mid-2019, 12 years after she first fled to Syria from the war in Iraq….

After nine years of leading and caring for the women there, Iqbal’s leaving left a big hole. Everyone misses her dreadfully but a wonderful woman named Lara, who had been with the group for many years, has taken over this role. She also had been in prostitution in her early years in Syria before she became part of our group. She met a Syrian widower living in the same apartment building and they married a few years ago but Lara remained with the group because they are her friends and support. Lara’s daughter Hiba, who was a teenager when Lara first came to Syria, has also since married a Syrian man and they have a beautiful daughter Maya. It is good to see some normality coming into their lives instead of them being ‘refugees’ all the time.

We call our friends in Syria the WINs – Women in Need. We have been supporting them, in prayer, financially, and with love since 2010. For the first few years or so we mainly paid for many of the women to do courses which were provided by the NGO’s so that the women could support themselves in other ways and leave prostitution. They did hairdressing, sewing, computers… it was like $50 for a two or three month course – a lot for them but not much for us… unfortunately with the coming of the war in Syria most NGO’s and the UN had left the country by 2013 and so for many years we have supported with monthly food parcels and other needs including medications and medical appointments. Those courses didn’t go to waste. The women were able to make a little money for their families through the years of the war with hairdressing and sewing….

Now, two years after the end of the war, electricity is still on only about 4 hours a day, and everything is still extremely expensive, so we still assist with monthly food parcels. This last year, the WINS women as a group, have been given bulk orders for sewing, the first to make new curtains, sheets, table cloths etc for the convent where the women have their meetings, and the other an order for more than 200 school uniforms from one of the schools. These have been a wonderful income for them…

The last four years, as a Christmas gift, because it is coming in to winter now in Syria and very cold there, we have raised tens of thousands of dollars and given fuel vouchers which provide these families with heating for the whole months of winter. We buy the heater initially and then vouchers that enable them to cook and have some heating for several hours a day over 3 to 4 months. This is the best gift we could give them!

We also give emergency vouchers to Lara to provide for new families who will come for help during the winter months…

These women are constantly amazed that there are people from another country who have never met them, who care about them - this love and care means so much to them…

Amer, who has been central for all of this work over the past 10 years, has been unable to go in to Syria these past months due to the borders being closed. Jordan had begun to relax slightly some of their restrictions a month or so ago but, like so many other places around the world, there was an increase in new cases of COVD 19 and so restrictions have been reinforced. Everything is closed once again….

We give much thanks that all of the women in Syria and their families have been safe and well during this pandemic. Please continue to pray for them.

We are not sure when Amer will be able to travel but Lara is ably caring for the women and families, and their monthly support continues.

Please pray also for our dear Iqbal in the US. Amer has recently spoken to her and she is missing her friends and community in Syria and finding it difficult to settle in. We pray that she will be blessed with a group of loving and supportive friends within the community where she is….

I would like to just share the devotion which I sent to the women in Syria this Christmas:

Devotion Christmas 2020

For everything there is a season,

And a time for every matter under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

A time to break down, a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;

A time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to seek, and a time to lose;

A time to keep, and a time to throw away;

A time to tear, and a time to sew;

A time to keep silence and a time to speak;

A time to love…

(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Dear sisters,

It has been a strange year indeed! The spread of the Coronavirus around the world has affected us all, rich and poor alike, every country is affected in some way although some countries have been particularly hit hard.

The coronavirus does not differentiate! So, we are praying together, this Christmas time, especially for those countries who don’t have the medical facilities and health care to cope with a pandemic of this nature, and whose people, therefore, are especially vulnerable. You are much in our thoughts and prayers….

A few months ago, my beloved cousin, Leonie, passed away after a long battle with cancer. She was an inspiration in many ways and so courageous. Her two daughters chose the above reading from the book of Ecclesiastes as one of the two Bible readings at Leonie’s funeral. It is a reading which reminds us of the journey of life for us all…. There is joy, there is sadness, death, life, laughter, tears… but through all of our journey of life, there is the Sacred Heart of Love surrounding us, within us, and holding us through every step we take…

At a country hospital where I worked as a nurse and midwife, the palliative care room was in the same wing as the maternity unit. At times, it seemed a little odd. Palliative care being where we cared for people in the last days of their life, with their grieving families, and mothers with their new born crying babies in the rooms nearby. It was done this way simply for staffing logistical reasons…. As one of the midwives, I found myself on more than one long night shift, caring for a person close to death, with their closest loved ones gathered around them in the dim, still light, and then I’d be called away to tend to a mother in labour, with her loved ones gathered around her, and help her bring a new life in to the world. One night I returned to the palliative care family, after one such delivery, to find their loved one had quietly passed away. They had asked the other attending nurses where I had gone and they were told; ‘oh, Margo is the midwife and she is down with a woman in labour…’ I remember, in the midst of their grief, in such a surreal moment, a brightness come in to their faces; ‘ah, ‘Pete’ has gone but at the same time a new life was being born…. Life and death, sadness and joy, that is the way of things isn’t it?’ they said to me… This news of a new life had comforted them and brought light and hope…. And this is very much the sense behind this reading from Ecclesiastes:

For everything there is a season,

…. a time to be born, and a time to die;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;

A time to mourn, and a time to dance;

And through all of these stages of life, a time to love….

The following reading from the Song of Songs is one of my favourites and as we near the end of 2020, this beautiful reading gives us hope and joy in the love and compassion that is always with us:

My Beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; 11 for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. 12 The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. 13 The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. (Song of Songs 2:10-13)

The Love of the Sacred Heart always draws us close to Him, even through the deep cold of the winter times of our lives, and through this time when our entire communities are being affected by the danger of this pandemic. This beautiful reading from Song of Songs reminds us that the Spring and Summer will always come with new life, joy and love. What I especially love about this reading, is that it was written in the Middle East so it’s word picture of Spring and Summer, my sisters, will be very familiar to you! The wild flowers and birds singing, the figs ripening, the vines blooming, the fragrance of the blossom….

The winter, in the manner of the seasons, will end once more and the spring of new life will come. It is the Christmas message of the Christ Child, God’s gift of love to us…. New life, peace and joy….

St Julian of Norwich, an English saint, is well known for her words of comfort and assurance after dark and difficult times;

“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” ― (St Julian of Norwich)

These words reflect absolute trust in a loving God…

Know that when you seek the face of God, his face is already turned towards you. We do not have to pound on the door to ask God to open to us. The door to God’s heart is always open to us and he will always love and enfold us when we come. You see, when we call out to God, it means he has already called out to us first… always…

The Beloved One is always turned towards us, always calling to us, the door of his heart is always open to us…

Whatever is happening in the world, whatever we may bear in our own individual lives, may your heart be the Manger of the Christ Child who dwells within you and then hope, love, courage and yes, joy and assurance will always remain with you.

May God our Beloved give you peace and joy this Christmas time, my sisters,

My Beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; 11 for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone….

With much love and peace,

Margo and your friends in Australia


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