When asked “What would your dream gift be this Christmas?” Hashem*, a seven year old Syrian boy relied “To eat chicken!”
Thankfully, that was the meal presented that day in one of the 14 Christmas events held so far this year in both Lebanon and Syria. LSESD has had the honor of hosting a total of 1,348 children so far in Christmas events held in a variety of churches around both countries. The events included some worship along with a small message shared either through a play, song, skit or spoken word. Gifts were then distributed, games were played and a nice, warm and healthy meal was shared. The joy on the children’s faces was impossible not to see! The experiences at these events moved everyone present to a combination of tears of joy and sorrow equally.
The majority of the attendees were either orphans or internally displaced and vulnerable children that had underwent all kinds of trauma throughout the crisis in Syria. It was evident throughout most of the events that it had been a very long time since the children had enjoyed themselves to this extent. They were very passionately indulging in their meals as well! One of the mothers mentioned “It had been quite some time since my children had access to a nice, warm and healthy meal”.
The gifts provided consisted mainly of winter jackets, books, toys, winter shoes, and bags of sweets or candy. Both the children and their parents expressed deep gratitude and excitement for the presents. One mother mentioned that although they had gotten invited to a few other events recently, the majority of them required an entrance fee or were very meticulous with their choice of invitees. She carried on saying “This is the first time I have attended an event that was so inclusive and welcomed children from all backgrounds”. She was taken back by the fact that children from different religions, sects, and economic circumstances all got the opportunity to participate and receive presents and food.
The attendees at one of the events mentioned a deep appreciation for the sense of unity and inclusion they experienced. The play presented by that church themed around individuals accepting others that are different from them. The main message was that Jesus loves us all, regardless of our nationality, religion, race, gender and so on. This lead to the children and the parents both expressing a great sense of feeling included and loved regardless of who they were. Another thing that stood out was how much the children loved the winter coats they were given as gifts! One mother stated “My daughters even wanted to wear the coats to bed and refused to take them off!” The following Sunday, nearly all the children who attended that church came wearing their new coat with big smiles on their faces. At the end of the event, one little boy asked “Can I please stay here longer? I am having such a good time with you!”
The children at the event held by one of the churches had such a spectacular time sharing their meal with the event organizers, chatting and taking photos which they later looked at with huge smiles on their faces. One of the most heart-warming moments occurred in a church where the sound of the 115 children singing the new worship song at the top of their lungs nearly brought the building down! It was truly incredible to hear those traumatized voices return to their state of innocence and sound beyond angelic. When asked to share a few words at the end of the event, a handful of children said “Thank you for loving us and caring for us and bringing us food and gifts!” However other replies were smeared with evident hardship and adversity “God protect your journeys and keep you from every harm, war and death. May he keep your eyes open to always feel for the disadvantaged ones around you.”
The stories were endless as were the smiles that brought all the warmth to everyone’s hearts and made us all continue to wish we could do more. May this Christmas and the coming year always remind us all to keep our eyes open to those around us that wish for nothing more this Christmas but to eat some chicken!
Finally, we’re very grateful to our partners for helping us put a smile on the faces of the children.
* Names have been changed
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