What do you want for Christmas this year? Have you created a gift list or made hints to family and friends about what you want?
Here is a Christmas gift list, not for me but for the region which I call home and that I love dearly – the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). These gifts are not mere stocking fillers and there is no risk of them been left unused or taken to the thrift store after Christmas. They are incredibly precious, highly sought after and sorely needed:
Joy – life is so hard for many in the MENA region and there has been little to smile about in 2015. I long for children and families to be able to escape, if only for a few hours, their daily burdens and be able to enter into the joy of the Christmas season. It was great to see Iraqi and Syrian refugee children at the Christmas events we held last year singing and having fun and the grateful faces of their parents as they received much-needed food vouchers for their families. I am so pleased we are able to do the Christmas events again this year and pray they will be joyous celebrations once more. It may be too incredible to expect much joy and happiness this Christmas in Syria, Lebanon and other neighbouring MENA countries, but I pray that many will experience it.
Hope – after close to five years of war in Syria, millions of Syrians are desperate for a more hopeful future for them and their children. Hundreds of thousands have been in search for this hope and have travelled to Europe on perilous journeys to find this precious gift. My prayer is that somehow many will find this gift is still available in the Middle East. It is a tiny drop in the ocean, but LSESD is providing hope to hundreds of children through the education projects we are supporting at local churches here in Lebanon. By giving them access to education they would not have otherwise received, these children can hope for a better life in the future and one in which they may build a better life for their fellow Syrians and Iraqis too.
Love – the reputation of innocent refugees has been tarnished by the way a few extremists travelled with them commit horrific acts in Paris on 13 November. It saddens me that desperate people who need to feel love and compassion may now experience hate and rejection because of fear and suspicion that they may be terrorists. I pray that the gift of love will overcome fear this Christmas as the impact of the conflict in Syria escalates. We have found when Christians reach out with love to our brothers and sisters in need, barriers are broken down and deep friendships and trust can be formed. It is a huge opportunity for the Church to be salt and light in our communities.
Peace – the Christmas message of peace and goodwill to all people may feel a million miles from what is happening in the Middle East right now. But when that message was given at our Saviour’s birth, it was an equally brutal and dangerous time for the region. May Christ’s peace and love win out against fear and violence in the Middle East this Christmas and in the years to come.
God bless you and your families during this Christmas season and in 2016.
Nabil Costa, Executive Director – LSESD