God called me to love and listen to refugees
by Rev. Rachel Baughman
“Learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression, and bring about justice for the orphans and widows.”
As a product of The United Methodist Church tradition, I have grown up very proud of the way that our denomination is at work in the midst of crises around the world. Over the years, I have learned the importance of our connectional system because of the way that it extends the reach of that ministry into faraway places. As l searched for United Methodist efforts in Lebanon, the nation to accept the greatest number of Syrian refugees, I found no denominational presence. Empowered and encouraged by our tradition, a small team of us decided not to be deterred by the lack of substantial United Methodist presence in the region. We would plant new relief efforts under the banner of the tradition that formed us.
God called me to love and listen to refugees, but not from a distance. To listen, I had to spend time with those who suffer and struggle to find home. Countries closed borders. Nations tell refugees, with a global voice, that there is no home for them in this world. To love, I had to hold their children, ask them questions, and hear their hopes on coastlines, in camps and along border fences.
Although I started my work with refugees in Lesvos as many were crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey into Greece, our work has shifted its focus to Lebanon — a country defined by tolerance and interfaith cooperation, despite the perception held by many Americans that it is frozen in 40-year-old television news clips.
Lebanon’s population has swelled by more than 50 percent because of their commitment to welcoming the stranger. Pouring into their borders is an entire generation that bears the emotional, spiritual and mental scars of trauma. Young refugees need education, mental health support and are earnestly looking for meaning. There is no United Methodist presence in the entire nation of Lebanon. We will change that through Safe Spaces.
This year, we established Safe Spaces Lebanon as a faith-based nonprofit to leverage the resources of faith communities and individuals in the U.S. and empower Syrian refugees who are experiencing the devastating effects of the war. Our goal is to move with care and compassion in responding to the needs of refugees. After three extended trips to Lebanon and nearly a year of relationship-building with refugees, aid workers and Lebanese people on multiple continents, we are confident that the greatest lever we have for effecting positive change is education coupled with psycho-social development. We are going to build schools that employ, partner with and empower indigenous experts as well as refugees themselves so that they are providing the best possible solutions strengthened by the educational, mental health and financial resources we are uniquely suited to provide.
The first school will be a prototype — flexible, experimental and replicable — so that we can develop more schools in the coming years. As we learn from it, we will chart out a course to open additional schools to meet the needs of refugee children in other regions of Lebanon.
I hope that you will live into our Methodist heritage and join our effort to shine light in the darkness. There is a brighter future for our world through the work of Safe Spaces Lebanon as we offer hope to a generation of traumatized children. Your prayers and financial support are needed as we seek to facilitate the reconstruction of a building for the first Safe Spaces school.
To make a donation, write a check to “Safe Spaces Lebanon” and send it to 3014 Oak Lawn Ave., Dallas, TX 75219, or go online to www.safespaceslebanon.com and click on the donate button to donate by PayPal.