My Syrian Neighbors

Rhonda Egging is a Covenant missionary serving in Sweden and Russia.

“We had a beautiful home in downtown Damascus. Our sons went to school around the corner. My husband taught math and I taught English at the university nearby,” Mazeia said as she offered me a small cup of steaming cardamom coffee.

She sipped her coffee and looked out the window of her family’s tiny apartment into the gray skies of southern Sweden.

“One day I returned from work to find our building gone. It was all gone. Bombed. I could not even find a photograph in the rubble.”

“Where were your children?”

“I found them at school. I told Ibrahim we must leave the city, but he thought things would get better and he didn’t want to lose his job. He stayed.”

“Where did you go?”

“We had a home in a small village where I hoped we could rest, but that home was bombed too. I could not sleep any longer. I took my children and flew to my sister in France.”

Mazeia is one of the lucky ones. She got out of Syria at the beginning of the destruction. Her husband waited another year and joined the many desperate people we see on the nightly news. He walked for seventy-two days across Syria into Turkey, paid for passage in a rickety boat to Greece, was arrested and then let go before safely making his way to Sweden.

My husband, Kent, served as a Covenant pastor for nearly thirty years and he heard many stories, but the stories we hear from the refugees coming into Sweden sound more like those told by Holocaust survivors. No one wanted to move. The choice was to leave or be killed.

As refugees arrive in Sweden and apply for asylum, the migration agency places them in camps or small villages like ours in southern Sweden. They are each given emergency bedding and one small bag of supplies. Eventually they receive a stipend and can try to rent a place of their own and buy their own groceries, but their basic needs do not end there.

This is where the church comes in. These folks need more than a warm bed and a roof over their heads. They need to see that all is not lost and that God is alive and working through his people.

Wednesday night, the church in our village opens its doors to all who need help with Swedish language, culture, clean clothes, and friendship.

One night I sat next to Shashia. Dressed in tight jeans, leather jacket, sneakers, and lots of eye makeup, she could have been an American teen. I attempted to talk to her in Swedish, but she quickly changed to perfect English.

Shashia and her family, smuggled out of Aleppo a few months earlier, represented the small percentage of Armenian Christians who lived in Syria before the war.

“What do you miss most about Syria?” I asked.

“I miss my friends, but I am happy to be with my family.”

“What do you like about Sweden?”

“I like all of you.”

And we like her and her family. Tears spring to my eyes whenever I consider the awesome privilege I have been given to know Mazeia, Shashia, and all their relatives and compatriots who have become my neighbors and friends.

There has not been such a large migration of people groups since the end of World War II. God is on the move and we join him in his work.

Used with permission of the Covenant Companion.

Originally published as part of the March 2016 Serve Globally newsletter.

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