What my Disaster Relief Trip to the Middle East is Teaching Me


I recently returned from the Middle East. I was part of a disaster relief trip. The displaced refugees of Syria are everywhere. While each of their stories are different; their respective plights are similar. They have been forced from their home and country by circumstances beyond their control. Even those who fight are often unsure of allegiances which shift like the sand of the desert they inhabit.

My heart has been broken for these men, women and children. While I have never experienced anything approaching the horror and destruction they have endured, my family faced a time of displacement in our own lives. We had toxic Chinese drywall in our home which caused an off-gassing of sulfur which became dangerous when mixed with the humidity of the Deep South and created sulfuric acid. Our home was poisoning us. For five years, we paid a mortgage and utilities on a home we could not live in, on top of rent and utilities to keep a roof over our heads. We moved several times as rental agencies sought to take advantage of our uncertain future by threatening to jack up the rental rates. It was a disaster for us, but the rest of the world continued to turn just as it always had all around us.

As our financial margins decreased and the uncertainty of the future loomed ahead, it felt like we were alone. Our relentless migrancy stirred my soul to yearn to comfort those facing so much more than me.

The Syrian refugee crisis magnifies this displacement on a global scale. They have fled for their lives, divided from family and their futures remain uncertain. They struggle in camps, tents or in subdivided apartments waiting for … hope. The future seems bleak.

The rest of the world moves on with a 24-hour news cycle and 140-character attention spans.

There are scavengers preying on the weak and the most vulnerable. Subdividing apartments into tiny spaces for astronomical rates, a promising word or help that cannot be trusted, and, most horrendously, using these people’s misfortune to enslave them in illegal activity or take advantage of their weakness for exploitation.

Such experiences have a tendency to make one cynical, suspicious and bitter. You become weary of strangers and fearful to trust those who offer help.

As I struggled to process all of these emotions during my visit, I was struck by the dirty little stream that is now what remains of the Jordan River. This water source in the middle of such arid country is a precious resource, highly contested, and is siphoned off by every country at every opportunity to make their deserts bloom.

As I observed the dirty water, I was reminded of a story in the Old Testament that seem to have remarkable similarities. The story of a Syrian military commander described as a “mighty man of valor, but he was a leper.”

Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife.” 2 Kings 5:2

At some point a young Israelite girl was forcibly carried away from her home into slavery. Then, as now, there are many forms of slavery, and while they are all cruel, they are not always equal. This young girl had the good fortune of finding a place in the service of Naaman’s wife. Even with this benefit it would have been easy for her to look at her displacement, cry for the loss of her family and country, and be embittered toward those who created such difficult circumstances.

She recommended Naaman’s wife to seek out the prophet in Israel that Namaan might be healed of his leprosy. Naaman goes to Elisha’s home, and Elisha doesn’t even come out to meet him. Instead he sends a messenger out to tell Naaman to submerge himself in the Jordan River seven times! Naaman is offended because his expectations had not been met and the prescribed means of his healing seemed so humble.

He was not only healed but his life seems to have been radically changed. He was transformed in both body and soul.

What if the Israelite slave had chosen not to share with her masters about the prophet is Israel? What if Naaman’s pride had kept him from doing what the prophet said? What if he had only submerged himself once and given up?

The master and the slave are not so very far apart in this story. Both had experienced a devastation of life as they had known it and found themselves dependent upon the favor of others. There truly is nothing new under the sun. Political unrest, slavery and illness affect us all from greatest to smallest.

Like the slave girl we may feel helpless, but our testimony may be critical to another. Like Naaman, we might be humbled by circumstances beyond our control, but our healing may be only steps away in a dirty river.

Join me in praying through this crisis. Not just for those displaced or sold into slavery but pray for those who are fighting in this conflict, who need healing of both body and soul.

You will not hear about Saul to Paul conversions on the news, but I saw great things happening in the Middle East as nations once separated by a million little arguments find themselves binding together to cope with this crisis. The Holy Spirit is filling the gaps in a million ways both great and humble. Many who lived in previously unreached areas have been forcibly displaced into areas that allow the mercy of Jesus Christ to be poured over them with lavish grace.

Pray that the militants will be humbled by encounters with Christ that challenge their understanding of faith and relationship.

Pray for the displaced and slaves to be emboldened by the Gospel. May the hope of Christ make them braver and stronger than they ever imagined.

Displaced refugees of Syria are everywhere. We might be tempted to pull back, but what if we're not so different?Click To Tweet

On a recent disaster relief trip to the Middle East, I was reminded how even though we are worlds apart, we're really not so very different from these displaced refugees. It's time to lean in and see how we can be a part of change. This experience was a little taste.

Liz Clayton

Liz Clayton

Liz, the mother of two wonderful adult children, and her husband desire to pursue the LORD where ever HE leads… Her spiritual gifts of prayer and encouragement have facilitated work as a disaster relief chaplain and helping parents to actively pray for their children at every age.
Liz Clayton

About Liz Clayton

Liz, the mother of two wonderful adult children, and her husband desire to pursue the LORD where ever HE leads… Her spiritual gifts of prayer and encouragement have facilitated work as a disaster relief chaplain and helping parents to actively pray for their children at every age.