By Candice Hill Buchbinder, ELCA News
The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), met with Syrian refugees living in the Za’atari refugee camp during a Dec. 12-15 trip to Jordan.
Eaton, who was joined by Archbishop Antje Jackelen of the Church of Sweden and Gloria Rojas Vargas, former church president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile, visited the camp’s Peace Oasis, a compound operated by The Lutheran World Federation (LWF). While there, the church leaders talked with refugee families, listening to their stories about life in the camp. Many families are facing their fifth winter being displaced from their homes.
“The Syrian refugees are incredibly resilient,” said Eaton. “We met a family where the father lost two of his sons in the Syrian war. He had worked 30 years to have his own farm and lost it all. A young girl was showing me images of burned bodies on her cellphone. And yet the parents are doing everything to keep their children engaged and out of trouble. Some have painted their houses, trying to bring some beauty to such a stark place. It’s incredible.”
According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, nearly 80,000 Syrian refugees are housed at Za’atari refugee camp. At the Peace Oasis, LWF offers psychosocial support to the refugees through workshops, training, music and crafts. LWF is a global communion of 145 churches in the Lutheran tradition, representing over 72 million Christians in 98 countries. The ELCA is the communion’s only member church from the United States.
“The suffering of the people in Syria is real,” said Eaton. “Bombs are falling on these people who just want to live their lives.”
The church leaders also met with Jordan’s prime minister, Abdullah Ensour, and several members of the Jordanian cabinet.
In their conversation, Ensour spoke of how important Christians are to Jordanian society. “God would not consider me a good Muslim if I didn’t love Christ,” he said.
Stressing the need for help from the Christian community in dealing with the influx of refugees, Ensour said of the 7 million people living in Jordan, 1.5 million are refugees and only 600,000 of those are registered.
“We believe that the cross of life is where there is suffering,” said Eaton. “It certainly is in that camp in Jordan, and it’s our calling in God’s world to alleviate these people’s suffering.”