Monday, November 4, 2013
Whenever You Helped the Least of These: Helping refugees who have lost faith a big task for Caritas Jordan, director (Pt. 2 of 7)
By Jimmy Patterson
AMMAN, Jordan — In his book “Mere Christianity,” C.S. Lewis argues that we all want the same thing: to be treated with dignity. Now, or centuries ago, Lewis says it is the one human law that has really never changed. Jew. Christian. Muslim. All have their differences in the way they practice their faith but the fact remains that most everyone wants to be treated the same way they would treat others.
The law of treating others with dignity is what Caritas Internationalis is based on, and those characteristics are exemplified through the actions of Wael Suleiman, director of Caritas Jordan.
Soon after the Syrian civil war began two years ago, King Abdullah II, no doubt guided by the foresight and integrity of his father, King Hussein of Jordan, opened the kingdom’s borders to those suffering the atrocities of that war. As a result, Jordan saw an average of 3,000 refugees cross into its country from Syria every day. That flow is now at 500-600 a day. Caritas Jordan and the country of Jordan, where it is common to see Christians and Muslims working side by side for the betterment of the lives of those refugees, embody Lewis’ notion that people must all work together.
Under Suleiman’s leadership, Caritas Jordan has served what is believed to be 150,000 refugees. The humanitarian organization has provides education; psycho-social services, such as counseling; food; blankets and other examples of life’s most basic essentials to the Syrian people. He expects that number to climb to 200,000 in 2014. Suleiman’s objective is to provide food for everyone and educations for as many as possible. Perhaps most importantly and most difficult, though, is to re-
instill in the people of Syria that God still loves them.
“When we took in the Iraqi people in Jordan, we did not experience what we are experiencing now,” Suleiman said. “The Syrians have lost their faith. In other wars, people have lost everything but their faith. Not this war. This war, the Syrians are asking us, ‘Is God still there?’ For them, God doesn’t exist anymore. It is something new we are facing.”
Suleiman said he spoke with a young boy, no more than 6, who admitted that after he saw his father killed in front of him, he no longer believes God is there for him.
Convincing people who have lost so much and whose lives are filled with uncertainty and heartbreak that God is still above, taking care of them, is perhaps one of Caritas’ greatest challenges in the region.
“I talked to one mother who came from Syria and she has psychological problems because when she came from Homs, she took her children with her to come to Jordan but when she arrived here, she realized that she had forgotten one of her daughters in Syria,” Suleiman said. “She looked at her children who had come with her and it wasn’t until then that she realized one was missing.”
The family left Syria in such a hurry and under such emotional duress that the mother left her 2-year-old asleep in her bed. There is no way for the woman to return to Syria to check on the child, or to ever learn what happened to her.
“Nothing is possible to that mother,” Suleiman said. “She is living in a very bad moment. She is thinking, ‘What if my child has died?’ We have no words to help her. I cannot tell her that God is there. That God loves her.”
Suleiman’s uncle, Michael Suleiman, was a professor at Kansas University, and an educator in America for 40 years. His uncle’s book, “Arab in America,” was a widely read work on his experiences of being Arab in the United States. The same questions his uncle once had, Wael Suleiman has long had. Suleiman learned at an early age of the disparity in the way people are treated. As a young boy, he was rarely, if ever, exposed to anything that could be considered a preferential option for the poor. One day when he was just seven, Suleiman came home from school in Jordan and asked his father why rich children were treated differently than the others. His father told him to go out and play like the other boys and girls. But the younger Suleiman persisted, and by the time he was 10, he had taken himself out of private school and enrolled in the Jordanian public school system so he could interact with children of all types.
Suleiman said he is working on his own book, which he is calling, “Noah’s Ark.” The book is his dream of building a bridge between not only Arabs and Americans but between all people. He recently wrote a letter to Jesus asking him to come again, a second letter to the United Nations and a third letter to unborn children telling them what they should expect when they enter into the world.
What those unborn children will experience, and what Suleiman would want for them are different worlds that he wishes he could join together peacefully.
“We are one human family,” Suleiman said. “It is our responsibility as human beings – you have brothers and sisters in the world and they are a part of us all. And in the end, we are created by one father. Christians, Muslims, Jews, we are all one people. The only solution is solidarity. With solidarity, people can feel love. With solidarity, maybe the people feeling that God is no longer there can feel that He is there and that there is still love.”