With hundreds of thousands dead and millions fleeing their homes, how do you even begin to pray for a situation as terrible and complex as the Syria/Iraq refugee crisis? One of our Tearfund workers in the Middle East has some thoughts…
I’m a frontline worker in the Syria and Iraq crises. Yet if I’m honest, when it comes to praying for the region I often don’t know where to start.
The recent heartbreaking images of refugees travelling to Europe are moving many, thankfully, to pray and act. But what about the source of the problem – the conflicts in the Middle East triggering the mass movements?
In a tragedy so vast and complex, can I believe my prayers will make any real dent? I mean, ‘Peace in the Middle East, please’ feels vague and frankly a bit unrealistic, given everything I’ve seen and heard here.
I dared to pray a crazy prayer: that the monthly food packages we deliver would stretch to feed extra mouths.
The other day I decided to put the question to God: what can I pray that will make a concrete difference? Just thinking about the array of needs was overwhelming, so I decided to start small.
I found myself praying that today, if anyone was planning a suicide bombing in the region, the detonator would malfunction. I could believe that might happen. People and their struggles may be complicated and unpredictable, but I can always focus on practical things.
In that vein I could also pray that today, somewhere, a weapon aimed at an innocent person would miss its target. That every barrel bomb dropped today would land on empty ground.
That weapons shipments would be damaged in transit (rusted from a leaking container, perhaps?) and arrive unusable. That weather conditions would disrupt a planned attack - maybe a sandstorm would do the job.
I started to get excited. This might be manageable after all: simply praying in bite-sized chunks for whatever small things come to mind.
For people needing aid, I could pray that the right help would reach the right ones. And for safety, strength and guidance for aid workers such as our staff and partners, who are doing amazing work to meet the needs; that the efforts of all the aid organisations would be fruitful today.
What about the many people outside the reach of aid, because numbers are too great for the available resources or because they are trapped in areas too dangerous to access?
‘We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.’
Then I remembered the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath in 1 Kings 17, whose last remaining jar of flour and jug of oil kept flowing without running out. So I dared to pray a crazy prayer: that the monthly food packages we deliver would stretch to feed extra mouths, and that in places where we or others can’t deliver, scarce supplies would be miraculously multiplied.
We may never know if such prayers are answered. We’ll likely only hear about the attacks that do happen, not the many that failed, and the people who continue to be in need, not the many whose needs were wonderfully met.
But small, incremental prayers about small things might just add up over time. I am convinced that in the years to come many extraordinary stories will emerge from this crisis, of provision when resources were scarce, of protection from attacks, and even of hearts turned away from violence. We are already hearing some such stories on the ground.
I often think of a quote from Mother Teresa: ‘We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.’
A lot of bullets will be fired today in this broken region. But just imagine that because of your small prayer, one less bullet may be fired. One more person may receive aid. One more family may even find the security and resources to stay, rather than make a treacherous journey. And one boat less might sink.
This is not about my prayers, or yours. It’s about our prayers. Together, their cumulative effect and the actions of a Sovereign God could just turn the tide.
Is there anything small that you can think to pray for the Middle East, just for today?
Learn how Tearfund are responding to the refugee crisis, in The Middle East and Africa as well as in Europe.