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Last updated March 17.

March 17, 2014 issue

Syria’s faces of war

By Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach Mennonite Central Committee

Rifaat, his family and his brother’s family live in two unfinished rooms in southern Lebanon. They have done their best to fix up the space with a rug and mattresses on the floor for sleeping. But the cold, hard cement floor and walls are still stark and unforgiving.

Lyndaker Schlabach

Lyndaker Schlabach

An allergic reaction left Rifaat’s hands chapped and red, making it hard for him to find work. His son is 11 and requires the use of a wheelchair, an added challenge when living on the second floor of an unfinished building. His 5-year-old daughter has eye problems that started when she was experiencing the trauma of bombings in Syria.

The family fled their home in Aleppo, Syria, a little more than a year ago when the war got too close and even basic necessities like food and water were hard to find. Now they face uncertainty in Lebanon, living in poor conditions and without access to the medical care they need.

Refugees such as Rifaat and his family are faces of the war in Syria. While the nations rage and conspire (Psalm 2:1), civilians continue to suffer. The numbers are staggering: more than 1 million refugees in Lebanon alone, a country with a population of just 4 million. A million more refugees are in the other neighboring countries. Within Syria an estimated 9.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

On a recent visit to Lebanon, many Syrians expressed their strong desire for peace and a longing to return home. Citing a history of living together as various ethnic and religious groups, they said Syrians could work things out with one another. Some noted there have been some local cease-fires in areas where government and opposition forces know one another. Peacebuilding trainers also said they are getting more requests than they can accommodate.

But the increasing involvement of foreign fighters, along with funding and weapons from outside countries, is complicating the conflict immensely. The outside countries cited most frequently were the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran and Russia.

Rifaat’s daughter sleeps in the corner of their apartment. The family’s full names are not being used for security reasons.

Rifaat’s daughter sleeps in the corner of their apartment. The family’s full names are not being used for security reasons. — Photo by Doug Hostetter/MCC

While the U.S. government says it is working to broker peace through negotiations, it is also directly involved in the conflict by providing support to opposition forces. Many in Washington believe helping the opposition gain an advantage on the battlefield will strengthen their position at the negotiating table.

But as Archbishop Jean Kawak of the Syrian Orthodox Church points out, “You can’t get to peace through violence.” What is needed instead, he and other Syrians said, is an immediate cease-fire and an end to outside funding and weapons. This can help lay the groundwork for a political agreement that ensures the rights of all Syrians.

When I asked Rifaat and his family what message they would like to tell the U.S. government, they said they just want the violence to end so they can go home. As people committed to following Christ’s way of peace, we must earnestly pray and work toward this end. See a related prayer and ways to get involved at

Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach directs the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office.


  • I welcome this ever-so-carefully worded encouragement that we urge the U.S. government to stop supporting the terror and violence in Syria.

    What portion of the Mennonite world knows of the snipers who killed protesters and police four years ago when the "Arab Spring" arrived in Syria? What portion knows of the alliance among the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Israel to recruit, train and equip Wahabi jihadists to use violence to bring down the Syrian government? What portion knows that the claims that Assad's forces gassed all those innocent children last August have been discredited? A very low percentage, I assume.

    The Mennonite media has done little-to-nothing to help us understand this ongoing atrocity by revealing the lies and deceptions we hear repeated every day on NPR and FOX News.

    During February, we saw another version of this played out today with the Ukraine, where the U.S. strategy ha been the same as in Syria, and we will see it again in Venezuela, which in coming months will almost certainly descend into violence and chaos because of U.S. financing of criminal violence against that society.

    Yet again, our Mennonite media are addressing this evil primarily by reporting on Mennonite relief efforts, never on the U.S. role in causing the death and suffering. Thus, we can smugly pat ourselves on the back while ignoring our complicity in the violence via the government we support.

    Yet, I will rejoice in small blessings - that the deceit in Syria has been sufficiently exposed that MCC's representative in Washington can cautiously suggest to us that we politely ask the recipient of our tax dollars to stop supporting the murder of the innocents.

    Thank you, Rachelle!

    - Berry Friesen (mar 18 at 9:18 a.m.)

  • CORRECTION: The "Arab Spring" came to Syria three years ago.

    - Berry Friesen (mar 18 at 9:36 a.m.)

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