DAMASCUS, Syria (BP)—"I am staying," a Baptist pastor in Syria said. "They tell me to travel, to leave, to emigrate, but I tell them I am staying."
He is one of several pastors who serve in Baptist churches throughout Syria caught up in civil war.
"I am staying for the church, to keep the message of Jesus as a light for the lost and frightened," the pastor said. "I am staying because the harvest is plentiful. I am staying to serve the needy."
The pastor, weeping, quoted the prophet Jeremiah, "'Oh that my head was water and my eyes were pools of water, that I may cry for the dead of my people.'
"Even though we are living in difficult times, let us not stop being faithful to our Lord."
Every day the numbers rise as Syria's crisis rages out of control and spills across borders into neighboring countries. There are now more than 2 million refugees, 5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 100,000 dead.
"This is an unparalleled challenge," said Don Alan*, a senior missions strategist for the Middle East. "It is destabilizing the whole region."
Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt struggle to cope with the escalating Syrian refugee situation. Within Syria, civilians are caught between armed rebels and government troops.
Over a period of three days in mid-August, 30,000 Syrians crossed the border into northern Iraq, overwhelming refugee camps. Drinking water and sanitation immediately became critical needs. Typically 6,000 Syrians a day flee their nation, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The influx into Iraq nearly doubled that figure.
Hundreds of civilians were killed, meanwhile, and thousands wounded as a result of a chemical weapons attack on the suburbs of Damascus. Both sides in the conflict accuse the other of this violation of international law. Most of the world's superpowers, however, suspect the Syrian government as the perpetrator and are considering punitive action.
A regional risk assessment consultant who advises Christian organizations said, "Analysts seem to believe that if such action does occur it will be a limited strike on Syrian government targets."
He urged Christian workers in the region to be diligent, increasing their situational awareness, paying close attention to how they may be perceived by the local population and national governments.
The consultant said the possibility of punitive military action against Syria increases the risk.
"The whole region in the Middle East is suffering under oppression," the Syrian pastor lamented. "Everything is under threat—our choices, lives and future. There is great pain and depression."
Valerie Amos, United Nations under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said, "We are not only watching the destruction of a country but also of its people."
Half of Syria's 2 million refugees are children; three-fourths of them are under the age of 11. Many are undocumented and easily fall prey to exploitation. They display symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and experience elevated levels of depression.
"They are the hidden casualties of war," a spokesman for Save the Children said.
"What is at stake is nothing less than the survival and well-being of a generation of innocents," UNHCR High Commissioner Antonio Guterres said. "The youth of Syria are losing their homes, their family members and their future. Even after they have crossed a border to safety, they are traumatized, depressed and in need of a reason for hope."
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