Traveling to Jordan…
Questscope had intrigued me for years. I’d heard Questscope founder, Dr. Curt Rhodes, speak at Asbury several times and had closely followed the work the Questscope staff is doing with refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey. I knew Questscope and Curt Rhodes were on the front lines of the crisis in the Middle East. While most people are running away from the region, Curt and his staff have decided to stay and remain faithful to their calling.
I was privileged to view their ministry up close and personally in early 2017. I and five others from Asbury traveled to Amman, Jordan, to visit Curt and observe the impact of Questscope. Our first morning in Amman we met with Curt and his staff to learn about the structure and daily life in Za’atari, the refugee camp we would visit. I felt I knew what to expect because I had seen photos of the camp. Families live in metal shipping containers in harsh conditions in the middle of the desert. But reality was different. I wasn’t prepared for cinder block walls 10’ high with razor wire strung across the top. Nor was I expecting heavily armed Jordanian police at the entrance. It felt like prison – refugees can get in, but they can’t get out.
Amidst the “prison” atmosphere of the camp, Questscope was a beacon of hope. Their compound of shipping containers had been transformed into brightly painted classrooms for music lessons, English classes, a computer lab, an art studio, a library, and a mentoring/counseling center. Youth served by Questscope utilized a soccer field in their compound and women took Zumba classes in the makeshift gym.
I was struck by the sheer numbers at Za’atari, now the fourth largest “city” in Jordan with a population of 85,000+. Four refugee camps are in Jordan with many in Turkey and Lebanon as well. The refugees have temporary electricity but no plumbing. We learned the average stay in a refugee camp worldwide is 17 years. Yes, 17 years . . . and 80% of refugees never return home (because there is nothing to return to).
The stats are bleak, but the strength and hope of the Syrian people we encountered was inspiring. Just before lunch, our team sat down with three Syrian women as we shared our stories. These women were college educated. All had professional jobs, homes, cars, took family vacations and lived a life very similar to ours. At least until the Syrian war. One day life was normal; the next they were fleeing with nothing but the clothes on their back. That’s the moment I realized just how much we have in common. That’s the moment I realized “this could be me”.
The next day we went to another city in Jordan. This was a city of light and dark contrast. In one area it was thriving. New upscale homes were being constructed. Blocks of restaurants, hotels and gift shops filled the streets. Across town, however, was a neighborhood of slums where garbage littered the streets and sidewalks. Children played in the streets, but adults stayed out of sight. This was the neighborhood where undocumented Palestinian Syrian refugees live and the place we had come to visit.
Our team had been invited to visit three undocumented Palestinian/Syrian refugee families. We witnessed the fear in their eyes, as they worry about being discovered. Discovery would mean being deported back to Syria – a country torn apart by war, a country where ISIS is present, a country where they are not welcome. Undocumented refugees have no place. They cannot enter refugee camps, their children cannot attend school, they do not receive assistance from the UN nor NGOs. They have no place to call home. In southern Jordan, we came face to face with the least, the last, and the lost.
We were visiting a place where parents have to choose between selling their 12 – 14-year-old daughters into marriage to men who are 4 times their age. Reality is having to decide between sacrificing your daughter or feeding your family. These young wives – in a couple years – will be returned discarded and penniless, often with a child or two.
In the midst of this nightmare, Questscope is there when no one else is. Questscope is providing monthly food vouchers to families so parents can avoid having to make unbearable decisions. They are also on the frontlines providing employment training so undocumented refugees can earn a living and become self-sufficient. Questscope says “we see you and we care” when no one else does.
While in Jordan meeting with refugees, I learned of their eagerness to tell their stories. They know that in telling their stories they cease to be refugees and start to become people…just like us. People who are married, who have children, who are educated, who had careers, who were productive members of society and who at one time mattered.
They asked us to tell their story because they don’t want to be forgotten. They don’t want to be labeled “refugees.” They want to be known as Abdul, Ali Ahmad, Sami, Nadeen, Muhanned, Amjah, and Kafa. They matter.
Here lies the burden…the people are real, the stories are real. What does God require of me / (us)?
Because of your generosity to global missions, Asbury has sponsored Dr. Curt Rhodes for more than 20 years. Additional funds have been sent as needed throughout this crisis, reassuring our friends that they, in fact, haven’t been forgotten and they do matter.
Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. – Matthew 25:40
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