I still remember the phone call that I made to my parents in the Spring of 2006.
“Mom? Dad? I think I want to go to Syria over Spring Break.”
My church was taking a “fact finding” trip and they needed people to go meet with the missionaries there and then come back and get the church pumped up about supporting them.
Unsurprisingly, my cool, “our kids are independent” parents let me make the final decision and, in March of 2006, I boarded a plane headed for Damascus with six other people.
To say that I was a little concerned for my safety is a bit of an understatement. We had been warned that the government was suspicious of groups of Americans traveling together. Some of the staff at our hotel were most likely secret police. Taking pictures of government buildings was forbidden. The women were told not to make eye contact with men, to dress modestly, to avoid all physical contact. I was afraid of anti-American sentiment.
On the connecting flight from Holland to Damascus, there were security guards at the gate with huge guns. They scanned everyone’s carry-ons and mine got pulled out. There was something that looked suspiciously like a pipe bomb in my backpack. I froze and for the life of me could not think of what it could be. We unpacked everything and then I realized that it was my camera tripod. I walked onto the plane, already frazzled, and found myself wedged between an Arab business man and a male high school student. I was petrified that i was going to graze one of them with my arm and so I kept my elbows tucked in and pressed my legs together.
By the end of the flight, the high school student was my facebook friend and the Arab man declared that he would not leave the airport until he knew that I was able to get where I was going.
Gosh, that first interaction with Syrians was so indicative of my time there.
Syria is a beautiful country and it is filled to the brim with lovely people.
When we walked in the souk (the marketplace), store owners would vie for our attention, not because they wanted us to buy something but because they wanted to invite us in for chai (strong tea). Our taxi driver took us to his village (near the Golan Heights) to feed us a picnic lunch and introduce us to his family. Because I refused to haggle in the market, a man haggled with himself until he reached a price that he thought was fair. Everywhere we went, we were greeted warmly.
I recently saw this photographic collection of Syrian refugees and it broke my heart.
I am devastated that this beautiful nation has been thrown into turmoil.
For the people of Syria, that God may strengthen the resolve of leaders to end
the fighting and choose a future of peace.
(Nearly 7 million Syrians have been displaced by the horrible civil war. Most of them are in refugee camps, which are over-crowded, poorly funded, lacking schools and clean water. If you’d like to donate to help, you can do it at Samaritan’s Purse (a Christian organization with a good Charity Navigator rating) or Mercy Corps (a secular organization that also has a good Charity Navigator rating).)