Responding To Syria's Refugee Crisis: Profile of Nabeeh Abbassi
The United Nations (UN) has declared Syria’s civil war one of the worst humanitarian disasters in history.
The number of civilians suffering religious persecution—more than 11 million thus far—have fled the country in a mass exodus. Most Syrian refugees have ended up in Jordan and Lebanon, the region’s two smallest countries.
On the receiving end in Amman is Jordanian national Nabeeh Abbassi (ThM, 1993; DMin, 2002), who directs the Arab Center for Consulting and Training Services (ACCTS). His organization encourages the healthy growth of the global Arab Christian Community, seeking to improve its position in its neighborhoods, nations, and regions by facilitating common-ground dialogue and training future leaders. Nabeeh works in partnership with Arab Women Today (AWT), a radio, website, and training ministry established by his wife, Ruba, with a vision to see Arab women reconciled with God, themselves, and society. Every day Ruba shares the gospel through broadcasts that reach into every one of the Arab nations. In their ministries, Nabeeh and Ruba Abbassi work together to help meet the overwhelming needs at their doorstep.
Nabeeh said, “The masses are here, and they are not only suffering religious persecution. They are also suffering from trauma, violence, homelessness, and hunger.” Even five years ago, Syrian refugees were not part of their ministry objectives. But now, he said, “this problem has come to us, and we are not turning away from it.” When Christ saw the masses, he had compassion for them, seeing them as sheep without a shepherd (Matt 9:36). And “sheep without a shepherd” is how Nabeeh and Ruba see the Syrian refugees.
Nabeeh, the former provost and professor at Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary, explained that religious persecution among rival Muslim sects results in displacement and exile. In the Middle East, Syrians have witnessed the horror of war and violence of Islam. They have seen their homes destroyed and their loved ones killed. For most Syrians, the only way out has been to walk to Jordan—a journey in which the risk of danger is often as high as the risk of staying. Families have walked through the night to avoid being shot by snipers or caught by soldiers. But even if they make it safely across the border, they arrive without food, clothing, or shelter. And most have lost all hope in human compassion.
In this context, Nabeeh, Ruba, and their staff members are ministering the love of Christ. “I see the humanitarian perspective, because their pain, suffering, and death are at my doorstep,” Nabeeh said. “This is a practical opportunity with a spiritual dimension. We are here to witness for Christ. We are here to show love, compassion, respect, and human dignity.”
Through local churches, the Abbassis coordinate the efforts of Christian volunteers who provide food and nonfood items such as soap and mattresses to more than seventy thousand families. By doing so, the volunteers help fellow believers as well as serve and witness to Muslims. Most Syrian refugees are Muslims, many of whom are so traumatized by war and violence that they have denounced their faith and claimed themselves as atheists. “More Muslims than ever are living with no peace, no shelter, no homes, and this is the time when we can give them the love of Christ,” Nabeeh said.
By working out of local churches, ACCTS can freely give away Bibles and pray with those yearning to breathe free. Nabeeh said, “We treat refugees with great care, dignity, and compassion.” As a result, many place their faith in Christ. “They come with bitterness and anger, and they see that those serving them are loving and caring. They realize that what they thought about Christians is not true and slowly come to respect Christians and Christianity. They take the Bibles we give them, and they read them in secret. Routinely, we find them spaces in our churches where they can read the Bible in peace, and we pray with them.”
As part of their ongoing ministry, staff members provide support for the refugees’ psychosocial and spiritual recovery. AWT sponsors a three-month social and emotional recovery program for Syrian refugee women. Nabeeh explained that the challenges of displacement are greater for women than for men. Without husbands or a male family member, women cannot secure housing or finances and, as the primary caretaker of children, women often neglect their own health in favor of their children’s.
AWT staff, volunteers, and coaches have taught more than 2,300 Syrian women how to respond to such challenges through Bible study and social-emotional recovery training. The coaches tenderly, patiently help these women cope with trauma, grieve the loss of loved ones, find solutions to limited resources, work together with other refugees, and focus on constructive activities to rebuild the family. These women “have experienced brutality, punishment, and the pain of displacement and rejection,” Nabeeh said. “So we teach the Bible gently, because they have suffered so greatly, and we do not want them to resist Christ. Slowly, they learn the power of forgiveness, how to bless—and not curse—and to reconcile with those who have persecuted them. They come with tears, and they leave with a smile. We can see the forgiveness in their hearts and the joy on their faces.” Yet he observes, “Rarely do I see support for Syrian refugee women, and I do not know why.” Caring for them is strategic, Nabeeh believes.
Ways You Can Help:
- Learn: Nabeeh implores Westerners to be open to learning about religious persecution in Arab countries. Refugees flee by the tens of thousands daily, and people should understand why.
- Invite: Westerners can invite those on the front lines to speak in their churches to share directly what is happening in the Middle East. Technology such as Skype and FaceTime can bring people such as Nabeeh, Ruba, and their staff members into any church to offer firsthand accounts, perspectives, stories, and on-the-ground issues.
- Discern: Nabeeh discourages believing traditional media sources, as they tend to misrepresent viewpoints and have biased agendas. He wants Christians to receive accurate, truthful accounts of the Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan.
- Engage in cordial conversation with people of other faiths: As one living in a culture where Christianity is not the majority religion, Nabeeh urges Western Christians to recognize the imperative need for engaging in exchanges with people of other faiths that can enhance cultural understanding among those who adhere to different faiths and religions. ACCTS and AWT participate in an annual event held the first week of February that promotes such peaceful conversations between Christians and Muslims in Jordan. Churches across the world participate as well.
- Pray, give, go: If more believers visited an Arab country at least once, Nabeeh believes, their entire perspective of the gospel would change. Leaders would gain a comprehensive view of the world with better-informed opinions about religious persecution and what it means to have freedom in Christ. He adds, “Humanitarian aid is our chosen venue to spread the gospel and to fulfill the Great Commission. We gladly welcome anyone to come and help us fulfill that mission. This is about saving lives. When I read the Great Commission, it tells me to go to all the nations, not just the easy nations. Arabs are a part of all nations.”