Syria’s peace talks falter

(Photo courtesy International Mission Board)

(Photo courtesy International Mission Board)

Syria (MNN) — Peace talks with Syria have gotten off to a faltering, bitter start.

The Syrian government and opposition have agreed to extend a truce in Homs by another three days, the United Nations said. Humanitarian agencies continued to evacuate civilians from Homs under that ceasefire. “In the midst of peace talks, I would say that chaos is the rule of order right now in Syria,” says Jeff Palmer with Baptist Global Response.

However, the international mediator says despite a face-to-face meeting of the warring parties in Geneva, little progress seems to have been made. Palmer explains that it’s quite the opposite. “In the midst of what’s supposedly going on to negotiate a long-term peace, nothing is slowing down. So, it’s not just the refugees; it’s  also the internally displaced people within Syria that are increasing.”

The two sides are now feuding over who is responsible for escalating violence that has killed hundreds in the past few days and disrupted food aid for trapped civilians.

(Photo courtesy Baptist Global Response)

(Photo courtesy Baptist Global Response)

BGR partners and other organizations have been providing food relief and hygiene kits since June 2011. As the number of refugees continued to escalate dramatically, it became increasingly apparent that it was necessary to undertake two more rounds of distributions in the attempt to meet the physical needs of both the Syrian refugees and poor Lebanese who are hosting them. Palmer explains, “We have some points inside the country where we’re able to help with some supplies: food, shelter, hygiene kits, mainly. Part of the issue is that there are peace talks going on, but there are so many factions to this conflict that it’s hard to get them all to agree.”

With the new wave of refugees fleeing Syria, it’s clear that there are not enough resources to meet needs. “The governments in the area [are] trying their best. They’re overwhelmed in the various countries that are receiving. There are also all kinds of tensions going on,” Palmer explains, adding that’s where their team comes in. “We’re in most of those areas, finding places where people have fallen through the cracks, helping them with food, helping them with the basics of hygiene kits and some shelter needs.”

About 50% of the people receiving food parcels and hygiene kits will be new to the distribution. These families are experiencing many problems: lack of security, poverty, inflationary prices, overcrowding and lack of proper housing, insanitary conditions, chronic diseases, and children missing out on school.

(Photo courtesy Baptist Global Response)

(Photo courtesy Baptist Global Response)

“Like most organizations, we’re doing what we can. We feel like it’s a drop in the bucket. We’re still doing it because every drop is a life, which hopefully is impacted positively in the midst of their suffering,” notes Palmer.

There’s another issue: human dignity. While refugees are grateful for the aid they receive, they also struggle with having to accept handouts from others. The manner in which BGR partners respond opens a lot of doors to talk about who Jesus Christ is and why they’re working in His name.

Palmer confirms the reports that many Syrian refugees are finding hope in the story of Christ. That brings with it hope for the future. “Our thought is that one day they’re going to go back to their homes. In the midst of this tragedy, one of the positive things is seeing a positive turning to the Gospel and the potential for–in the future–it taking root even stronger in Syria.”

Pray that BGR partners will be able to help reffugees regain their dignity and that their conditions will improve to the point they don’t have to beg for food and assistance. “It’s also about people, and about families and about communities that are just torn apart. We, as followers of Christ, have a great opportunity to minister to them in the name of Christ and share a word of hope, the truth, that’s in the Gospel.”

Many people reading and re-reading the tragedy of Syria want to know what they can do. Practically speaking, it boils down to this: Pray, Give, or Go.