When Tom Carr celebrates Christmas tomorrow, he’ll have more than just presents and pudding on his mind.
After watching his own teenage kids open their gifts, his mind will start to drift over to the Middle East—to the 14-year-old boy who’s got no family left.
The boy – let’s call him Ahmed – recently watched his father being beheaded by terrorists in his hometown in Mosul, Iraq. His brother than left him, and finally his mother died from grief, leaving Ahmed on his own.
The teenager fled to Egypt, with no identifying documents, so he’ll have great trouble gaining any kind of refugee status, and he now relies on support from a church and benevolent strangers.
Egypt Not Much Safer Than Syria
Ahmed is just one of the traumatised people Tom met on a recent trip to the Middle East, in his role as head of Voice of the Martyrs in Australia. That’s an organisation helping Christians around the world who are suffering and persecuted for their faith.
Tom spent time in Egypt, working with VOM’s partners to help deliver blankets and support to people from Orthodox, Coptic, Evangelical and other Christian faiths.
He said although Christian Syrians are fleeing to Egypt, they’re not much safer there.
“It’s very difficult and uneasy for people coming out of Syria into Egypt, because they’re just met with more of the same that they’re fleeing from,” he said. “This is why they’re being pushed into Southern Europe and Greece – because Egypt is often just as hostile as Syria was when they left.”
It was a heartbreaking trip where he wished he could have helped people more.
“There were so many people that I would’ve loved to put on a plane and bring them back,” he said.
Your Prayers Are Making A Difference
Tom said that people’s prayers are making a difference to those fleeing terror, half a world a way.
“It brings such comfort to people who are displaced and on the run, terrified and cold and suffering all these things,” he said.
“The knowledge that people around the world are praying for them, does a huge amount to encourage them and keep them strong in their faith and protect them in the most important way.”
Protected By Angels
He said he also heard many stories of God’s miraculous protection in answer to prayer.
One was of a family whose car broke down as they were fleeing terror, and became stuck in an extremely dangerous place. They locked their car doors and started praying, but expected to be killed through the night.
“There were giants surrounding your car protecting you, so we knew that you didn’t need our help.”
The next morning, their car worked fine, and they made it to the next town, where they saw some friends who had passed by them on the road in the night—yet not stopped to help. When they asked their friends why they didn’t stop, the answer was this:
“Because there were giants surrounding your car protecting you, so we knew that you didn’t need our help.”
The stranded family had never seen a soul.
“Who knows what they saw or why they saw it, but there was certainly a protection there for them, and they survived the night when they shouldn’t have, and their car was fixed in the morning when they tried to drive it again,” Tom said.
“These sorts of things we don’t tend to believe here in the West because they sound rather incredible, but our God is rather incredible too.”
Muslims Are Protecting And Caring For Christians
While meeting with suffering Christians Tom heard that it’s not only churches caring for the persecuted Jesus followers; peaceful Muslims are too.
“Many people in the West are calling for their nations to only take in Christians. But there are plenty of Muslims who are being targeted by terror as well,” he said.
“And a lot of times what we’re seeing in the Middle East is that the Shia Muslims are helping the Christians more than anyone. They’re showing enormous grace and love for them.
“So we have to resist, as Christians, the impulse to reject Muslims as a whole. Because they too, are God’s people and we need to show them the same grace as we show anyone.”
A Need For Grace, Compassion And Prayer
When refugees from the troubled Middle East arrive in Australia, they’ll need enormous amounts of care, said Tom.
“These people will bring certain problems with them,” he said. “They’ve had a terribly traumatic and hard life and there will be issues that come along with them. But under those issues, they’re God’s people that need our love and care and grace.”
He said he was devastated listening to the debate over what kind of people should be allowed into Australia.
“People are not running from the Middle East because they want a better life, they’re running from the Middle East because they want to stay alive,” he said. “And this trip especially, we saw that things have become so much worse, and there is so much more tension and death and destruction. We really do need to help these people desperately.
“God has rescued people out of that horrible situation and it’s our responsibility to follow up on that.”
“My dream would be that when we do start bringing refugees into Australia, that people get alongside them, meet them, open their lives up to them, share with them and see what kind of people they are. Because you will be very surprised. I will guarantee that it will not be what you expect.
“What you’ll find is genuine, loving, hurt, damaged people, who just need our grace and so much more. God has rescued people out of that horrible situation and it’s our responsibility to follow up on that.”
He urged believers to keep the persecuted people of the Middle East in their prayers.
“It’s really important for us here in the West, when we sit down to our Christmas meal and when we prepared to give thanks for it, to talk and think about what Christmas is going to look like for people that don’t have any of the things that we are giving thanks for. People that don’t have clothes, electricity or running water because they are on the run and are just praying that they’ll survive the night.”