Every Advent, we choose to spend time sitting in the darkness, longing for the light of Christ to break in. For each of us, this practice probably brings up specific thoughts of personal loss, disappointment, grief, or despair, and only by engaging with these feelings can we truly experience the joy of Christ’s coming at Christmas.
But in addition to our own personal darkness, Advent is also a time to sit with the darkness of our world, and this year there is much to reflect on and pray for: the war in Ukraine; global famine and food shortage; gun violence in our country; the list goes on.
This year, we’ve chosen one example of darkness in our world to sit with, pray over, and give financially towards: Al-Hol refugee camp in Syria. This is a camp of 60,000 people, 40,000 of whom are children, who were either displaced by ISIS, or are not allowed to return to their home countries because they have family members who have ties with ISIS. It is a dark place, especially for children, full of deprivation, danger, and extremist ideology, where it is very difficult to experience life in all its fullness.
Kids gather for snacks and playtime in the Child Friendly Space in the Al-Hol refugee camp operated by Partners.
In the midst of this darkness, Partners Relief and Development, one of Incarnation’s trusted outreach partners, operates a child friendly space and supports a pediatric clinic, and our Advent offering this year will provide funding to these projects. Watch the video below to get a glimpse of Al-Hol and Partners’ work there.
Child friendly spaces are a well-researched approach to caring for children in crisis situations. They create a place for children to experience activities focused on trauma care, participate in education programs, and receive practical support like meals or simple lessons on hygiene. But even more importantly, a child friendly space is a place where kids in a very dangerous and chaotic environment can be seen by safe adults who will notice if something is wrong, or who will miss them if they are gone. In that way, child friendly spaces make a huge contribution to the protection of children in a crisis situation. Partners also provides parenting education sessions to support the families of these children, with the ultimate goal of healing whole families and promoting safe home environments where children can flourish. In addition, Partners supports the only 24/7 pediatric clinic in Al-Hol, so that parents can get the specialized medical care that their children need.
Al-Hol is a dark place, so dark that it is a place most aid organizations won’t touch. The insecurity there means that there is always a threat of danger to staff working there, and to some donors, it is a controversial place to direct funds. Partners shared with us that many churches aren’t interested in supporting their work in Al-Hol because they are serving families who have ties to Islamic extremism. We didn’t see it that way. Just as Jesus came for us when we were in darkness and sin, we want to see light break through in the places of most darkness in our world. And is it a little uncomfortable to support children whose families have ISIS ties? For many of us, it may be. But that is the discomfort of enemy-love to which Jesus has called us.
So we hope that you will give generously to this project throughout Advent. But more importantly, we hope that you will pray for the families in Al-Hol. Each week during Prayers of the People, we will pray for specific requests that the Partners team has sent us, and before the service, there will be a prayer station where you can read stories, look at photos, and respond through writing or drawing your prayers for the project. We will send these all to the Partners team on the ground as a tangible reminder that they are remembered and upheld. We hope that engaging with this darkness allows our community to experience the joy of Christ’s coming at Christmas, even as we long for the families in Al-Hol to experience that same joy. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.