The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) is collaborating with the International Mission Board (IMB) and other organizations to urge prayer March 15 for the millions of refugees of the Syrian civil war.
The March 15 focus of the campaign – #PrayForRefugees – comes on the fifth anniversary of the outbreak of hostilities in the Middle Eastern country. The ERLC and its partners are calling for churches, small groups, Christian organizations, families and individuals to pray for the more than 13.5 million Syrians who need humanitarian assistance as a result of the conflict.
The refugee crisis, described as the worst since World War II, has resulted in more than 4.8 million Syrians being registered as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. They are living in often dangerous conditions in the neighboring countries of Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, as well as countries in Europe and other continents. Another 6.6 million Syrians have fled their homes to other parts of their country because of the violence, according to the U.N.
ERLC President Russell Moore encouraged Southern Baptists and other Christians to unite in the prayer effort.
“Every day reports of wreckage and bloodshed throughout the Middle East bring a horrifying reminder of how precious religious freedom is and the devastating consequences that arise when religious freedom is repressed,” Moore said in a news release. “Christians are called by God to stand up for the sanctity of human life whenever and wherever it is challenged.
“The lives of these many refugees fleeing the most brutal kinds of religious and ethnic persecution and oppression matter to our God, and so they should matter to us as well,” he said. “As Christians, we don’t have to agree on all the details of public policy to agree that our response ought to be, first, one of compassion and prayer for some of our world’s most vulnerable and defenseless people.”
The ERLC – at erlc.com/refugees – encourages prayer for:
A movement of the gospel among Syrian refugees;
Safety for the hundreds of refugees who will leave the Middle East in the days, weeks and months ahead;
Christians who are seeking to take care of refugee communities near them;
Understanding among Christians of how they can help those affected by the war
The ERLC also recommends three Southern Baptist organizations to support in efforts to aid Syrians: The humanitarian entities Baptist Global Response and Global Hunger Relief, as well as the ERLC’s Middle East office.
The commission is asking participants in the prayer effort to use social media with the hashtag #prayforrefugees to announce their involvement.
The civil war in Syria broke out in 2011 after President Bashar al-Assad’s troops fired on protesters calling for his resignation and an end to his party’s rule. The conflict developed into a battle between the Shia Muslims, which count al-Assad among their number, and the Sunnis, who make up nearly 90 percent of Muslims in Syria. It grew more complex in 2014, when the Islamic State brought its terroristic campaign to the country.
At least 470,000 Syrians have died as a result of the civil war, the Syrian Center for Policy Research reported in mid-February, according to The New York Times.
While the focus is on March 15, the #PrayForRefugees campaign began Feb. 10 and will continue throughout the Lenten season, which concludes Easter Sunday, March 27. More information is available at prayforrefugees.com.
In addition to the International Mission Board, other partners in the prayer campaign include World Vision; World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals; Lutheran World Relief; and Operation Mobilisation.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)