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People are dying out here

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The son of man will be handed over to be crucified. – Matthew 26:2
Artist Alvaro Enciso builds beautiful crosses from empty tin cans he finds on the migrant trail in the desert on the Mexico and Arizona border.
Alvaro says he had no idea people were dying out here in the Sonora desert, but the deaths of 3,000 people have been documented and 2,000 more people are still missing. He works with a group of older adults called Samaritans who provide water stations for migrants who are crossing the border searching for a better life.

He remembers seeing a map with red dots where people have died in the desert. Sections of that southern Arizona map had so many red dots that it was simply a mass of red. Every week, Alvaro walks out into the desert to mark the places with one of his crosses where people have died.
Each Tuesday, his goal is to mark at least one more grave. So far, he’s marked 800 graves with crosses. He knows his task will never end because more people keep dying out here.
Each cros…

We will not stop

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Come to me, all you that are weary . . . and I will give you rest. – Matthew 11:28
“I always pray, God, please protect us today.”
Rima Absi is speaking about the rocket fire in Damascus, Syria. She is telling those of us from MCC who are visiting our partners about the participants and staff of the Al-Safina community for people with disabilities who have to navigate the shelling each day.
Al-Safina was founded 22 years ago in the old city of Damascus. A house provides a home for eight women and men with disabilities. And workshops in the morning and afternoon provide work and activity for 60 additional people with disabilities each day. MCC has been a partner with Al’Safina since it began.

The next morning, we visit His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem of the Syrian Orthodox Church. His Holiness tells us that the best way MCC can show its support is to come and be with people in their struggle during the war here in Syria, as we have done with this trip.
The Patriarch shares his vi…

God is not far from us

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I thank God through Jesus Christ for all of you. – Romans I:8
“Faith makes you act crazy.”
Rev. Ibrahim Nseir is pastor of the National Presbyterian Church in Aleppo, Syria. He is speaking about the apparent foolishness of staying in Aleppo and believing he can make a difference in his community during the war.
We MCC people who are visiting our partners in Syria are meeting with a roomful of people who are displaced because of the war and are part of the church’s ministry.
Fatima tells us about her son who was kidnapped by the gangs four years ago. She and her family had to flee their house in order to pay the gangs to release her son, and now her family is homeless. It was only this church, she says, who would help them with cash payments supported by MCC.
Hussein and his family were also displaced when gangs targeted his home. The church has helped his family with food boxes, blankets and some cash. “Without you, we could not live day to day,” he tells us.
Maryam was recently divorced…

Our hearts are full

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All ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up. – Luke 9:17
In the village of Ayo near Hama in Syria, we enter a room filled with internally displaced people (IDPs) living nearby.
We are people from MCC visiting Syrian partner organizations. There are some host community families here, too, but all the people in the room have one thing in common – the war in Syria has left them with very little.
The village is only 15 kilometers from the front lines between government forces and the opposing militant groups, so there is a constant stream of IDPs arriving.
This is a farming community, but it has not rained for some time and water has been cut off from the dam by the rebels.  We arrive as the rain also arrives and community leaders tell us that is a good sign!
Person after person in the room tells us about villages destroyed and families depleted. All of these families receive food boxes from MCC through the Syrian Orthodox Church. They tell us the food is nutritious and is an…

A river of love

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For it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. – Matthew 25:40
“We are happy you are here to see this with your own eyes,” the leader of the Islamic Charities organization in Deir Attieh, Syria tells us, a group of MCC people visiting partner organizations in Syria. “We can’t express enough our heartfelt thanks to you.”
Islamic Charities works with 3,000 at risk families affected by the war in the region and relies heavily on the work of volunteers.
MCC provides food boxes to Islamic Charities as part of our humanitarian assistance in Syria. When I visit five families who received these food boxes, I recall the heartfelt thanks but feel mostly heart broken.   
We visit two families living in a partially constructed apartment complex that stalled when the war began. The first family lives in a small two-room apartment, the mother and her five children and the woman’s father. Her husband is serving in the army. The second family includes seven people living in one room…

Whatever you decide

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Whoever serves me must follow me. - John 12:26
“You have five minutes to decide,” Sister Valentine told them.
In the spring of 2012, caught between the shelling of the Syrian army and opposing rebels in the Presbyterian church’s elderly care center in Homs, Syria, Sister Valentine asked her employees whether they would stay to care for the older residents.
And then Sister Valentine said, “Whatever you decide, I am staying.” One-by-one, more slowly at first, the other employees also agreed to stay.
Later, Sister Valentine ventured out into the streets alone amidst the rocket fire to buy bread for the residents, so that her employees, all with families, could stay inside the home where they were safer.
Homs, the third largest city in Syria and a religiously diverse community with Sunnis, Alawites and Christians, was under siege for four years until government forces began to prevail in 2015. By May 2017, the Syrian government had reclaimed control of the city.   
The Rev. Mofidi Karajili, pa…

Taming the tiger

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You support all who are falling and raise up all who are bowed down. – Psalm 145:14
A fence on the other side of the river from Samshernagar on the edge of the dense Sunderban forest keeps the tigers out of the village.
Still, the remote location of the village and a decline in employment opportunities have left the men and boys no choice but to venture into the forest to make a living by fishing and crabbing, honey collecting, wood cutting and firewood gathering.
In the last several decades, more than 150 men and boys in this community and two neighboring ones have been killed by the Bengal tigers and many more injured. The “tiger widows” are ostracized by their communities and lack the skills to become self-sufficient.
These are the marginalized women SARANI (Society for Action on Rehabilitation Awareness Networking and Information) and MCC are helping to empower.  
One afternoon, we sit in a bookkeeping class for the women who have started home businesses to generate their own income…