Over the last 6 years the world has witnessed one of the worst humanitarian emergencies in decades. Since 2011, the war in Syria has killed over 400,000 people and displaced 11 million. Of that 11 million, over ten thousand have been relocated to the USA, and just over eight hundred of those have made their way to my home city, San Diego. When Steps of Justice and my family moved here in January, we knew we had to respond to the refugee crisis in some way.
In July of 2016, a few of our friends and us hosted a Welcome to San Diego party for Syrian refugees who had recently come to the city. There were approximately 100 Syrians at the picnic, along with 90 volunteers. There was no agenda, there was no order of service, there were no speeches or teachings, just a good old fashioned BBQ at the beach. We cooked over 70lbs of chicken and beef, had tables full of salad and coolers filled with water, juice and soda.
We hung a huge sign that said “Welcome to San Diego” and spent five hours getting to know our new neighbors. It was such a beautiful time; the only time I (Phil Cunningham) had seen Syrians up to that point was in the news. Pictures of grief, death, and destruction covered the Internet and my newsfeed. Images of the horror the Syrian people were facing were everywhere I looked. Then, on a beautiful evening in July, a bunch of us got to spend time eating a meal with these people on a beach in San Diego. One Syrian said ,“This is the best day of my life.” Another said, “Our own community have not welcomed us into San Diego like this.” This is what I believe Jesus meant when he said “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).
Over the next 3 months, Steps of Justice, and a few other organizations ran hope camps for our new neighbors. Three Saturdays a month we meet at a local park with approx. 40 kids aged 6-14. We played games, had small group time and read stories and passages from the Bible. Our goal was to show the love of Jesus to these kids by being present in their lives. Once a month, during that time we hosted a meal for all the families.
In December of 2016 we had a Christmas party for our Syrian neighbors. There were over 100 Syrians there, as well as over 100 volunteers. Then, just this fall, we had another picnic with over 400 people celebrating the relationship between Syrians and Americans. It is so great to be a part of something that looks so much like Jesus.
This fall we are running a youth group for Syrian and Kurdish teenagers. We meet three of four times a month to hang out, see our city (San Diego), eat good food and build relationships. One of the main things I (Phil) am realizing is that I am not cool, but I am present. I am present in these students lives and I am safe for them, as are the other American adults present. This long term commitment is changing the lives of these students, and ours.
We would like to have you get involved. One of the main things we need are donations. We need donations to purchase for food for the events, cover transportation costs and activities we will be doing. You can do that at www.stepsofjustice.org/donate. We need to raise $1000 to cover the rest of the year. We are trying to raise this by October 15, so in the next 11 days. Linked is our vision statement and Youth Group proposal, thanks so much. You can also click the donate button at the bottom to give online now.
For more information on Syrians coming to America, you can watch this interview on 60 Minutes.