By Gina Grate Pottenger
Growing up on a family farm in Syria where Naseef helped his parents toil in the fields under the hot sun, Naseef dreamed of a different life. Someday, he told himself, he would become finance manager in a corporation.
Back then, many Syrians could pursue their dreams, and Naseef was well on the way to realizing his own when he enrolled at university to study his passion: economics.
But the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011 and shattered his dream.
The Syrian government had begun drafting young university men into the army to fight opposition forces. However, they did not draft men who failed in their studies. Some students deliberately failed for two years to avoid government military service.
Naseef came from a small Christian village, and he did not want to be part of the war, so he purposely failed out of university. It was a painful decision.
“I love economics,” he said.
Naseef took a job in a small glass shop and rejoined his family with their farm work.
The war came to Naseef’s area of Syria in 2013. The government sent about 200 troops to fight the opposition forces, and the village showed them hospitality. Naseef’s family took 10 of the young soldiers into their house, fed them, and they became friends. They exchanged contact information so they could stay in touch on their mobile devices.
After the soldiers moved on to another area where the fighting was more intense, Naseef and his neighbors could not get any responses from their new friends. Later they learned the horrifying news: all the soldiers had been massacred in an ambush.
Similar stories reached them concerning other troop massacres. Rumors and fears circulated about traitors.
That’s why many young Syrian men are so afraid to join the military that they flee the country, Naseef said.
“It’s not like I’m fighting for my country. I’m going to die because of the traitors.”
Naseef’s family decided to send him to Lebanon to save his life. He moved into a house with other refugee friends near the Beirut Church of the Nazarene. One day, Naseef was invited by a friend to the church. The people warmly welcomed him. Fascinated by the teachings, he began attending regularly.
Naseef was raised in another denomination. To Naseef, his family and his village, going to church was simply a religious practice.
“In our village, even the priests do not know much about Jesus, like how many years He lived on the earth. Many people living there in the village do not know about Jesus. So I got to know Jesus in the church,” he said.
Hungry to know Jesus personally, he began reading his Bible every day.
“I learned more and more in the church… and I asked Pastor Andrew to get baptized,” he said.
“One day he shared with me how he woke up and experienced a wonderful joy in his heart, and he knew that the Lord has touched his heart, and he is God’s son now,” said Pastor Andrew. “He reads the Bible faithfully and knows verses by heart. He witnesses to his Syrian friends through Facebook, and he is helping us now with the follow-up of the Syrians who come to the church.”
Naseef joined the church as a member and will be baptized this month with eight other young people.
Unfortunately, Naseef ran out of the funds he had brought with him to Lebanon. The Beirut Church of the Nazarene helped him find a place to stay, as they have done with other refugees. Unable to find a job because of his refugee status, Naseef spends his days in the church’s kitchen, assisting the three women who cook more than 100 hot meals per week for the church’s educational program for Syrian refugee children. He also helps to clean the church and classrooms.
“I believe that the Holy Spirit lives in me and I’m ready to serve and tell about Jesus.”
*Name changed for security
Several days a week, the Beirut Church of the Nazarene cooks and serves hot meals to about 80 disabled and elderly people who live in the area.
The church also provides weekday education to a number of refugee children who haven’t yet qualified to attend Lebanese schools, and Agape Table feeds them, too.