We have a special place in our hearts for the Middle East. We’ve been working to bring the Bible to life there for nearly 70 years – and have no intention of leaving.
Despite the daily threats of war, violence and persecution, our team of staff and volunteers have remained in Syria and Iraq to offer the Bible alongside practical help to those in need. This is not new work – it’s what we’ve been doing in the region for decades.
As Mike Bassous, who oversees our work from Beirut in Lebanon, puts it: ‘They know we’re not leaving, they know we’re local people and they trust us.’
In the midst of war and suffering, we are discovering an unprecedented demand for Scriptures – from both Christians relying on God more than ever, and Muslims looking for an alternative to the extreme expression of Islam they see around them.
Our team are busy distributing Bibles – alongside everyday necessities like food parcels, toiletries, and mattresses – to families who find themselves living in refugee camps. We also run bookshops in the region, including one in the city of Aleppo – just 150 metres from the frontlines of the war in Syria.
With no education, few playful distractions and a fear of the unknown, daily life for a child in the refugee camps is a far cry from what it should be. That’s why we commit to providing picture Bibles, colouring books, comic books and stationery that brighten many a day for these children.
We also provide Bible-based trauma counselling for children in Lebanon and Jordan who have witnessed the horrors of war and persecution and have had to flee their homeland.
Bible Society is one of the few agencies with access to the refugee camps of Western Europe – camps like Traiskirchen in Vienna, Austria.
Our local team organise meals and German classes for local believers, helping them connect into a local church and even find a home. Last year, we distributed some 2,500 Bibles and booklets to refugees in Western Europe.
The desire for God’s word is strong in places like Traiskirchen, as Dr Jutta Henner, local Bible Society Director, explains: ‘In the Bible they find stories of people who, like them, found themselves far away from home, facing an uncertain future, not being made welcome, being persecuted and afraid. They can cry to God as they read and…find that there is always hope in Jesus Christ’.
We work to affirm the place of the Bible in society, challenging ill-informed thinking and demonstrating that the Bible can be a force for positive change in today’s world.
When 46-year-old Mathai found out he was next in line to be beheaded by a local ISIS gang, who were on the rampage against Christian men in his Syrian hometown, he knew he had to flee.
He made sure his wife and three children were safe, and then set off on a long and perilous journey across the border to Lebanon, Turkey and by boat to Greece. From there he trekked through Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Hungary before finally arriving in Austria. ‘Sometimes I was afraid’, Mathai recalls. ‘But mostly just so tired, so tired, so exhausted’.
It was in Austria that Mathai found help from Christian brothers and sisters, who gave him a safe place to stay and helped him lodge an asylum application. What’s more, our Bible Society gave him what is now his prize possession – a large-print Arabic Bible.
‘This Bible tells me I’m not alone, it reminds me that every human is loved by God and has a value’, Matthai says. ‘Whenever I think of my wife and children I’m very afraid, but when I turn to the Bible I see light.’