The Syrian uprising was reportedly ignited by bored teenagers who spray-painted some graffiti on the wall of a school in Dara’a challenging President Assad, who is a trained ophthalmologist. Their message simply said, “It’s your turn doctor” (check out the NY Times). When the reaction of the authorities was harsh, neighbors came to the defense of their kids and protests soon spread around the country. Before long, defecting soldiers created militias, which have now formed a coalition, one that does not include radical Islamists who have flooded into the conflict from around the Middle East.
By the start of 2013, more than 60,000 people, mostly civilians, had died and tens of thousands of others had been arrested. More than 400,000 Syrian refugees had registered in neighboring countries, with tens of thousands not registered. In addition, about 2.5 million Syrians needed aid inside the country, with more than 1.2 million displaced domestically, according to the United Nations.
In December the Mennonite Central committee beefed up their aid to $1.3million dollars as the refugee crisis deepened (check out the MCC website). Thank God that we are part of MCC! We are supporters of MCC in a number of ways. A good portion of our common fund goes directly to the mission all over the world. Our thrift stores exist as part of the MCC network of stores. Last year, $87,000 of our profits went to many good works.
On top of those regular contributions was the special portion derived from selling wedding dresses. Remember those dresses? The story goes like this. The landlord was trying to rent one of his unrentable spaces so, of course, he contacted us. He is familiar with our mission to redeem unrentable spaces – or so it would seem. As part of the deal, he wanted us to buy the who-knows-how-many wedding dresses and formals he had in the space. We bit the hook, assuming that we could sell almost anything – but not completely sure.
We wanted to highlight our new store and the plight of Syrian refugees, so we had an October-long dress sale: Be a hero, Buy a dress! Some of us even got out on the street to advertise (thanks Howard and Katie). Some of us even dressed up in the dresses and went to the Halloween Gala for Syria (Zombie Optional). We started selling dresses and some people even bought them because Syrians needed help. We have paid back the purchase price and have given over $2500 directly to Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. Plus, we continue to sell dresses in both stores, and the money will continue to go to Syrians as long as we have dresses!
Apart from the joy of doing our part to help people in need, we have learned and gained a lot from this experience.
1) We succeeded in making people aware of the trouble in Syria and making them aware that we care about it. We are world Christians. Jesus cares and so do we.
2) We forced ourselves out of our comfort zone and on to Broad St. and, as a result, met a lot of new people. We learned that we are actually quite capable of mixing it up on the street. Come to find out, we have a lot to offer people who need us. Jesus has gone before us and we are following.
3) The new, unrentable store space actually worked well! Circle Thrift profits (and contributions to our causes) have gone way up! Jesus has a lot of ways to get things done and we are trying to be creative, too.
It is a big world and it is such a mess! It is always tempting to hunker down and ignore as much as possible (FB, Twitter and this blog, notwithstanding!). It is hard to make choices about who to serve and how to give. But another thing I think we learned (again) from our four-month attention to Syrian refugees is that we get bigger when we try to do bigger things. Our hearts get bigger when we love beyond their normal confines. Our faith gets bigger when we exercise it, especially on behalf of those even poorer than ourselves.