One Region’s Suffering, Another Man’s Mission: Helping Middle East Refugees See God in the Midst of Suffering
The plight of millions of Middle East refugees has drawn the support, attention, and money of Christians across the world.
It’s also drawn a personal mission trip from a childhood friend. A full-time Christian missionary, Stephen Giordano celebrated his 33rd birthday with a Facebook post about an upcoming effort in northern Iraq. This post caught my eye and I wanted to learn more, both about this mission and God’s call on his life.
The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
The Stream: Why are you going on this mission?
Stephen Giordano: I was prompted to go at the invitation of (worship musician and missionary) Sean Feucht when he spoke at my church about the work done in northern Iraq. I was moved by how the simplicity of love and the gospel of Jesus can revolutionize people’s lives. He shared stories about war-torn women and children opening their hearts to the love of God when they found out that he was an outcast and a refugee much like them, and how God’s power can save a man from being burned alive.
TS: You’ve visited dangerous places. What are the two most fulfilling missions you’ve been on, why were they fulfilling, and what lessons are you bringing to Iraq?
SG: I can barely answer these questions without crying. Everywhere I go I learn more for myself than what I am able to bring.
The first would be my time in Tijuana, Mexico. It was my first mission trip; I was 18 years old. We conducted health clinics for children, provided the equivalent to a $5 pair of eyeglasses to adults who had not been able to see for years, and we painted a dilapidated hospital.
For the first time in my life, I saw people actually living in cardboard houses stretching as far as the eye could see. It marked me. I decided that I could not just know about this situation. I had to be a part of the solution.
This prompted my investigation into international aid, my education in Developmental Economics, and my trip to Ethiopia to develop a firsthand perspective.
When I graduated from college, I volunteered for a year with a native-run developmental organization, Project Mercy. We were in rural Yetabon, Ethiopia. I taught English and computers at a K-12 school. I assisted in clinics and sometimes surgery at a hospital. I played with children every day at an orphanage. I helped translate governmental documents for a career development program.
The list could go on. The time impacted my life greatly.
All this contributes to my desire to help those who cannot help themselves. So, when I heard about the opportunity to help refugees in Iraq, I wanted to be involved.
TS: Refugees have had their lives uprooted, family members killed, and more. What will your mission do to help these people, given that it is a short mission?
SG: We cannot give them back the life that they lost. However, you cannot underestimate the impact of a friendly smile, a warm meal and much-needed toiletries when seemingly all comforts have been taken away. My goal is to minister the love of Jesus both in word and deed. Treating people with the decency and respect to visit them in their time of need will hopefully restore hope and joy.
TS: What is your strategy to overcome barriers like language, culture, understanding each person’s difficulties, and any personal challenges that you may face on this mission?
SG: We will have trip leaders who have been to Iraq before and worked with these specific refugee camps. They will provide a lot of the orientation and training. We will provide translators. As for personal challenges, I have found in similar trips that the culture shock is almost overwhelming the first night. It requires time to decompress, journal, and process. Practicing gratitude and realizing you can’t fix everything are crucial concepts to understand.
A Lifestyle of Generosity and Love
TS: You’ve taken an unusual professional route and to your contribution to the well-being of your fellow human beings. I think a lot of Americans want to help refugees and others where they are. However, they have family, financial, professional, and other goals which are also important. What is your response to someone who sees what you do as being in conflict with these other goals, and what — if anything — have you done to ensure these things aren’t left behind as you focus on helping those who are in very tough circumstances?
SG: I think the answer to your question is a lot less about the practical mechanics of finances and bills. It’s more about faith. When God calls me to do something, I know He will provide the resources. I try never to let fear of lack play a role in whether or not I respond to his leading. Sometimes, it takes fundraising or giving up certain pleasures or life conveniences. But the resources will always be there for what you value in life. To quote Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.”
If you value comfort and stability, a life of faith and obedience might not be for you. However, the reward is so much higher. I find that the Lord blesses a lifestyle of generosity and love. I’ve seen miraculous provision almost every time I respond in obedience.
Our short lives are meant for so much more than comfort. We have a chance to impact those around us, and it doesn’t have to be the “poor in Africa” only, but it could be the friend or family member in your community who’s going through a hard time. All of this is summed up in the Old Testament in Proverbs 11:25-28.
People who say they can’t give money have an unbalanced sense of worth when a $5 pair of glasses can change a man’s life forever, or a $50 operation to repair a cleft pallet will be the difference between homelessness and opportunities for educational and career success. Plus, living generously is scientifically proven to increase your happiness and senses of worth and purpose.
I think I have lived such a blessed life not despite all that I have given up in time and resources, but rather because I have chosen to live that way.
Dustin Siggins is a Stream contributor.