Eden Nelson writes for our communications partner, EurasiaStories.com:
MIDDLE EAST — The room is filled with Syrian women, all with similar struggles, similar fears, similar despair. Each was drawn to this place where they could hear stories about God, about Jesus — stories they have never heard before.
As the Bible study comes to a close, a few of these displaced women began sharing of how they came to live in a country that is not their home.
Jala,* a refugee, now shares a one-bedroom apartment in Lebanon with her husband, two sons and mother-in-law. Sitting in a poorly lit, old, crowded apartment, Jala makes a bold announcement.
“People really need to pray for the women in Syria because they are being raped,” she says.
Jala describes some of the horrific things she has seen and heard — women being raped in their homes or while fleeing the country and some being taken as brides of the militia.
God’s Beloved is a small booklet featuring six New Testament stories specifically tailored to help you point Muslim women to Jesus. Click here to learn more about this resource.
“They steal, they kill and they rape in the name of God,” Jala says.
In the two years since the war began, the death toll in Syria has climbed above 90,000 people. The plight of women, though, is seldom discussed.
Other women at the Bible study reiterate Jala’s point — pray for the women.
“They steal, they kill and they rape in the name of God.”
It’s common knowledge in the Middle East that it is easy to find a Syrian bride.
In a culture where honor is highly esteemed, a woman is considered defiled after suffering an assault. Many families struggle with how to react and marry their daughters off quickly.
A Washington Post article published in November 2013 focused on the growing reality of Syrian brides being married off to men from around the Middle East. “Of course I would rather her marry a Syrian, someone from our community, but what can we do?” Abu Yousef said of his daughter, whose husband was killed in the Syrian uprising.
Yousef reluctantly consented to the arranged marriage of his widowed daughter, 27, and her three children to a 55-year-old retired Saudi engineer.
Many families like Yousef’s are allowing these marriages in order to remove their daughters from refugee camps, hoping they will find a better life.
In the countries surrounding Syria — Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan — single mothers can be seen walking the streets begging for money or food.
Some women have become prostitutes in order to provide for their families. “Women are prostituting themselves in Lebanon for between 5,000 and 10,000 lira (about $3 to $6),” says Christian worker Catherine Steel.* With no husbands and no job skills, these women find prostitution is their last resort.
Andrew Harper, a representative of the UN refugee agency UNHCR, said on BBC News, “I can’t think of anything more disgusting than people targeting refugee women. … You can call it rape, you can call it prostitution, you can call it what you want, but it’s preying on the weakest.”
In a situation that seems desperate, women are left not knowing what to do, how to provide for their young children or how to survive. Praying for these women is tremendously important, Steel says.
Another challenge is that many married women do not leave their houses because their husbands fear their new city and the dangers it may hold.
“Their husbands are their lives — everything they do is decided by their husband,” says Steel.
She asks the church to pray for the husbands as well.
Most Syrian women are accustomed to going outside only with a man, their mother or with an older son. “If you do not have that right now, then you do not go out,” Steel says.
So countless women remain cloistered indoors as their husbands search for work, waiting and hoping that they can soon afford to have food on the table again.
You can assist with relief efforts among Syrian refugees through BGR.