Earlier this fall, the Trump administration announced that the US would accept no more than 18,000 refugees in the coming fiscal year. Here’s how CT reported this news:
President Trump’s administration has dramatically cut the number of refugees admitted to the US every year since taking office. Last year, CT reported on evangelicals condemning the decision to drop the refugee ceiling to then-historic low of 30,000 for the 2019 fiscal year. The year before, it was down to 45,000. Up until then, the cap for resettling refugees in the US hadn’t gone below 70,000 in 30 years
While in many years, the US has frequently accepted more refugees than other countries, the number has almost always been a tiny fraction of its overall population. Meanwhile, Jordan, a country of just under 10 million, is currently home to 762,420 refugees.
One Christian working with hundreds of these refugees is Father Khalil Jaar, the priest at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Marka Jordan. Father Jaar ministers to Iraqi and Syrian families by providing them with food, education, and other provisions.
Father Jaar joined digital media producer Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli discuss his work with Syrian and Iraqi refugees, what happened when he was kidnapped in Iraq, and how God continues to provide for the community.
"This episode of Quick to Listen is brought to you in part by Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, which offers a practical, student-centered approach to seminary. Wesley Seminary’s model connects applicable coursework with active ministry. For more information, visit seminary.indwes.edu."
This episode of Quick to Listen is brought to you in part by Intensional. D.A. Horton unpacks how God addresses these issues and where to take it from there in his new book Intensional. Go to dahorton.com to learn more about Intensional.
This episode of Quick to Listen is also brought to you by Christianbook.com, your go-to source for everything Christian. Books, Bibles, gifts, music and more, all in one place. And always from people who share your values. Go to Christianbook.com.
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Highlights from Quick to Listen: Episode #187
Can you give us an overview of how many refugees your work serves and how you try to help them?
Father Khalil Jaar: In my parish, I have 800 Iraqi families and around 300-plus Syrian families. We are doing our best to serve them and to protect them and to assure the right of education for the kids. Usually in such situations, the first victims are the mothers and the children. That's why I do my best to protect the rights of the children to have an education. That's why we have a school, where we serve 250 refugee children. We teach them catechism, English, Arabic, science, and history. We provide them with a uniform, books, everything they need, we even provide for them transportation, to encourage them to come to our school.
We are doing our best as well to provide food vouchers for families. The Iraqi refugees in Jordan are not allowed to work. So can you imagine? They came as refugees almost with nothing. In 24 hours, they were obliged to leave their country and to come to Jordan. So they arrived almost with nothing. And then they are not allowed to work. Almost nobody is helping them, all the help is going to the Syrian refugees, but for the Iraqis, there's almost nothing.
That's why I feel that I am obliged to provide for them food and shelter. And I am so thankful for our friends and benefactors. World Vision, for example, is one of our excellent friends and benefactors. Because with their help and their generosity, I am quite sure that they made a big difference in the life of these refugees.
Could you share with our listeners a little bit about your own life and background?
Father Khalil Jaar: I was born in Bethlehem in 1953 and I have lived in the diocese of Jerusalem for 43 years. Me and my family, we have always been refugees. That's why I am very close to my brothers, the refugees, in my parish. Because I also have suffered as a refugee as well. For the last 43 years, I have served the people of Jordan, my parish, and the refugees coming from Syria and from Iraq to Jordan.
Let me tell you that in 2006, as I was traveling between Baghdad and Jordan helping some kids to bring them to the hospital, they kidnapped me for one week. I don't know who, but thank the Lord, after one week they released me. That was very hard for me. I still am suffering from that one week.
But I feel that I am a privileged person to serve such good people, our brothers, the refugees. As I say all the time, I am privileged because I am serving the living saints of our time. These people who came here looking for refugee shelter in Jordan, they are our brothers, they are the saints of this century.
We are very grateful to our King Abdullah and his government because they've allowed it to be so easy for these refugees to come into Jordan and to have a secure place.
You mentioned being kidnapped and going through a lot of your own struggles. Were you angry at God after that happened?
Father Khalil Jaar: No, but I can tell you that during that time I was unable to pray. Can you imagine that? Because I forgot everything. I was crying all the time. The only prayer that I could remember was to say, "My Lord, if I am here in Baghdad in this situation, it's because of you. It's because of you, it's because of your love. So you have the obligation to protect me. And I promise you, if I get home safely to my country, all my life will be for you, serving you and your people."
No, I am not angry with the Lord. Because he was all the time with me and because of him, I am now safe in my parish.
In what year did refugees start to arrive in Jordan?
Father Khalil Jaar: They started to come to Jordan after the first crisis of the Gulf in 1990, but the big wave of refugees arrived in Jordan in 2014 when ISIS took the control of the Muslim community in Iraq. We received 12,000 Iraqi families in one month. And since the beginning of the crisis in Syria, we received refugees from Syria at the border of Syria and Jordan.
So people cross the border, they come to the camp, and what happens after they arrive at the camp?
Father Khalil Jaar: Some of them are received in the camp, but many of the people don't live in the camps. They live on their own in the cities of Jordan. And I think the refugees living outside the refugee camp, they can be the most vulnerable people because there is nobody to take care of them. Nobody gives them health care or food. And so these kinds of refugees, I do my best to follow them and to assist them.
Are many of the refugees that you serve through your church Christians?
Father Khalil Jaar: When I am working in a human relief service, I am serving people who are suffering. I don't care about their religion. I have a lot of people—Christians, Muslims, Yazidi—working with the refugees. I can't make any difference between their faith. In my church, we serve many of the Muslims, because they feel that they are respected. They come to our church and I feel that they are very happy to come and ask for some help.
So how does the church have enough funds to help all of these families and to organize the school that you told us about?
Father Khalil Jaar: First of all, I have to tell you that we are working and helping all these people because of Providence. We have friends in the States and friends in Europe, who visit us and know about our work. Their donations are a big blessing for us. And thank the Lord, everything is going well. Even with the little we have, with the blessing of the Lord, I can assure you that everything is going smoothly and good.
So in the United States, our government does not want refugees at this moment. How does the Jordanian government feel about the number of refugees?
Father Khalil Jaar: We are obliged to say thank you to King Abdullah and his government because they really are very nice when we ask any favors for the refugees. In spite that our sources are very, very limited, Jordan is able to provide a big relief service for the refugees.
How do average Jordanians feel about the number of refugees? Are they overwhelmed? Are they tired? Are they still happy to help people?
Father Khalil Jaar: All of us, we are tired because we have so many things to do, but we don't have enough resources. But even so, we continue to support these people because they are in a very bad situation. I can tell you so many stories about the situation of these refugee families.
For example, one day a girl in our school for refugees, she fell down and the teacher called me. We tried to rescue her and figure out what was going on. When she started to talk, I asked her, "Tell me what did you eat?" She said, "Nothing, I didn't eat." I told her, "Why did you come to school without eating? You have to eat and then to come to the school." She looked to me, and I will never ever forget this girl when she looked at me, and she said, "Father, today is not my turn to eat." I thought, what does that mean?
When I took her to her family and I talked to her mother, I found a mother with four kids and the father was killed in Iraq. So I ask her, "How did you manage to support your four children?" She said, "Father, we depend on the charity of our neighbors. We don't have enough food for them. That's why I give food to my kids one by one." In my school, I can see that most of the kids—the Iraqi refugees—most of them their nutrition is very, very bad. They don't have enough food
In the camps, UNHCR will provide everything for the refugees—health care, education, and food. For Syrian refugees, even those living in the city, they have a VISA that gets a monthly deposit, and they can use it at the ATM and get pocket money. So the Syrian are very well assisted. They also have permission to work in the Jordan markets. But the Iraqis, they are not allowed to work.
What do you think that American Christians don't always understand about the refugee situation in Jordan?
Father Khalil Jaar: The friends who come to visit us, they realize immediately the urgent need for these people to be assisted, to be helped. I can tell you that we are very happy when we heard that the Australian embassy will invite from time to time, some families to travel to Australia. To Canada and to the United States is not permitted, and this is very sad.
And let me tell you something: the Iraqi refugees, especially the Iraqi refugees, they are very qualified people, very qualified people. Among them we have doctors, we have pharmaceuticals, we have dentists, we have teachers, we have engineers. And for the last four years, they are stuck in Amman, in Jordan, and they are suffering a very, very critical situation. They can be integrated into the society very easily.
Can people come and volunteer at your church and get involved with your programs?
Father Khalil Jaar: Yes, yes. For the time being, I have some volunteers working with me. They are from Spain. And earlier, in March of this year, a friend of mine, he's a doctor from Seattle in America, he came with his wife and two kids. He spent one month with us assisting people in our clinic. He speaks only English, but we have a translator with him to help people to express what they need.
What is the hardest part of your work?
Father Khalil Jaar: The hardest part for me is when I feel that I have to give people food to eat and I don't have the possibility. This is really very, very sad when someone comes to ask for food or to pay the rent of their house. And what kind of house? One or two rooms in a very bad situation. And now we will start the winter in Jordan. Winter is very, very cold and this is a very hard time for many refugees in Jordan.
People will come and ask for money, ask for food, ask for help because they need some operation to the hospital. Their demand is very high, but we don't have the possibility to afford all these needs. For me, these is the hardest moments of my life with them.
So what gives you comfort in your work? What gives you hope?
Father Khalil Jaar: I try to talk to my brothers, to my friends, to ask them for help. The Lord will provide. I trust the Lord that he will provide whatever we need. For example, my Bishop always asked me, "how can you manage to assist all these people in your parish?" He asks me the same question that you did right now. If you go to the book of Proverbs in the Holy Bible, chapter 13, verse 7, I found the answer on this page. It says, "Lord, before I die, I will ask you for two things: don't give me too much money because if you'll give me too much money, perhaps I will say, who is the Lord? I don't need him. And don't give me too much poverty, because to be very poor, I can say, ‘What is the Lord? He forgets me.’ So give me our daily bread."
And this is always our daily prayer. Lord, take care of us, give us exactly what we need. If we have too much, it could be temptation for corruption. And if we don't have too much, it could be, "Lord, why you forget us?" But for the time being, up to this moment, I can assure you that the Lord always provides exactly what we need.
Could share a story with us about how God provided for you recently.
Last October, we had a dust storm here in Jordan. And a dust storm in Jordan, in any Arab country in the Middle East, is very, very dangerous. The government gave orders to close universities, schools, everything for two days. During this storm, I was in the hospital for a small operation. One of our volunteers in the church called me and he said, "Father, you have been absent for two, three days. But we are in a very bad situation. We don't have food to took to give to the people." Because we had more than 200 families living within the church.
So I told them, "Go to the market and try to buy anything you can find." "Yes, Father, but we don't have money to pay." I said, "okay, you'll ask for the food and you tell them that in two days the Father will come back from the hospital." He said, "No, we can't do that." So I said, "Okay, give me five minutes to think about what we can do." In the hospital, I prayed to the Lord as I am talking to my dear friend and I told the Lord, "My Lord, you asked me to do my duty, but now you know that I am at the hospital. I think it's your time to do your duty. These people are your children before they are mine, so please do something."
After less than half an hour, I received a phone call from, I don't know who, but he told me, "Hello, is this Father Khalil speaking?" I said, "Yes." "Father, do you still have some refugees coming from Iraq?" I said, "Yes, sir." My tone was very tough. I was thinking that he wanted to send more people to my parish. He said, "Father, you know, I am talking to you on behalf of the Rotary Club in Jordan. We had a plan for a festival. We have everything ready, but because of the storm, we canceled everything. The food is already in the hotel and paid for. Can we send the food to your church?"
I give him the address and the telephone number to contact the people in the church. After an hour, they called me from the church and they said, "Father, what is this?" Because what happened? They said they brought all kinds of food.
For me, this is a miracle. That's why I tell you that we are living with the Providence of the Lord. Day by day.
Do Christians ever experience persecution or have to worry about persecution when they come to Jordan?
Father Khalil Jaar: No. In Jordan, we are living very good. Thanks to the Lord and thanks to the Hashemite family. For the time being, in Jordan, we are living very, very good. Believe me, I am being very sincere with you.
In Iraq, in Syria, you can imagine whatever you can imagine. But in Jordan, do you know how many are Christians? We are 1%. But I can assure you that we are very well respected, protected, and we have all our rights.
Father, how would you like our listeners to pray for you and your work?
Father Khalil Jaar: Please, please do. We need your prayers. We need your prayers because your prayers support us, give us enough strength to continue our work of charity and human service to our brothers.
Pray for me, so that the Lord gives me enough strength to continue my mission of charity and testimony for my Lord. I think that this is the best way to live our faith.
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