“ISIS has been defeated inside Syria, and the West seems to think the war in Syria is winding down,” observes Tom Atema, President of Heart for Lebanon.
However, eradicating the Islamic State’s ideology is proving easier said than done. As noted in the aforementioned report, the wives and children of IS fighters still embrace terrorist ideals. According to Atema, those messages exist in Lebanon’s refugee camps, too.
“It’s not openly talked about but it’s openly pursued by radical groups to get more people to join that way of thinking, and many do.”
The IS caliphate: gone but not dead
Last month, U.S. President Trump and Syrian officials declared an end to the Islamic State caliphate, leading many to believe the war in Syria was near conclusion. Atema agrees to an extent. Yes, he says, the Syrian war is “back to [the way it was] before ISIS raised its ugly head.”
However, fighting between dozens of armed factions within Syria is ongoing, and the civil war is nowhere near resolution. Additionally, “you have this problem that we’re talking about now – ideology.
“Ideology cannot be won and fought over unless you work with the young people and start changing their minds.”
Islamic State fighters recognize the importance of shaping young minds. A woman living in Syria’s al-Hol refugee camp underscored this fact during a conversation with NPR:
This is the next generation of the caliphate. If you talk to them, they have the true creed implanted in their minds. The true creed will remain.
“The war – the ideology war – is not over, and it never will be,” Atema continues. “It will always have its followers and its groups. But, once again, I think it’s an opportunity – a gift of opportunity from God – for those of us who are faith followers of Jesus Christ.”
IS terrorists inflict unimagined horrors on society wherever they appear – all in the name of Islam. The radicals’ dedication and commitment repulse most, but captivate some.
“They (Islamic State) believe very strongly that one of the problems in the world is… that the Muslim culture has ‘drifted’ from the core values and they’ve got to get back to the ‘pure’ religion of Islam,” Atema explains, trying to summarize the message which enraptures so many.
“When you have nothing going on in your life – life is void and you have nothing to do but wander around and think – your mind might go in that direction if there’s not an alternative.”
This underscores the importance of Heart for Lebanon’s presence and message.
A new message
Heart for Lebanon’s primary focus is helping under-resourced families and children in Lebanon. When Syria’s civil war began eight years ago and refugees started flooding across the border, the ministry expanded its efforts to reach this new population.
Today, Heart for Lebanon actively leads people from despair to hope through family care and education, relational engagement, and reconciliation through spiritual discipleship.
“I don’t want to say they’re easily convinced about Jesus Christ, but they’re more open to a discussion than ever before.”
Learn about Heart for Lebanon’s ministry to Syrian refugees here. More importantly, please surround the organization in prayer. Ask the Lord to provide leaders with wisdom and discernment.
“We have the capacity [and] the staff. We just need the resources and wisdom on how to execute that in a proper manner,” Atema says.
“With our new ministry center [opening] in September, we can take our school from 100 students to 250 students…. Instead of 900 refugee families… we can take that number up to 4,000 families.”
Header image courtesy Prayercast.