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How No New Clothes Will Help Me Support Syrian Refugees

A year ago I started reading news reports about the humanitarian crisis faced by millions – literally – of Syrian refugees chased by ongoing civil war across the borders of their country into Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
Analysts described it as the biggest humanitarian crisis in decades. First-person reports put faces to the men, women and children suffering displacement, violence and trauma. 

“I have to do something,” I thought, but I didn’t.

Months later, a young Christian leader I knew only via Twitter asked me to help him plan a fundraiser for Syrian refugees. 

“OK, let’s do it,” I thought, but we didn’t get the kinks worked out of our plan.

Last August, I had hoped to donate funds from my #MaybeICan2013 kayak challenge to Syrian refugees. 

“Great idea,” I thought, but after I donated my promised $10,000 to Congo, there was nothing left over for Syria.

In November, I was scheduled to visit Syrian refugees in Jordan. “I’ll launch a fundraising campaign after that,” I thought, but the trip was cancelled.

So much for good intentions – until my young Christian leader Twitter acquaintance, Matt Brown, sent me an email shortly before Christmas.

“I’ve got to do the fundraiser,” Matt wrote. “I’d appreciate your help, but with or without it, I have to do this.”

I was impressed that a young man who, by his own admission, had never been particularly tuned in to humanitarian needs, was so determined to respond to what he believed was a call from God. You can read the story of Matt’s passion for Syrian refugees here

So Matt put together a crowd-funding page and used his social networking expertise and connections to get the word out about Syrian refugees.

I used my personal relationships in the Middle East to identify grass-roots Christian ministries in Jordan and Lebanon that are serving Syrian refugees.

Because of security concerns for Christian organizations operating in some places in the Middle East, these organizations can’t afford to have a media presence. 

However, I can disperse funds directly to them. You can visit our page here.

“Great,” I thought. “We’ve done it! Surely we will meet our $10,000 goal in just a few days.”

“Once people realize that thousands of families are desperate for basic needs like food and shelter, they’ll give. Once people discover that children are facing a record cold winter without warm clothes and shoes, they’ll give. Once they learn that women and girls are being kidnapped into sex trafficking, they’ll give.”

But here’s the thing: people really haven’t been giving. Not much, anyway. And that frustrated me. OK, more than that. It made me mad. I mean, what’s with people, anyway?

Then I remembered: It took almost a year – and rather insistent nudging from Matt Brown – to move me from thought to action. 

I also remembered that I don’t donate to a lot of causes I know about – not because I don’t care, but simply because I can’t give to everything that comes along.

Who am I to point a finger at others? Who am I to judge people because they haven’t given to my particular cause?

So, no more pointing fingers or judging. However, I’m going to issue a challenge – and I’m accepting it myself – drawn from my experience with Congo.

In December 2008, I heard a National Public Radio report on the horrific civil war in Congo – about the more than 5 million people who had been killed, the hundreds of thousands displaced, and the thousands of women and girls raped as a weapon of war.

I was shocked. I knew I had to do something and I had to do it right away before I got sidetracked.

I did some research and discovered an organization through which I could sponsor a woman who had been brutally raped, so she could receive trauma counseling, medical care and job training. 

Immediately, I signed up for a 12-month commitment.

I was also prompted to do something that I didn’t quite understand, but I did it anyway. 

I decided that for the entire year of 2009, I would buy no clothing and I would donate the money I saved to Congo – which I did.

Let me admit that I’m not in a profession where I have to “dress for work,” I have never spent much on clothes anyway, and I actually don’t like to shop. So, it wasn’t like I was making a huge sacrifice.

Still, I did have a number of international trips and speaking engagements that year, which usually make me nervous enough to do whatever I think might help me feel more adequate or prepared – including “wardrobe enhancement.”

But in 2009, no wardrobe enhancements and no money spent on new clothes did, in fact, give me extra funds to send to Congo. Here are other things that happened as a result of that little decision:

Every time I thought about something I’d like to buy, I thought about Congo.

Every time I watched a TV ad for clothes, I thought about Congo.

Every time I dressed for a speaking engagment and wished I had something new to wear, I thought about Congo.

Thinking about Congo naturally prompted me to pray for Congo. Praying for Congo inspired me to do additional research into humanitarian interventions in Congo.

Research connected me with World Relief (WR), who was doing amazing on-the-ground work in Congo. 

Connecting with WR opened the door for me to travel to Congo and fall in love with Congolese people. Falling in love with Congolese people … well, you get the idea.

In other words, not buying new clothes for a year was about a lot more than not buying new clothes for a year.

So, with regards to the Syrian refugees, I have decided that 2014 would be another good year to forego wardrobe enhancement. 

And I pray to God that this little decision will prompt me to greater thought and prayer and action on behalf of Syrian refugees.

Would you like to join me? If you don’t feel a nudge to give to Syrian refugees, I understand. And if not buying new clothes for a year doesn’t seem like the right challenge for you, fine; I can understand that.

But might there be something else you could do or stop doing in 2014 that would help your heart and mind be more open to God’s world? 

Might there be some other cause or need that beckons you to make a sacrifice or a change so you can be more responsive to that need?

Lynne Hybels is a writer, speaker and activist who is engaged in ministry partnerships in under-resourced communities in Latin America and Africa. She is the founder of Ten for Congo – a personal fundraising initiative to support the thousands of women and girls brutally raped during the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A version of this article first appeared on her blog and is used with permission.

Editor’s note: You can learn more about Ten for Congo here and watch an EthicsDaily Skype interview with Lynne about this effort here.