About Syria // Let's Stop Talking & Start Working (A Letter from the President of FAI)
Like you, for over 5 years we have been watching Syria devour itself, wondering if there is anything we could do to help. As an organization, we have been praying for Syrians since the conflict first erupted. In fact, it is fair to say the outbreak of hostilities in Syria (in conjunction with the regional Arab Spring) was quite possibly the primary logical motivation for the creation of Frontier Alliance International in 2012.
But we needed access, and as 2016 came to a close, the Lord opened Syria’s doors to us. This year, we’ve been able to step into what we have spent the last half-decade praying for. It is a historic time for us as an organization and family to minister to Syria in her historic hour of need.
PIONEERING IN SYRIA
After establishing a primary base of operations earlier this year, we are now poised to pioneer two new works in two new locations in Syria. As we are now in full swing preparation mode, it is a good opportunity to share with you what we are doing, how we are doing it, and some of the guiding convictions that inform our approach.
Much of our work and methodology has been shaped by experimenting with strategies in other nations and regions and amidst other crisis zones over the past decade. We are at the beginning stage of pioneering in Syria, but we already have a great foundation laid—with more visible and measurable fruit than we anticipated we would have by now. While we are not experts by any means, and have no confidence in the flesh, we feel strong in spirit with the blueprints the Lord has given us.
FOUNDATIONS THAT CAN LAST
We take Romans 15:20-21 very seriously. Our ambition is to lay foundations where there are none and name the Name where it has never been named.
Anyone who has built a home knows that foundation laying is neither nebulous nor vague. It is very tangible, mathematical, measurable, and down to earth in the most literal way—and very important. You cannot put up walls if you don’t have a solid foundation to place them on. The labor of foundation laying has less to do with subjective philosophy and talking and more to do with calculated strategy and actual doing.
This is how we’re doing it: When we engage a new area and “pour the cement” for a new foundation, we do so with four stages in mind:
STAGE ONE: AN OLIVE BRANCH OF PEACE
We identify the most pressing material needs of the community. The communities in which we are breaking ground this week are currently in need of food and electricity, so we will ship in 5 tons of food and a few generators. The purpose of this is not to once and for all time eliminate hunger and rebuild the power grid—the purpose is to introduce ourselves. Jesus loved to introduce Himself to people through meeting a temporary material need with something that wouldn’t be a once and for all time fix. And He still does. This interaction of a few tons of food and generators creates an opportunity for a face-to-face meeting where the seeds of community can be sown and the miracle of trust between two very different people groups can be nurtured.
STAGE TWO: A MEDICAL CENTER
Before, during or after the exchange of this olive branch of peace, we offer to establish a family medical clinic to address the most pressing medical needs of the community on a daily basis and in a long-term way. It is very rare that a community will decline the offer. Every community needs healthcare. Not only is medical care universally needed and appreciated, it is also a great way of engaging the community on a level playing field. For example, the people who receive the attention are the people who need it. Whether its the most influential person in the community or the least, whether it is someone who appreciates the presence of our team or someone who is against it, it enables us to interact with an array of people and establish trust. If your child is hurting in the middle of the night and you don't know why, chances are you will bring your child to the medical center whether you like the team or not. From experience, we can say that medical care is quite possibly the best place to start pioneering in hostile and tumultuous unengaged regions. Not only is it a great trust builder, it is also very economical. A medical center can start as a modest tent or a brick-and-mortar room. Our aim is not to move in and build a full-blown hospital (in fact, if we did, it would likely be the target of airstrikes, just like so many hospitals in Syria have been targeted over the past five years).
See our teams' work in various locations in our FAI RELIEF Dispatch Roll.
STAGE THREE: AN EDUCATION CENTER
Once the team has functioned in a medical capacity for a season, we identify the education needs of the community. For example, in the location where we are establishing our newest work, there are around 1,000 children of mixed ages who haven't been in school for five years. Based on the numbers, the ages and the desires of the community, we offer to start a small-scale provisional education program. This is different than building a school. In Syria, schools are often targeted and destroyed. Often, even if they were to be rebuilt, they would be at risk of being destroyed again. In light of this unique context, it makes more sense to major on education and not the context of the education. For example, a tent, an existing home, a cinder block room, or a mobile unit can serve as the education center. The key to pioneering the medical and the education center is to start small and major on trust and respect. With trust and respect, there is little that can’t be done. Without it, there's little that can be done.
STAGE FOUR: COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
Once medical and education centers are established and functioning within the community in a context of mutual trust and respect, we can begin looking at a broader level of community development. This can take the form of water sanitation, rebuilding the electrical grid, vocational training or whatever is needed.
COUNTING THE COST
To lay this kind of a foundation and walk this vision out, only two things are really needed: Hudson Taylor called them “men and means” (“men” here referring to both men and women).
First, we need the right people. Identifying the right people for the mission is without question the most difficult and daunting task. Syria is not an easy place to live or an easy place to work and serve. We need the kind of doctors, educators and support staff who (1) want to come for the right reasons, (2) who have the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health to engage long-term, (3) who display the kind of wisdom, sensitivity and personality that would attract and not repel the host community, and (4) who understand the end game. Our singular aim in this endeavor is to fling salt and light across a dark and traumatized region which, in addition to having no access to healthcare, has no access to truth and hope.
Relief ministry is a means and not an end, which means we need relief ministers who are connected to the “why” behind the “what” so that the “what” doesn’t become an idol and corrupt and destroy the “why.” To be clear, we do not need a lot of people. We need the right people. There is a reason that Hudson Taylor developed a two-by-two model for engaging China in the nineteenth century. Two of the right people can get more done than 200 of the wrong people.
Second, we need financial resources. Below is a simple breakdown of the costs of pioneering the first three stages in a new location over a six-month window (figures shown in USD).
• $50,000 in food
• $25,000 for generators
• $50,000 for medical supplies (this figure is thankfully very low due to the fact that a number of generous aid organizations have donated the lion’s share of heavy duty medical gear that is beyond what we could afford)
• $25,000 for salaries (for local translators and teachers in the medical and education centers)
• $25,000 for education supplies
This adds up to $175,000 per location. You may wonder: How can an NGO launch a comprehensive community program in an area as ravaged and bankrupt as Syria for less than a quarter of a million dollars? The answer is simple: no one in FAI RELIEF takes a salary.I, as the Founder and President of FAI, do not receive a salary—and neither do our personnel. Everyone serving with FAI RELIEF does so as a volunteer who raises personal support.
This means that whatever comes in, goes out. And when it goes out, it does so laying structural foundations that can empower and undergird long-term ministry. While the startup costs are relatively high, the day-to-day costs are considerably low and the return on this investment is rising beyond measure. Our model has proven to be an incredibly effective way or catalyzing long-term work in regions of the Middle East that are notoriously difficult to get into—and stay inside of.
FOR HIS GLORY —
Founder & President, Frontier Alliance International
Dalton Thomas is the Founder and President of Frontier Alliance International, author of Unto Death: Martyrdom, Missions, and the Maturity of the Church, and director of FAI STUDIOS’ films. He and his wife live in the Middle East with their four sons. Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 See I Thessalonians 2:8