This past week I had the chance to visit Iraq and Lebanon with World Vision.  The only thing I knew, prior to the trip, was that we would be visiting with families living in refugee camps who had fled ISIS. I’ve seen footage of the violence and destruction that ISIS has wreaked on families in Syria and, like most who have seen the stories of these traumatized and desperate people, I am devastated for the Syrian people.

I wanted to go on this trip because I think that their stories desperately need to be told. It’s easy to turn a blind eye to what is happening to both the Iraqi and Syrian people because it’s happening so far away. It’s also so incredibly painful that I think it’s hard to even process it, especially for Americans who have never lived under occupation or experienced sustained violent conflict in our home country.

I also think that people tend to ignore it because to be honest, I think that it’s easy to distance ourselves from people who are culturally different. And this is all the more true when it comes to Muslim people. The media images we see of Muslims are of violent extremist, and the result is that xenophobia abounds. But while there are certainly Muslim people behind these atrocities it’s vital to remember that the majority of Muslims are victims to ISIS’s actions, and desperately want peace.

In spending time in the homes of both Iraqi and Syrian families, I was reminded again of how similar we really are. I met kids who could make a toy out of anything . . . even a piece of string. I met mothers who were desperately concerned for their children’s future. I met grandmothers who just wanted to keep their family together. I met teenagers who asked me to take a selfie. And I met people with incredible faith, strength, and determination in the midst of unfathomable grief and trauma.

Over the next few days, I will be sharing stories of the people I met, as well as some of the hard observations about refugee life and the future of the Syrian people. I will also share some of the ways World Vision is helping to meet the needs of these people, in ways that are both practical and hope-infusing. I was incredibly impressed with the work World Vision is doing, especially as a Christian organization serving a predominantly Muslim population with no agenda but love. (Literally, it is against policy for them to proselyte.) I’m hoping to share stories that bring a human connection to the crisis in the middle east, and some practical ideas for how you can help.