Matthew 25: Prayer for refugees, disaster survivors

Venezuelans emerge from the woods to ford the Tachira River and cross the border from Venezuela into Colombia.

God is with people suffering from disaster — the refugee, the earthquake survivor, the children facing famine, and families struggling from the secondary impacts of COVID-19.

In 2020, very few countries around the world were left untouched by COVID-19. For many, the pandemic caused suffering compounded by new and existing challenges, such as political conflict, violence, poverty, famine, natural disasters, and humanitarian emergencies.

God calls us to follow Him in offering hope to the most vulnerable in their hour of greatest need. Following Jesus’ example, we seek out the lost, injured, and threatened, providing care and protection when everything feels hopeless.  Join us in prayer for refugees and disaster survivors — for all who find themselves “strangers,” as Jesus calls them in Matthew 25:35.

I was a stranger and you invited me in.—Matthew 25:35 (NIV)
Ami sticks close to her father and grandmother at a distribution. Her deafness adds to her vulnerability as a migrant child.
Ami sticks close to her father and grandmother at a distribution. Her deafness adds to her vulnerability as a migrant child. (©2021 World Vision/photo by Chris Huber)

Ami, a 5-year-old Venezuelan girl, traveled almost 3,000 kilometers (more than 1,800 miles) from her home to the city of Huaquillas, on the Ecuadorian border with Peru. She traveled with her grandmother Nancy and her father, Anfernee. They arrived in March 2021.

Ami’s mother abandoned the family when Ami was just a year old. Since then, Nancy has been like a mother to the girl.

“When Ami reached the age that children typically begin to speak, she was only making muffled sounds,” says Nancy. “We took her to a specialist who told us that she was deaf and that she was not going to speak. She never received therapy to help improve her condition.”

Ami’s deafness and the lack of food in Venezuela motivated Anfernee to leave Venezuela in search of a place where they could provide better living conditions for her.

But at first they, like approximately 200 other families — mostly Venezuelan — lived on the streets of Huaquillas. The mayor’s office reported that 20% to 30% of this population are children and adolescents.

After seven days of living along the main road, Anfernee and three other young men found a home for all their families. The weary migrants welcomed the change. They now have a place to call home.

Then on April 20, World Vision partnered with the Ministry of Social Inclusion and Economy of Ecuador and The Adventist Development and Relief Agency to distribute food vouchers, biosecurity kits, and baby kits.

Show God’s love to the most vulnerable in their hour of greatest need.

Pray for disaster survivors.

Since the middle of the 20th century, recorded disasters have increased fivefold, with the majority stemming from weather-related disasters. By providing rapid help to people devastated by natural and man-made disasters, World Vision serves the most vulnerable in their hour of greatest need. During this time, people desperately need emergency assistance: food and clean water for basic sustenance, emergency shelter and blankets to keep warm and dry, and emergency health services.

Merciful Counselor, we grieve with communities suffering from disasters and struggling to recover. Speed the restoration of community life so children can feel secure again. Give families strength and perseverance while they rebuild their homes and livelihoods. We pray for disaster survivors to find refuge in You.

“Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.” —Psalm 57:1 (NIV)

Pray for international disaster readiness.

Many disasters strike with little or no warning, as the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami demonstrated. That morning, the tsunami traveled at up to 500 mph, radiating across the Indian Ocean before slamming into the coasts of 14 countries. Families had little time to react, much less prepare. So communities all around the Indian Ocean — even to Africa’s shores — experienced widespread destruction and homelessness.

From 1998 through 2018, 91% of storm-related fatalities were in low- and middle-income countries, even though these countries experienced just 32% of storms.

World Vision works across all humanitarian sectors to save lives, reduce suffering, and ensure families can begin to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. We also help communities prepare for future disasters, so people and property are safer in the years to come. And for every $1 spent in disaster preparedness, countries save $4 after disaster strikes.

Almighty God, You know that the hardest hit when disaster strikes are people who are poor and have few resources to recover and rebuild. Inspire leaders of the world’s wealthy nations to be ready to respond to disasters with compassion and generosity. Help governments invest in disaster risk reduction and preparedness training so their citizens are less vulnerable during emergencies.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” —Psalm 46:1 (NIV)

World Vision provides psychosocial support to children who fled from the DRC with their families at one of the Child Friendly Spaces within a Ugandan settlement camp. They are able to find positive ways to cope with their trauma through drawing, singing, dancing, and playing games.
World Vision provides psychosocial support to children who fled from the DRC with their families at one of the Child-Friendly Spaces within a Ugandan settlement camp. They are able to find positive ways to cope with their trauma through drawing, singing, dancing, and playing games. (©2020 World Vision/photo by Derrick Kyatuka)

Pray for refugees.

The number of people forcibly displaced is at a record high of 79.5 million, according to the U.N. refugee agency. Children under 18 make up 40% of that number. Some are refugees; others are displaced within their countries’ borders. The refugee crises originating from Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar paint the poignant picture of people fleeing conflicts and extreme poverty.

Good Shepherd, no refugee is a stranger to You, and no one is ever far from Your loving care. We pray for You to watch over refugee children and families as they travel to refugee camps or relocate within their country. Shelter their souls and their bodies. Heal the hearts of refugees who have endured unimaginable tragedy and trauma.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. —Psalm 34:18 (NIV)

Pray for peace and stability in countries with ongoing violence.

Violence and insecurity in SyriaSouth Sudanthe Democratic Republic of the CongoMyanmarVenezuela, and the Central African Republic have destabilized the lives of millions. Poverty and gang-related violence have created a wave of migration from Central America. Join us in praying for places around the world where peace is in short supply.

Lord of the nations, You tell us in Psalm 34:14 to “Turn from evil, and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” We grieve to see the lives of so many people disrupted by war and violence. This evil kills and maims people, separates families, harms the most vulnerable, and makes poverty a constant companion. We ask You to make “wars cease to the ends of the earth” (Psalm 46:9) so children and families can enjoy safety and prosperity again.

“He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.” —Psalm 46:9 (NIV)

Pray for vulnerable children, particularly refugees and disaster survivors.

Refugees and disaster survivors are caught in difficult circumstances, and the most vulnerable people among them are children. According to “The Silent Pandemic,” a 2021 report published by World Vision International and War Child Holland, 70% of displaced and refugee children say they need psychosocial support. That’s more than three times the estimated 22% prior to COVID-19.

World Vision’s disaster relief programs give priority to children and empower them — together with their families and communities — to become active participants in improving their well-being. World Vision operates Child-Friendly Spaces, which provide a place for children to:

  • Play, draw, sing, and share their feelings
  • Be safe from physical danger and the evil of trafficking
  • Engage in informal education
  • Learn resilience and life skills needed for adapting to their new environment
  • Return to or maintain a normal routine

Loving Provider, we echo the psalmist’s confidence, “For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help” (Psalm 72:12). Hear and answer girls’ and boys’ cries for help and provide them with the physical and emotional support they need. Let aid distributions reach children and families who need them most. In Your mercy, we pray for You to provide refugee families and disaster survivors with what they need to survive.

“For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.” —Psalm 72:12-14 (NIV)

Pray for children separated from their families or who have lost loved ones.

In the confusion of conflict, some children become separated from their parents and families. At the end of 2019, 153,300 refugee children were unaccompanied or separated from their families. Others are sent with friends or extended family in search of better conditions. Still, others witness the death of parents or siblings and are left all alone. Losing family members — especially parents — leaves lifelong scars.

These boys and girls are more vulnerable to abuse, labor, exploitation, and trafficking. Pray that God will continue to walk alongside each child and give them hope for the future.

Compassionate Father, we ask that You keep all separated children safe from any kind of abuse. Help children reunite with their parents and family soon. Turn the hearts of people bent toward evil so they treat vulnerable boys and girls with dignity and respect. Be a shepherd to children who are missing their parents and grieving a great loss. Heal them, provide for them, and let them know Your peace that surpasses understanding and Your love that surrounds them each day.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” —Matthew 5:4 (NIV)

Jemima Kiden is raising eight children in Uganda’s Bidibidi refugee camp. One of these children enjoys some of the food distributed by World Vision and World Food Programme.
Jemima Kiden is raising eight children in Uganda’s Bidibidi refugee camp. One of these children enjoys some of the food distributed by World Vision and the World Food Programme. (©2020 World Vision/photo by Brian Jakisa)

Pray for children’s health during refugee crises and after disasters.

In low-income nations, children younger than 5 are already at heightened risk for malnutrition, diarrheal diseases, and pneumonia brought on by contaminated water, reduced food, and inadequate shelter. After a disaster, children may miss important vaccinations, putting them further at risk for preventable diseases. All children in tents or makeshift shelters face winter and summer weather extremes. Many displaced children don’t have access to medicines or clinics if they fall ill.

Great Physician, we pray that You protect girls and boys — particularly refugee children and those who have survived a disaster — from illness and heal children who have fallen ill. Help their little bodies fight off sickness and disease. Allow medical help to reach children who need it most. Help parents and caretakers find appropriate shelter for all who need it.

“Disaster follows disaster; the whole land lies in ruins. In an instant my tents are destroyed, my shelter in a moment.” —Jeremiah 4:20 (NIV)

Six-year-old Souad uses her mother’s old cell phone to continue her school lessons in her family’s tent in an informal settlement in Lebanon.
Six-year-old Souad uses her mother’s old cell phone to continue her school lessons in her family’s tent in an informal settlement in Lebanon. (©2020 World Vision/photo by George Mghames)

Pray for children’s education during refugee crises and after disasters.

For children like Souad in Lebanon, 2020 was an unthinkable year, especially in terms of education. COVID-19 required schools to switch to remote learning in order to keep children, parents, and teachers safe.

The situation has been even harder on refugee children living in informal settlements in Lebanon. School used to be a haven for these children, an escape to a different and more colorful world, where dreams of a better life were possible, where every day they could learn something new and exciting, and where they met and played with friends in a safe and clean environment.

Now they must remain in their small and crowded tents trying to learn on their parents’ old, slow phones.

Souad already had difficulties in learning. She always needed additional support during her education. “Souad was not able to speak before she was 4 years old. She faced a lot of difficulties when she started going to school,” says her mother, Samira.

Samira, a mother of three, escaped the war in Syria five years ago and settled in Lebanon after their home was completely destroyed.

“I came here looking for safety for my family. But the last year here was really difficult due to the economic situation and coronavirus,” she says.

Still, Samira stresses her children’s education. “I want my children to keep going to school and learning, I want a better future and a better life for them,” she says. “But now the situation is hard especially for us refugees, we already had a lot of problems and now our children have to stay and study at home.”

Samira feels especially concerned for Souad and says, “Souad always had difficulties learning at school, but ever since she enrolled with World Vision, I started noticing big changes in her learning abilities in the past few days.”

She’s talking about World Vision’s partnership with UNICEF and Commonwealth & Development Office to provide remote learning through community-based early childhood education that helps keep Syrian refugee children learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I started teaching Souad around two months ago,” says her teacher, Malak el Riz. “At first, she was very shy and did not talk too much. She had pronunciation difficulties and was scared to say something wrong.”

Malak took the little girl under her wing. She spent one-to-one teaching time with Souad. And it’s paying off. Souad has learned to pronounce her words better, knows the letters of the alphabet, and now can easily count to 10. She’s also more courageous and even dreams of becoming a doctor one day.

“Thank God Souad is progressing with her teacher and I really hope and pray that she will have a bright future ahead of her,” says Samira.

Children on the move or in temporary housing often miss out on their education. Children not in their home countries usually can’t afford school or don’t understand lessons taught in another language. Girls and boys displaced in their own countries may not have access to formal classes or enough teachers in temporary settlements. And the average displacement now lasts more than five years — about half of a child’s school years.

Heavenly Father, You placed in children a curiosity about their world. This spark is what ignites learning. We ask You to make a way for every displaced girl and boy to restart school and make up for the lessons they missed. Help them gain the knowledge they need to reach the goals they have for the future. And give teachers the training to help these students regain what they may have lost.

“An intelligent mind acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.”—Proverbs 18:15 (RSV)

Pray for World Vision and its partners’ disaster and emergency responses.

In 2020, World Vision assisted 27.1 million people — including 18 million children — affected by 68 disasters, beyond its COVID-19 global response. World Vision has highly trained experts to respond to catastrophes. But this critical work is only possible because of the faithfulness of World Vision’s donors and partners, who provide the resources essential for this kind of response.

Dear Lord, thank You for donors and partners who faithfully support World Vision’s relief work around the world. Continue to equip World Vision and other organizations whose staffs work tirelessly during disasters, providing life’s essentials to meet urgent needs. Equip and inspire aid workers when they are exhausted so they can continue to help families recover and rebuild. Let support for refugees and disaster survivors never dwindle.

“And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.” —2 Thessalonians 2:13 (NIV)

Denise C. Koenig and Laura Reinhardt of World Vision’s U.S. staff; Chris Huber, Gabriela Becerra, and Salome Becerra of World Vision’s Ecuador staff; Derrick Kyatuka of World Vision’s Uganda staff; and George Mghames of World Vision’s Lebanon staff contributed to this article.

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