I stood still for a moment and took in our situation. A small crowd of Syrian children watched my team with expectation while they shuffled and fidgeted. Their voices crescendoed through the room. As their restlessness increased so did my discomfort. More children than we anticipated had arrived over the last hour, and our interpreter was now officially late.
When we told our contact that we wanted to spend time with Syrian children, we had no idea what was in store. We planned to have fun with these kids and play some games. We also brought basic hygiene supplies and prepared some snacks to hand out. Our contact helped us arrange everything and made sure we had a translator to get us through the day.
We were still setting up when the first few children arrived, an hour before expected. I was surprised but not too worried. It’s just a few kids, I thought, not anything to worry about. Five minutes later another small group came through the door, and the flow of kids steadily increased from there. Several of our team members attempted to engage the kids, first in English and then with their minimal Turkish, while the rest of us finished getting ready. The children were cautious but a few bolder ones chattered back. We couldn’t understand a word they said!
Since communicating with words did not work, we fumbled our way through a few simple games and tried to keep the children entertained. Still, there was no translator and an awkward restlessness permeated the room. “This isn’t working, how do we help them if we can’t talk to them?” I worried.
A sense of failure took hold of me as I looked into all the eager, hungry faces. I realized in that moment, it wasn’t just food they were hungry for; it was home. My attitude shifted then. We were here to bless and love these children, to help them forget the loss of their homes. So what if we couldn’t speak their language, we were all people weren’t we?
The room came alive to me with possibilities. Slowly, our team broke off with groups of children, dancing, painting faces, laughing. My teammates washed the children’s hands and feet, making sure their nails were trimmed—many of the kids lived on the streets and were ecstatic about this simple luxury.
It’s hard to explain how the atmosphere changed–one minute chaos seemed imminent, the next joy and compassion filled the room and drove away the barriers language and culture had built. The once shy and cautious children were now radiant and happy, basking in the attention and love we gave them.
When the translator showed up two hours late it didn’t even matter, God had done so much to bridge the gap, words were no longer necessary. We realized that day how connected we are as human beings and just how true the saying is, actions really do speak louder than words.