Students Praying for Syria: The Heart Behind the Hashtag

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Among the many goals it strives to achieve on campus, Stony Brook’s InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is exploring what it means to be compassionate and loving, in a world where loving one’s enemies is often difficult.

On Friday, February 17, InterVarsity hosted the #PrayforSyria: The Heart Behind the Hashtag event to educate and get students thinking about the current Syrian refugee crisis. Starting at 7 p.m. in SAC Ballroom B, students gathered at different tables where they not only mingled with both new and familiar faces but also embarked on enlightening, meaningful conversations concerning a crisis on the other side of the world that still deserves American university students’ attention.  

InterVarsity’s vision for the event declared, “Change won’t happen until our hearts change. From there is the source of our life— and if we want our life to produce mercy and compassion to those in need, our hearts need to be devoted to the vision of restoration, love and unity God has for His people.” To fulfill this vision, the evening was structured in three parts: raising awareness and educating people about the crisis, garnering empathy and asking how students can relate to the Syrian refugees, and taking real action to bring compassion onto campus. Videos were shown to both educate and lead people to develop empathy towards the Syrian refugee crisis, followed by lively discussions at each of the tables concerning what everyone had just watched.

For many students at the event, the emotional pain experienced by children in the crisis struck a chord. According to a post on InterVarsity’s Facebook page, half of the estimated 12 million Syrians who have fled their homes seeking safety are children. A short, one-second-a-day video was shown of a young girl living in London, experiencing the potential harrowing effects of war. After watching the video, many students agreed that no children should ever have to experience the misery and trauma of war.

This conversation segued into the last activity, when everyone received a paper leaf with an attached string and wrote down how they could show compassion on campus in a concrete way. They then hung up their leaves on the Unity Tree, a small tree that had been spray-painted silver and stood proudly in one corner of the room. Decorated with colorful leaves that each bore powerful promises of compassionate acts, the tree represented Stony Brook students’ united efforts to bring true compassion and understanding to campus.

"The purpose of the Syria event was to bring everyone from all across different political spectrums and ideals to talk about how they could relate to the crisis and to discuss what it really means to be aware of these things, how to relate to those suffering, and how to act in compassion towards those and even towards others on campus,” said Denisse Janvier, the main coordinator for the event, “We created it as a time to challenge students on campus to dig deeper into what it means to ‘love your neighbor’ and realize that us changing the world begins when we have changed hearts and attitudes. It was also a time to learn how love is meant to be beyond surface-level kind words and gestures, but actually actively loving your enemy and embracing those different than you.”

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