Can you imagine life in New Zealand without 111? 

For 62 years, New Zealand’s 111 service has provided a lifeline to Kiwis in need. We know that if we dial this number, help will come.  

It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, or what your religious or political persuasion is, or how you identify ethnically or sexually. The only thing that matters is that you’re someone in need and you’re calling for assistance. 

Importantly, when you call for help, you don’t expect the responders to make the problem worse! You don’t expect them to make you more anxious, stressed, or to suffer more! We trust that the help we need is the help we will receive. 

Now, imagine life without 111 and you're caught in a moment of crisis. You are pushed beyond your ability to cope and there is no one there to help. Regardless of how strong, smart, or resilient you are, the circumstances are outside of your control. You are left utterly vulnerable and overwhelmed and need someone to help you—but you don’t know where the help will come from. 

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A young Syrian refugee outside the makeshift tent.

As I write this, I’m thinking back to 2014 when I watched a Syrian family arrive as refugees in Lebanon. They arrived at dusk in an old beaten-up van in front of a row of crudely made tents alongside a dirt track that ran through a potato farm. As the van sped off into the fading light, I remember the faces of this family—a father, mother, and young children—with just a handful of possessions, having no idea where they were or what they were to do.

I can’t begin to comprehend how vulnerable and overwhelmed they must have felt at that moment or how desperate they must have been for someone – anyone – to come to their aid.

What happened next was incredible. A wonderful man named Hussein immediately greeted them. This was not the first time a family of refugees had been abandoned in front of this long row of tents and Hussein knew exactly what to do. Hussein instructed the children playing on the dirt track to tell their parents a new family had arrived. Hussein welcomed them and ushered them inside one of the larger, better-constructed tents. As he served them tea and spoke kindly to them, others joined them in the tent. All of them were Syrian refugees now living beside the potato field and each one brought a small gift for this newly arrived family: a mattress; a blanket; warm clothes; whatever they could bring. As I looked on from the back of the tent, I saw the tension slowly lift from the father’s shoulders and the worry vanish from his face as he drank tea and talked with Hussein and the other refugees. As night set in, I watched this weary man relax as he sensed that his family would be ok.


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Makeshift shelters.

Having someone there for you when you can’t cope on your own and being afforded dignity when everything has been stripped from you—that’s the heart of how and why Tearfund responds to disasters and conflict.

For over 40 years, Tearfund New Zealand has responded to disasters and conflicts in places where local responders have been overwhelmed, and where international support is needed to prevent and reduce human suffering. And just like someone at the end of a 111 call asking for help, trusting it will come regardless of who they are, Tearfund’s only concern is to get help to those people most in need, irrespective of their race, religious beliefs, class, or political opinions.

Just like New Zealand’s emergency responders, the last thing we want to do is make a bad situation worse. We are committed to the principle of ‘do no harm’, meaning that we think about the possible negative effects of our actions and work proactively to ensure those we are serving are protected and treated with dignity. We plan our responses so that the help people receive is the assistance they need. We want people to say that the support they have received from Tearfund and how they have been helped (treated with dignity and respect) has enabled them to cope and has helped alleviate their suffering and sorrow.

In Lebanon, Syrian refugees may not be able to dial 111 for assistance, but they can call out to their local church for help. Thanks to the work of Tearfund’s partner, MERATH, churches across Lebanon are being resourced to provide food, winter materials, and schooling for vulnerable refugee families. When I think of Hussein and the families who are still living in that row of tents built alongside a potato field, I also think of the local Baptist church which, for nearly ten years now, has loved and supported that community of refugees. Because of this local Baptist church, refugees who would otherwise go hungry can receive a monthly food ration. Mothers who cannot afford nappies for their babies are receiving them and milk formula. Until Covid-19, the church was running a school for refugee children and hosting health teams from around the world so refugees who can’t pay for healthcare, can access a doctor and receive the medicine they need. The Bible tells us that the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love, and from what I’ve seen, the Church in Lebanon is expressing its faith in bucket loads!

I thank God I live in a country where I can call 111 when I’m pushed beyond my means to cope. I thank God for His Church in Lebanon which, despite so many challenges and stresses, continues to serve refugees who have been swept up in a crisis outside of their control. And I want to say thank you for your support of Tearfund’s work and for helping us to respond to the needs of those impacted by disasters and conflict.


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