The Babies of Beqaa Valley

by Katy Johnson

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Walk the refugee camps of the Beqaa Valley and you realize at its root, the Syrian crisis in Lebanon is a crisis of children.

Seven years since the outbreak of the war in Syria, the valley no longer cradles hundreds of children, but thousands. At last count, the international community believes 75,000 Syrian children have been born in Lebanon alone over the last four years.

If you sit in the tents of those children’s mothers, they share a common fear: “What will happen to our little ones?”

This is the question at the front of my mind as well as I scoot my chair a bit closer to a Syrian mother playing with her son during our team’s visit to a local Lebanese initiative called the Baby Project.

The Baby Project provides formula, diapers, medicine and parenting classes for the first 12 months of a baby’s life, empowering mothers to meet their babies’ needs during the most critical stage of childhood development. Attachment theory says the development or delays experienced in bonding and meeting basic needs during these first 12 months will set the tone for each baby’s life, which is why the Baby Project works to accept as many mothers and children into the program as possible.

Each year, the program works to identify the most vulnerable babies and mothers, and accepts as many as possible based on the number of donors who offer a one-time gift of $1,080 or a recurring gift of $90 a month to fund a mother’s participation in the program. Last year, funds enabled over 80 mothers to join the program; this year there are funds for only 20. My new friend—we’ll call him Adnan—and his mama are two of the lucky few participants.

I notice Adnan’s mother has taken particular care with his outfit today, much to Adnan’s fascination. The blue and white leather shoes he wears with velcro tabs cause Adnan’s brow to furrow.  I watch him ponder how the tabs work, and then I begin to play—sticking and unsticking the tabs rapidly. His brows knit closer together under his stocking cap; Adnan is boggled by the velcro technology. With his focus, Adnan’s mother giggles, flips him forward and starts to engage in a new game, naming various body parts in Arabic and beaming as Adnan touches the corresponding feature of her face—mouth, eyes, nose. Adnan is bright, and his mother clearly intends to cultivate his curiosity. Adnan and I begin to play a hand clapping game; more giggling quickly ensues. I start to build some trust and Adnan agrees to let me hold him after we’ve clapped hands enough times; his mother is gracious, continuing to sit close and coo with her son.

I watch and a pang in my chest starts to grow; at the back of my mind I know: Adnan is likely one of the Beqaa Valley’s forgotten babies.

While some of the Beqaa Valley’s refugee children are birthed in hospitals, most are delivered with the aid of midwives within the camps and none of the birth certificates issued to these children grant citizenship. The rights of a refugee in Lebanon are highly contentious. Many Lebanese fear the impact of granting citizenship to refugees. If you ask, Lebanese voices will cite many different social, economic, political and cultural factors as cause for concern in regards to legitimizing the stay of the Syrian people or naturalizing them into the country.

This political morass has yielded the crisis of the forgotten babies, because children without citizenship in Lebanon cannot sit for official exams or receive formal transcripts marking their education progress. And so, on paper, Syrian children do not exist, and are often barred from the path of educational mobility.  

What is a life where you do not exist?

The first babies of Beqaa Valley are now turning five and six years old, already starting to lose ground in the educational system. This is how the Lost Generation of Syrian children begins to gain shape and take form. What will become of these children? What radical ideologies might prey upon these young ones, neglected and abandoned by the more privileged citizens of the world? The questions make my chest ache as I continue to make popping noises with Adnan, his pudgy fingers reaching for my lips, wondering how it is they make such a loud sound. What educators will instill in him the love for learning that breeds progress and hope, not just for himself, but for his family and for the world?

The issues of the Middle East, of Syria and Lebanon, of Muslim radicals and Christian aid workers—they will not resolve themselves quickly. Those narratives are complicated; requiring nuanced conversation, understanding, and relationship. However, bearing witness to the pain of Syrian mothers and the needs of Syrian children is not so difficult. Our work starts with initiatives like the Baby Project. From there, we can move into developing education solutions for Syrian children.

This is why One Million Thumbprints has dedicated our time and resources in Lebanon to partnering with organizations that strategically empower mothers and invest in children. We see these two efforts as critical to the mission of hope for those in crisis. We invite you to join us by donating specifically to the Baby Project, or contacting us directly for emerging projects in developing childhood education.

When we accomplish this work, we align our hearts with the heart of Jesus, and we help Syrians redefine their cultural narrative:

“Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” –Mark 10:14

Thank you for joining us. Thank you for believing in all of God’s children.

sadness, three quarters


We lock eyes. Her name is Haya. My mind flashes to National Geographic and eyes that stay the same color but grow tired over time. But this is not a photo opp. She is not a photo opp or any other kind of opp. I don’t really want to write articles. I don’t even want to tell her story because I wonder how much her life has been dictated to her. But I don’t know. That’s the story. That’s the answer. I don’t know. 

Her day starts before her husband’s does. She fixes a breakfast of olives and cheese. "Sometimes, there’s cheese," she says, referring to the ration distribution. Her home is three rooms. The walls are made of water proof plastic. On the floors are sleeping mats at the base of each wall. 

Why would your greatest hope be to return to a place that you know to be gone? You know your home is no longer—and you want it, still. To an Arab, attachment to soil, ground, trees is an important part of familial identity. This plastic and plywood tent cannot hold that identity. It cannot ground it. Cover a living, breathing thing in plastic and you suffocate it. It dies for lack of sun. And so, the longing for ‘home’ wells up and overflows into every sentence. 

“What words would you use to describe your feelings?” the woman to my left asks our host.  She says that it cannot be described. There is too much sadness in the way.

Well, there it is. Sadness. “So, how much of your body is filled with sadness?” someone asks This she can answer. “At least 75%.” 

We have a very difficult time sitting in tension. I was told today that, in the West, we see 95% in black and white. We only allow 5% to remain grey. Our translator asks our host, “These women are from the United States. If you could ask them for anything, what would it be?” My heart flips. My mind races through all the possible answers she could give. I want to interject, ‘Wait, don’t ask that. What if we can’t deliver? Don’t give her false hope.’ And then I realize that any hope cannot be false. It cannot be in vain. Because hope will always empower. It will always lead towards life. 

Another woman asks, “So, what do you want to make sure we really know?” 

Our host closes with, “I you want to forget everything about this visit, don’t forget that my daughter needs a better future. If there is any way you can do this, help. Help.” 

If you want to know more about the projects One Million Thumbprints js supporting in Lebanon and Syria, please visit here

A Syrian Mother's Day

by Katy Johnson


Belinda Bauman and Alyce Dailey are leading a team of mothers to honor refugee mothers of Syria. This is the first of a series of blogs presented by members of the team.

Day One in Bekka Valley brings our first visit to an informal refugee camp. When it comes to refugee settlements, the word “informal” carries a clear connotation. These are camps set up outside the purview of the U.N., which means these are camps where safety, clean water, access to food, protection from civil unrest and accountability for landlords are not taken into consideration, let alone guaranteed. These are camps where Syrian refugees in Lebanon find themselves even more vulnerable and exposed.

Today, Mother’s Day, we conduct our first meeting with a young mother. 18, pregnant, wide-eyed yet wise, she embodies the reality of many of the refugees currently residing in Lebanon.

Welcomed as guests into her tent—home to her husband’s extended family—we sip a taste of the land she has fled: Syrian tea served sweet and steaming. Gathered around her, we savor and we listen while our host shares her story of arrival and temporary settlement in Lebanon.


Hers is a story of scattering—family spread desperately thin, like the remnants of oil scraped across an empty bowl of hummus. Sent to Lebanon to marry her fiancé, our host tells us that in the violence she has lost contact with her parents and brothers. Their displacement stretches across both Syria and the Middle East, and we have no sense of how likely it is the family will find one another again. Furthermore, as former residents of the now decimated Homs, they can never return to the home that they knew.

Yet our host also wants us to hear that hers is a story of new life—shining forth most clearly in her bright and darling toddler. We all find ourselves taken with the baby girl’s almond shaped eyes and quizzical brows, features she clearly has inherited from her mother.

There’s too much to speak in such a quick gathering, and at moments our host finds herself a bit lost for words. When we say we are here to help, she asks if we are from Canada.

“America,” we reply. My heart quivers as I see her countenance fall. These days, American citizenship in a refugee camp is enough to make my face flush red and my heart feel shame.

We tell her we long to share her story, and we ask her what she needs us to take back to our home. What do people need to know about her life? Our host speaks with clarity and conviction, all her words spoken for the sake of the baby cuddled nearby and the one she still carries within her.

“My daughter looks at the planes overhead and tells my husband, ‘Daddy, we should fly away from here.’” Our host continues by sharing her fear that her daughter will share her own fate and find herself stripped away from her family by war.

Instead, this young mother longs to take her family to a land of greater safety and freedom than her own life has known. She shares that her daughter talks about being a doctor, and that she longs to offer her child that opportunity.

But she cannot do it alone.

Syrian mothers around Lebanon and the world are aching for their children to live out the hope found on the other side of refuge. That story starts as we support work on the ground where the needs are most urgent in Syria and Lebanon through Together, For the Family. To learn more about the projects needing funding, visit One Million Thumbprints.

We left pondering our young mother’s final plea: “If you want to forget everything about this visit, don’t forget my daughter needs a better future. If there is any way you can do this, help. Help.”


First Summit!


Last night I received this email from Susan:  

Hello! Back in WiFi!  Good news... we summited Izta today! It was probably the most difficult thing I’ve done—but worth every minute! We’ll be traveling to Orizaba tomorrow, hoping to attempt a summit on December 1 or 2.   Thank you for your prayers!  - Susan

Team Vandenbos NOT ONLY SUMMITED Izta today, but they summited the $2,000 mark in supporting Syrian Refugee women and children! THANK YOU to all who have helped make this a reality, and we WELCOME all those who want to help us make it to $5000.00 as these two brave souls attempt to summit Orizaba. 

Text your gift to 71777 and TEAMVANDENBOS or click here:

As always, 100% of your gift will go directly to our program partner doing amazing work on the Lebanese-Syrian boarder!!  Your financial gift is reciepted immediatly, and completly safe and protected by our world-class funding platform. 

Every dollar you give means the WORLD to us!!  


short routes and little victories

 Curtis and Susan Vanden Bos are climbing two volcanoes in Mexico to raise awareness for Syrian refugees. To prepare for their journey, they climbed Mount Rainier in Washington.

Curtis and Susan Vanden Bos are climbing two volcanoes in Mexico to raise awareness for Syrian refugees. To prepare for their journey, they climbed Mount Rainier in Washington.

I found myself on a snowy flank of Mount Rainier with the realization that the best way to live this life is truly one step at a time. Like a song on repeat, this realization was running though my mind in attempt to regain strength in each step over the five hours of climbing through above-the-knee snow. This mantra came my way a couple years prior when I needed something to push me through challenges in my work life. I couldn’t think long-term in that season—I had to find a way to give myself short routes and celebrate the little victories. On Rainier, I felt similarly and that mantra became my motivator.

The wind was pounding us from the west, sending a mixture of snow and ice onto us with each gust. In general, my body temperature runs cold, so I especially bundled up for this climb wearing almost all the clothes I brought, considering the conditions that day. Our team had been waiting a few days to make this ascent due to the snow conditions. At one point four days earlier, we turned around because of avalanche danger. The conditions were good now, just cold and windy. Even in our snowshoes, we’d sink significantly into the snow, making every step more challenging. I kept wondering why I didn’t do more lunges. Some of the simplest movements up the mountain felt exhausting.

The week earlier, while I was living in the comforts of the suburbs, seeking to courageously take one step at a time felt relatively easy—at least I had electricity or a warm home to return to or find relief in. In the cold air on the mountain, my thoughts turned toward women in danger around the world like our Syrian sisters who needed to muster the strength for their next step—taking care of themselves, and maybe their children, finding safety, finding a way to provide for their family, trying to comprehend the hardships in their life. There were days they probably felt like they were on a cold and snowy side of a mountain, nearly hopeless and just trying to keep moving out of fear of collapse. I’ve heard stories of these women—women of strength, courage, resilience. And while I don’t know them, I feel like I do. Their stories have taught me more about the yeast that expands the dough of this world: how we treat each other matters, how we respond to our past matters, and the legacy we pass onto our community matters. The pain they are experiencing is beyond my understanding. The family or home they are fighting for is foreign to me. But how I respond is entirely important.

When you’re on a mountain, just trying your very best to survive the high winds and the biting cold, you are vulnerable to all the elements—to the earth and nature around you, to any person who may have an advantage, to the weary spirit within you that simply wants to sit down. I relied on my team that day on Mount Rainier. The smallest reassurance felt like gold. The gentle lending hand on a move I was struggling with was the most loving and thoughtful gesture. If I dropped my trekking pole, having a teammate bend down with their loaded pack and awkward snowshoes meant the world to me. They encouraged me with each step forward, and even when I felt like I was making steps backwards. We belonged to each other on the mountain. We had each other’s backs and would do whatever we could to serve one another. The least we could do was treat each other with respect and dignity, knowing that we are all working hard to defy our conditions.

Curtis and Susan Vanden Bos are climbing two volcanoes in Mexico to raise awareness for Syrian refugees. To learn more about Curtis and Susan and how you can help, click here.


The story Inside us: part one

 Photo courtesy of Chelsea Hudson Photography

Photo courtesy of Chelsea Hudson Photography

“There is no greater agony,” says poet Maya Angelou, “than bearing an untold story inside you.” It has been five years since Lynne Hybels and I, along with five friends met a woman who asked us to tell the world her story. It is good to reflect on how her words, given to us in a painful and yet beautiful moment, have become a mandate.  Her story takes place in one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman: The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Rich in minerals and natural resources, yet the poorest country in the world, a woman in the Congo is raped almost every minute. In a country plagued by decades of war, rape is cheaper than bullets.

Yet Congo’s crucible has produced hauntingly beautiful stories of hope too. We traveled with World Relief on a mission originally called Ten for Congo. How could we know that an original ten would multiply exponentially into what is now One Million Thumbprints, our grassroots movement to help women who live in war zones?  Sitting on the concrete floors of the rebel occupied, mineral rich territory of Rutshuru. we listened for hours to stories of women who survived brutal rape. It was here we met Esperance, whose name means hope. “Tell my story,” she implored, "Tell my story to the world."  Then signing her name on a release form in the most human and personal way she knew how, by dipping her thumb in ink and stamping her plea on a page with her name printed underneath.

Upon meeting her, our eyes took in only the obvious: orange shirt stained with work; pink and blue tie dye skirt wrapped around a very tiny waist; white head scarf with a grey bow; and neon green flip flops with white daisies. High cheekbones, deep set eyes, her lips pulled tight, her feet planted and calloused like the roots of a tree. She was the first of 11 to speak. Eyes downcast, hands folded at her abdomen, she told us her name, her age, and the number of children under her care. She is 50. She has four children. She unfolded her story, slowly, opening each sentence to the light that filtered through the windows of the remote village church where we sat.

Esperance and her husband had set out to find cooking wood. “It must be done,” she said, “even though it is dangerous.” They met militia soldiers in the bush; each man carried a machete tucked inside his fatigues, and each man had a gun. In a clearing, the soldiers bound the hands of Esperance and her husband, when her husband resisted, she instinctively threw her hands to the top of her head in surrender. She knew what the soldiers would do. First they shot her husband and then they threw their fists at her face. She was thrown to the ground, stripped her clothes, and raped. When they were done, they left her in the forest, where she remained for three days — torn, bleeding and unable to walk.

She did not say how she was eventually found. She did not say how she struggled at the hospital with the month-long treatment for the prevention of HIV, pregnancy and STDs. She said only that the violence she endured was so physically devastating it could not be fully repaired with surgery. She would have despaired if it were not for pastors who sent a local caregiver, Mama Odele, who co-leads a recovery program with other volunteer counselors. The counselors cleaned her, clothed her and took her to the hospital for a rape treatment. When she returned home, they visited her, brought her children food and helped her find work. She said it was their kindness that reminded her she was still a human being.

As she finished her story, the shadow of pain slowly eased, and the tightness of her lips relaxed into a smile. Still human. Still a woman. Still a sister.

Five years later, still inspired by Esperance’s mandate and thumbprint, we not only support women suffering the affects of war in DRC and South Sudan in partnership with World Relief. More recently we are supporting Syrian refugees, all women, living in the crowded, makeshift camps of Beqaa Valley in Lebanon.

What kind of support do we give? Glad you asked!  Our response revolves around two kinds of “currency” that power our work; two ways that you can make your mark for women in war zones:  thumbprints and funds.

Make Your Mark with Thumbprints

To date we have collected nearly 10,000 thumbprints; we're just beginning. Why thumbpints?  Thumbprints are the “currency” that drives our advocacy. A thumbprint represents YOU, your story of support for helping women in war zones survive, stabilize and eventually sustain grassroots peace. Like Esperance, giving your thumbprint is giving part of yourself to identify with the pain and joy found in the stories of women living in war.  When Esperance gave her thumbprint, we added ours, and then those of our friends, then family, and so many others. We have collected thumbprints from women’s groups, book clubs, bake sales, Colleges and Universities, church events, seminaries, recovery groups, conferences, student from Kindergarten to graduate, boy scouts, girl scouts, Rotary Clubs, athletic teams, and even my personal favorite—a group of Nun’s! (We call them our “nunprints”J) When you give your thumbprint, you join thousands of peacemakers who are fighting one of the most difficult problems we face in the world today— violence against women caught in conflict.  One Million Thumbprints began with one thumbprint, and will end with millions. But your thumbprint is not just a message of solidarity.  Each time we reach a milestone of thumbprints collected—10,000, 20,000, 100,000 and more--we will share with the members of the USAID Office of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment as well as our US Ambassador to the UN. Our desire is to “break the silence” and encourage the US and the UN to actively renew their support and work towards the goals defined in the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security established by the recently defunded US Department of State Office of Global Women’s Issues, as well as the defunded Office of .  Your mark will advocate for the tangible change only the way such a valuable and personal currency can.

To date, we have raised well over $250,000.00 to fund programs through well vetted, local, grassroots implementing partners in three of the most dangerous places to be a woman - the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Syria. The programs we support must meet our three essential criteria:

Protecting women and ensuring the care of survivors.

Providing women a seat at the peacemaking table to help bring stability.

Promoting sustained educational development and economic empowerment for women in conflict zones.

Our implementing partners help ensure survival for women experiencing violence in war zones through emergency relief in the form of immediate food, clothing, and shelter. Because sexual violence is often used against women during war, emergency relief also includes rape or sexual violence treatment, trauma assistance and medical support. Protecting women and ensuring the care of survivors is essential.  They actively train women leaders within their communities in conflict resolution skills, trauma care, mediation techniques as a means of stabilizing their community and preventing future violence against the vulnerable. If women are not included in this peace building process, gender-based violations in times of conflict will not be given proper attention and consideration. They promote sustainable, long-term solutions for peace in war-torn regions must include economic and educational development opportunities that empower women. Programs often look different in different conflict zones, even in the same geographic region.  They include community micro-savings, microfinance, farming co-ops, agribusiness, as well as refugee care and education leading to resettlement.   

Esperance’s story was the first we heard that day five years ago. To date, have listened, noted and told in some form over 100 women’s stories. They each share an unfolding story that gives us hope and confidence in our response. Esperance was given immediate emergency relief in the form of clothing, medical care, and shelter.  She receives trauma counseling and hopes to be trained as a trauma counselor in the future. She and those supporting her are directly involved in providing stability and ongoing sustainable progress in her community. She represents the hope fueling our desire to see more women protected and empowered to bring peace to their communities. 

Stories that end like this bring great joy to our community of peacemakers!

Our blog will be a nerve center for answering our mandate to tell women’s stories to the world.   The stories inside us transform from debilitating agony to power houses of change when they are heard, felt deeply and shared widely. We pray you will become an agent of change as you share, give, advocate, and make your mark.

seeking higher ground

 Photo courtesy of Chelsea Hudson Photography

Photo courtesy of Chelsea Hudson Photography

Climbing Kilimanjaro was a pinnacle experience for all of us at One Million Thumbprints.  But the mountain was only the beginning. Follow us on social media for new news from our programs partners, including stories of strength from our recent visit with Syrian sisters fleeing the violence of war. We'll also be taking about an important opportunity for you to join our Advent Advocacy push. 

Someone said, “If you lose your way, find higher ground.” As I watch today’s news and speak with our global sisterhood, I worry the world has lost its way. But what can do something; we can help the world seek higher ground.

Click on the links below to follow us, share with friends, and let’s rise up together for the sake of our sisters in war zones:

Facebook at One Million Thumbprints

Twitter @1MThumbprints

Instagram at onemillionthumbprints



International Woman’s Day: 1 Year from the Mountain by Joy Beth Smith

I remember we were living above the clouds for days. I remember beginning to climb in the middle of the night with so many layers I had to shuffle rather than step. I remember having to wipe blood from my oxygen tubes because the dry air was battling with my weak lungs.


But more than anything else, I remember getting to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro and collapsing, crying, and reaching immediately for the other women around me. Four days earlier 14 women embarked on this journey to climb the highest freestanding mountain in the world, and on March 8, 2016, 14 women made it to the top. And in our packs, on our backs, in our hearts, and on our minds were the thousands and thousands of other women we were climbing for.


We climbed for the women who experience gender-based violence. We climbed for those we met in the fistula hospital. We climbed for the victims of sexual assault. And we climbed for each other, for the belief that when 14 women come together we’re not competing—we’re complimenting. That when women fight for other women, instead of against them, mountains may not move but they can be conquered. For the hope that in doing this crazy thing, in climbing a mountain to raise awareness and funds, we were, in some small way, going to change the world.


I was never one of those children who grew up wanting to be an astronaut or a ballerina. I had modest goals, and even when I was young, I wanted a small life—I wanted to be a teacher, like my aunt, and I wanted to write bad poetry and raise a few kids. But somewhere along the way, that small life wasn’t enough. That small life didn’t take into account the children waiting in group homes to be adopted or the women who have given up dreams of a small life because survival takes priority. My life had left me content, and my complacency was a threat to my ability to live out the gospel.


Some people like a full faith, one with tendons and arteries and flesh and muscle. They spend years developing a robust understanding of theology and Greek and Hebrew. But I have always been drawn to a bare-bones faith, one that teaches me to love God and love other people, and that’s about it. But in the past year, I’ve learned that love often takes unexpected forms—such as protests, calls to congressmen, scratched dining room tables, and training in a low-altitude mask.


Love asks me to give up my small life, my shortsightedness, my pride, in order to love other people. Love demands that I trade my apathy for empathy. Love requires me to kill my self-preservation and hopes for the American dream. And love dares to believe that 14 women climbing a mountain and traipsing around Africa can actually make a difference.


In the months since the climb, I’ve only had sporadic contact with many of the women, but our hearts remain knit together. Because of One Million Thumbprints, we belong to each other now—they truly are “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” And perhaps that’s been the difference all along—One Million Thumbprints carries a message that says we are responsible for fighting for justice for all, not just for ourselves. Our stories and lives belong to each other, and they should not be held lightly. So, we climb, and we rally, and we love.


And in many ways, we know we’ve just begun. There is much left to fight for as women continue to experience sexual abuse and violence at the hands of men. There is much left to teach as women are hungry for knowledge about finances and eager to start their own businesses. There are many left to love as we gather around tables and break bread and listen.


The trek to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro was not a triumphant ending to a great story—it was the beginning of the only story that’s worth telling. Love was fostered and held and born at the top of that mountain, and I’ll spend my entire life taking that love out into the world, by whatever means necessary. And that may require me to climb the mountain again, but I’ll do so gladly because I’ve seen the view from the top of Kilimanjaro. I’ve watched the rays come through the clouds at sunrise. I’ve seen the weary faces of my sisters basking in the glory of God. And I know that on mountains, miracles happen. On mountains, friendships are forged and purpose is understood. On mountains, we’re reminded of what’s worth climbing for.  


Mountains are beautiful and terrifying, fierce and lovely to behold. And on International Women’s Day, I can think of no better prayer for the women I know and love. May we all be beautiful and terrifying, fierce and lovely to behold. And may we continue to cling to a faith that moves us, no matter the cost.

Joy Beth Smith is a writer and editor, often overheard discussing singleness and sexuality, and her first book is due out early 2018 with Thomas Nelson. Follow her at @JBsTwoCents.