The boy’s name is Ali, he is six years old and he was born and raised in Aleppo, Syria. With a shy smile and some prompting from his teacher he handed me a drawing.
I wasn’t sure what to make of it until he explained it to me. There was a gun and a line of bullets, drawn in red crayon. And there was a body, lying down. This was his cousin Abdullah, shot dead in the hell that is the Syrian civil war.
On a day when the United States suffered yet another mass killing at an ordinary suburban school – twenty children shot dead by a young man – I was in Lebanon, hearing from a six-year-old about how he lost his cousin to a conflict that grows bloodier by the day.
It’s always hard to hear stories about children killed in senseless shooting. You only had to look at President Obama wiping away his tears as he spoke of a heartbroken nation to appreciate that the taking of a life before having the opportunity to fulfil its potential is the hardest story of all.
But it is even harder when you know the shootings will go on. More Syrians will die and more little boys and girls will draw the memories of war for years to come. It hurts to say it, but things are going to get a lot worse inside Syria. The fighting has entered a new phase and I could sense it during my visit to the Bekaa valley, where even stables are being converted into accommodation for the many families arriving from across the Lebanon-Syrian border.
It’s the time of year when tinselled Christmas trees and fairy lights are all around us – Lebanon is no exception to this rule – and of course there was something Biblical about the sight of exhausted families taking shelter in barns and stables. Very soon we, the fortunate, will be with our own families in our secure warm homes, celebrating the season.
I also am looking forward to Christmas, and to be with my family in peace and quiet. But this year my thoughts will be going back to what I have seen here in Lebanon, and to Ali’s drawing. I will be thinking of the lives lost and the thousands of families forced to run from war. And I will pray for the end of the madness and for their return home to rebuild their lives. Please join me for this prayer.