Family reunions

I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. (Romans 1:9c-10)

Ghada from Damascus flanked by her sisters-in-law.

Ghada from Damascus flanked by her sisters-in-law.

As a group of women from the U.S., we have traveled far to be here in Lebanon, up at Dhour Choiuer for a gathering of sisters who have come from Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. Almost 100 of us are here, so you can imagine the chatter and the laughter and the familial embraces that have filled this beautiful mountain spot.

Reunions.

In the U.S. we have them all the time. Our families are farflung over the country and we travel for miles and miles to get together to catch up with news of babies born or find out whose daughter got married or how is it possible that Aunt Fran and Uncle Bert are celebrating their 50th anniversary? They are joyous and life-giving. And sometimes that cousin you haven’t seen for fifteen years finally makes it back and everyone is so surprised to see them.

Reunions. This is one of those kind.

Although we have traveled far from our homes in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, California, New York, Colorado and Nebraska, our journeys were relatively smooth. (Okay. One piece of luggage didn’t arrive on time but it will be here today!) We walked through airports and went through immigration and waited in lines while our carry-ons were x-rayed. But we arrived to someone at the airport with our name on a card. We were expected! We were welcomed! And we got a sweet ride in a cab from Home Taxi. Just call home…

The journeys of our sisters who came from a country just across a border an hour or two away were different than that. Those coming from Hasakeh or Qamishli or Aleppo or Mahardeh and other places in Syria came on dangerous roads with checkpoints. They came to a border crossing that just a few short years ago was easily traversed as often as they wanted to come. Back they they didn’t need visas. (Thank you so much for praying those through! All 77 women who applied for Syrian visas were able to get them and they are all here at the reunion.)

Our friends from Aleppo took two days to get here. In 2010 some of our faithful women made that trip and it was a very leisurely and scenic drive with stops for coffee and sweets along the way. It took longer than usual because we stopped where we wanted to stop, not where someone told us to stop. What should have taken them two hours to do at the border crossing took five because they arrived five minutes after the noon break for the crossing guards. No one was there with a card or a welcome or a sweet taxi ride. Home has changed here for them.

The ladies who came from Damascus (a big contingent of 20!) took the familiar Damascus to Beirut road that, again, is normally a two-hour drive. Their journey took eight hours, but they came.

Reunions. They have been visible all over this place since we started last night. Women who used to attend this conference annually and easily, good friends of long standing, have come back together here this week. It is so good to see each other! Phone calls with downed cell towers and phone lines are not easy in a time of war. Car travel on dangerous roads is horrible, but even if attempted, fuel is outrageously expensive and hard to come by.

These reunions are so sweet because they have come at a great cost. Feda from Hesekeh and Nidaa from Damascus are sisters who live in different parts of Syria. This is the first time they have seen each other in a year, and there they were on the sofa, sitting close and sharing the family news they have been waiting to tell each other all these months.

(Left to right) Elinor, Assis Ibrahim, Matthew, Tammy and Lutha Nseir from Aleppo, with Marilyn Borst.

(Left to right) Elinor, Assis Ibrahim, Matthew, Tammy and Lutha Nseir from Aleppo, with Marilyn Borst.

And as dear and precious as that was to witness, the biggest surprise attendee – that cousin or uncle or aunt that you long to see but had no expectation of showing up – was in front of your car as you drove in. The dear pastor of Aleppo Church, Ibrahim Nseir, his wife Tammy, his children Elinor, Matthew and Lutha, were right in front of our car.

“It’s Ibrahim!” shouted Marilyn, and she leaped out of the car with tears in her eyes and embraced this amazing man of God in her arms. The church in Aleppo was destroyed in November, 2012. It is a very dangerous place. To have come from Aleppo was more than a surprise - joyous as it was - it was an answering of a continual prayer.

Read those words of Paul at the start of the blog now and see if you don’t hear in that longing and desire to be with the church in Rome, the same longing and desire that we have experienced with just these two very small pictures at the conference. When the way is opened, we rush right into the arms of family.

Our prayers and yours and those of all these amazing brothers and sisters have been answered, and a way was opened for all of us to come together and experience this unity and love in this body of Christ we call the church.

Reunions. Hallelujah! Amen.

Julie Burgess