A good time is had by all

Lutha Nseir of Aleppo models her new floral hair clip.

Lutha Nseir of Aleppo models her new floral hair clip.

Dear family and friends,

Greetings from Dhour Choiuer Conference Center in Lebanon. Having a great time. Wish you were here…

Where two or three are gathered together in the name of Lord, there he is in their midst. Now expand that circle to include 100 women from Iraq and Syria and Lebanon and the U.S. Is there room for him there in that circle? Indeed! He has drawn us all in even more closely and his presence just surrounds us and enfolds us and his power in us is palpable. You can see. You can feel it. You can hear it.

The sounds come in many forms. The sound of singing and praying in worship. The sound of clinking utensils on plates at meals. The sound of quiet conversations in small groups, and sometimes you might hear some quiet weeping there also.

Oh yes, we have worshiped and we have read and studied God’s word for us. We have shared our lives in stories compelling and painful and redemptive. We have seen God’s hand in those stories and have heard of his love and comfort in the form of the friend or neighbor or pastor who offered it in his name.

But the sound of yesterday was different…

It started at the end of the afternoon session when 100 gift bags adorned the stage of our conference room and then were handed out to all the women gathered there. These floral colored bags were filled with bracelets and hair clips and fans and make-up bags. Small things. Bright things. Happy things. Gifts of grace. And when 100 women opened them, immediately there were 100 women whose hair was now adorned with bright flowers. And there was singing. And there was dancing. And there was laughter. And then there was the sudden draining of 100 phone batteries as about one billion photos were snapped. Groups of two or three or twenty or however many could cram into a frame…and then they made room for one more. Oh the joy! Wish you were here!

And that mood carried past the dinner hour into the night as we gathered for our nightly social time. After the Americans took a turn at introducing ourselves to this mass of floral coiffed friends, a very interesting moment occurred as suddenly we found ourselves at open mic night at the evangelical women’s conference!

Dear Mary Mikhael, so tired from translating for us, had the mic in her hand and she told us a joke that is especially funny to the Syrians. She laughed so hard when she got to the punchline in English! And then, she repeated it in Arabic and we are still not sure she got the whole thing out, but we knew the end came when she said, “Homs.” Screaming laughter from all around ensued.

Not to be outdone, our conference director Najla Kassab, followed with her own joke, first in Arabic, then in English. Again, Najla has been working so hard she had almost no energy at that time of night. But could she deliver a joke? Yes! And like Mary, she was laughing so hard it was even funnier.

And then, oh my! Mouna Awad, a nurse with 29 years of experience who is working at an elderly home in Latakia, Syria, came to the mic. One joke? Two jokes? No! She travels with a stack of cards, each one with a different joke! She shuffled through them and then would decide, “Okay, this one,” and with the confidence of a Jimmy Fallon or a Jay Leno –BOOM! – perfect delivery. Over and over. Can you imagine? Wish you were here!

Mouna Awad of Latakia: nurse and caregiver, faithful woman, stand-up comedienne.

Mouna Awad of Latakia: nurse and caregiver, faithful woman, stand-up comedienne.

And dear Elias Jabbour who has been giving us the most beautiful musical accompaniment to our worship, took his turn. The full joke cannot be printed here but the punchline is, “Okay, how do you spell Czechoslovakia?” It’s hilarious in Arabic and English. Oh my gosh!

It could have ended there, but it didn’t. We were then treated to an annual event at this conference when a wedding was staged. All in costumes they had brought from home, three women dressed as pastor, groom and bride proceeded to collapse the rest of our lung capacity with their antics. Dancing followed and went on until well past midnight. This group of Americans conga-lined out at eleven. Wish you were here!

Women rolling on the floor laughing in the dark is not something you might have expected to hear about from our conference, but isn’t that just the way the joy of the Lord works? Isn’t that how God’s light shines in the darkness? And in a place where there has been so much darkness, on this dark night the light was bright indeed in the sounds of laughter and joy.

God was here in our midst, there is no doubt. The sun rose again this morning and his mercy was new as it is every day. Of that we are sure.

And we wish you were here to see it and feel it and hear it.

Three funny women from Damascus reenact a wedding. Rasha, in the center, is the wife of one pastor and mother of another.

Three funny women from Damascus reenact a wedding. Rasha, in the center, is the wife of one pastor and mother of another.

Julie Burgess