Syria Relief Update - February 2014
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. Isaiah 43:2
Dear Friends in Christ’s Mission:
“Living in a ring of fire” is the expression used by the Rev. Adeeb Awad, Vice-Moderator of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, to describe what it is like to be a Presbyterian pastor in Syria today. An eight-person team from The Outreach Foundation journeyed to Beirut January 13-23 with about 15 other Synod partners (Presbyterians from the U.S.A. and Ireland as well as Reformed Church leaders from Sweden, France, Switzerland, England and Holland) for a consultation on the crisis in Syria and updates on the Synod’s work to preserve Presbyterian presence there. Most of the pastors from the Presbyterian churches in Lebanon were present, along with many elders and other Synod leaders such as the Rev. Fadi Dagher, the General Secretary and conference convener. Most remarkably, seven of the ten Presbyterian pastors serving inside Syria – each within their own “ring of fire”– had come to be with us. From a dozen previous trips over the years I had met most of them before, in places like Homs, Marhardeh, Fairouzeh and Damascus. Rev. Ibrahim Nseir was unable to come from Aleppo, where the fighting has been so intense for so long that no one dares take to the roads which lead from this once vital banking and commercial hub. However, we were able to speak to him by phone and to pray for him while he listened in on our intercession.
But one whom I had never met before came from Hasakeh, a city of about 180,000 tucked into the far northeast corner of the country, not many miles south of Turkey and due west of Iraq. Located on a tributary of the Euphrates River, it is in the center of the country’s main rice and wheat producing area, and, since the 1950s, a hub for the petroleum industry. Hasakeh is now almost completely surrounded by sundry armed factions, all fighting each other over control of the area. The city itself is currently protected by the Syrian army. And it is here that the Rev. Saoud Bahi has been the pastor of the Presbyterian Church for 16 years.
This gentle man of God, with a twinkle in his eye, showed me photos of his three children: Joel, 12; Grace, 9; and Mark, 3. He and his wife, Abeer, have a challenge in trying to run a “normal household” for their family: the water runs only about every four-five days; mobile phones have no cell tower reception and land lines are intermittent (a recent call to Beirut required 100 tries before it went through); the internet has not been available since last March. He chuckled as he described the vagaries of the electricity which flows only for about one hour every two days: if it happens to come in the middle of the night, you jump out of bed to run your washing machine, vacuum the floors and charge your computer.
With so many of his members leaving the country, Rev. Saoud’s congregation has dwindled to about 15 families and he hopes that they will all stay. When I asked him how long it would take to return to normal once the war ended, he speculated “ten years” and then added wistfully, “we ask for nothing more than the past.” But the Kingdom-impact of that church is exponential to its sheer numbers because it has oversight of a large Christian school of about 630 kindergarteners through 9th graders – half of whom are Muslim! With human resources so stretched and the context so fraught with difficulties, how does the Church stand firm as they “pass through the waters” and “walk through the fire”?
Earlier that day, Rev. Saoud had shared a devotional with the group. After reading the account in Mathew 14 of Peter attempting to walk on water towards Jesus, and then beginning to sink as fear overtook his faith, Rev. Saoud observed:
In the past three years, our life in Hasakeh has resembled the journey of a boat [like Peter’s], surrounded by a raging sea of bad events and struggling wars….What is the importance of fixing our eyes and minds on the character of our Lord Jesus rather than on surrounding events? Our faith will grow as we remind ourselves of Jesus’ presence with us, of his everlasting power, as well as his care and love for us and his readiness to help us and redeem us…as we keep our eyes fixed upon him – our Redeemer – we find salvage, refuge and safety in an everlasting life….
Like every Syrian pastor with whom we met, Rev. Saoud expressed profound gratitude for the support and partnership of The Outreach Foundation alongside the Synod’s efforts to provide spiritual and material support for the hundreds of Presbyterian families displaced by the war and the subsequent loss of homes, livelihoods and access to education, as well as the encouraging gift of two months extra salary to each of the ten pastors ($1,000). To date, The Outreach Foundation has sent over $250,000 for the efforts of the Synod, thanks to the generous giving of our partner churches and individuals over the past two years. We are humbled and honored to be the Synod’s largest supporting partner, because of your generosity.
Thank you for praying for and standing with our brothers and sisters in Syria,
Associate Director for Partnership Development
(In the next month, I will send another update which highlights the visit we made to Damascus as part of this same trip to the region.)
To continue to support this ministry, please designate your gift for the "Syria Appeal." You may send a gift to our office or make an online gift through our website, by clicking HERE.
Is God calling you to get out of your boat and take a step of faith? Join us in Lebanon in November on another journey of encouragement…
The National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, the extension of our Presbyterian family in the region, is based in Beirut. For more than three years, the Synod has worked diligently to address the crisis faced by its churches in Syria, whose members have been displaced by the war. This visit of solidarity provides opportunity for congregations and individuals who have supported the Syria Relief Appeal through The Outreach Foundation to experience the situation first-hand, learn of the relief initiatives of the Synod and meet with pastors from Syria.
We will visit the churches and ministries of the Synod in Lebanon, and, if the situation permits, we will visit Syria as well. The estimated land cost is $1,800 and does not include Syrian visa, if needed, or international air fare. The trip application deadline is August 1, 2014, and you will also be required to book your flights at this time. Land costs are due to The Outreach Foundation by September 20, 2014. For more information, please click HERE or contact Lisa Dill at (615) 778-8881 or firstname.lastname@example.org.