by Marilyn Borst
Prior to my current career call to serve the Church in mobilizing U.S. congregations into God’s big mission around the world, I taught Ancient Art History at the University of Houston. For several of those years, I spent time volunteering on archaeological digs in Egypt. One summer, we worked in Luxor and lived adjacent to a small village right next to our site. Over those weeks we saw a lot of the daily life of the inhabitants of Nag Al-Fukani. One afternoon, we heard, at a distance, the high pitched tongue trill (called ululation) of the women that usually signals a celebration. We spotted a procession of villagers coming from town, with the trill growing louder as they approached. We soon realized that this was actually a funeral procession, with a wooden coffin carried aloft by a half dozen men. As they passed by houses, men would come out and run over to the coffin, jostling for a chance to help carry it, which they would do for a hundred feet or so, and then hand it off to others to do the same. It was explained to me that this was a local custom which allowed friends and neighbors to, quite literally, help the mourning family to carry their burden in this enacted-symbol of solidarity.
Over the years, this image has come to mind when I am asked the question of “what do you do on a short-term mission trip….” In a few days I will return to Lebanon with a team of nine women and we will spend a week of worship, Bible study and fellowship with about 100 women from the churches of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon at their annual summer conference in the mountains north of Beirut. Most of the women will have come from Presbyterian sisters in Syria – those who have lost much, seen terrible things, and, even now, are often in fear for themselves and their families. It will be our privilege, like the villagers in Nag Al-Fukani – and for those days together – to shoulder that burden with them. There will also be sisters from the Presbyterian churches in Lebanon with us. Having endured 15 years of civil war themselves (1975-90) they have much understanding of what their Syrian counterparts are living through, in ways we can never know. I am already grateful that our Lebanese sisters can model for us the most effective ways to flex our spiritual muscles and, along with them, hoist the burden of our Syrian sisters as we call to mind Paul’s words: Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Associate Director for Partnership Development