The Outreach Foundation’s Associate Director, Marilyn Borst, recently took eight women to Lebanon to participate in a week-long conference with Presbyterian sisters from Lebanon and Syria. One who made this journey, the Rev. Lisa Culpepper, shares the following reflection….
by Lisa B. Culpepper
We woke up early on Saturday morning to see our Aleppo sisters off for their long journey home. This departure was particularly difficult as we knew that these women were reentering a war zone that they somehow called “home.” In the darkness and quiet of the early morning dawn, our sisters left the warm security of their six day sanctuary and gathered one by one outside with their luggage.
We began our tearful three kisses goodbyes which would last for the next hour as we secretly hoped that the taxi would somehow not arrive. But he came and with careful precision, proceeded to lift each piece of luggage on top of the van. The suitcases were arranged like pieces of a carefully constructed jigsaw puzzle, and then a strap was expertly woven through and around each piece to secure it over bumpy, bomb ravaged roads. We watched him work as sweat poured off of his brow, soaking his shirt. We watched in hopes that he would never finish.
Finally, the last knot was tied with the remark, “Oh, we will have to take them all down at the Syrian border. Yes, the authorities will carefully search the contents of each bag, one by one.”
“That is insane,” I thought, imagining this poor soul undoing and redoing his labor of the past hour. “What did they fear to find?” I wondered. What could be so threatening about the contents of these simple bags? Then I recalled the armamentarium that had lovingly been placed into each one, weapons of warfare that seriously threatened the power of the enemy.
In each bag there was a butterfly, a symbol of new life. It had been skillfully knitted by the faithful Christian remnant in Cuba. People who had also known the pain of threat and religious oppression. Yes, these women had packed the ammunition of new life with which to fight the enemy of death.
In addition to new life, each suitcase made room for a new hat. These hats were especially dangerous for they brought with them joy. They were hats of creativity, not destruction. They were hats which brought laughter not tears and each one would tell of the moments when all cares and fear melted under the shadow of flowers, feathers, ribbons and bows. Yes, this would be a very dangerous item to the cause of war.
When these bags were opened at the border, there would also be shoes and new scarves. These would tell of dancing and laughing and a night that was filled, not with the sounds of gunfire and bombs, but with music and clapping. And tucked into the crevices of shoes and scarves there would be rings and bracelets that held the hands of sisters in a prayerful embrace.
As I watched these suitcases disappear up the hill and around the corner, I remembered the most deadly weapon that had been enclosed. These were the origami paper cranes, a symbol of peace. Each one with its cockeyed beak and resolute tail had been carefully folded with prayer and petition. These symbols of peace would surely be a terrible threat to the continued bloodshed.
Yes, at the Syrian border, the weapons of war would be uncovered. Inside each piece of luggage would be found new life, joy, laughter, prayer, and peace. As our beloved sisters returned to the war zone they call home, these weapons that they cherished would no longer be concealed… and never, never confiscated.
by Lisa Culpepper
St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church
Hemingway, South Carolina