Outreach's 40th Anniversary: Letters from Friends #6
Dear Brother Mark,
I am most grateful to you for the opportunity to extend my warmest congratulations and best wishes to you all, as you mark the 40th Anniversary of The Outreach Foundation, today!
It gives me great pleasure to draw attention to your achievements, kinship, extraordinary support, and financial assistance throughout the years. This has been truly overwhelming, and I would like to thank you all for your kindness and goodwill. I am continuously astounded by the generosity of benefactors and supporters, great and small, who contribute so readily and often.
John Bunyan said: “you have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you”. I cannot do better than to use this special opportunity to express my heartfelt appreciation. You will never know how many lives you have touched!
Jesus’ Ministry was Holistic and Inclusive
Just like Jesus’ ministry, your mission is holistic and inclusive - a powerful testimony of word and deed. Although our religious life has intrinsic value, it may still leave our common life untouched. Real church happens outside the walls of the sanctuary. The church must be a safe haven and holistic social hub for the whole person. What matters is how we treat the people in our lives. At the core of a spiritual heart is the sincere intention to actually “live out” the love of Christ. Our love for others is the indicator of “Christ in us.”
If we hope to exhibit the power of God’s love to a spiritually impoverished world, we do well to start by meeting our community’s most practical needs first. Our ministry objectives are the same: to satisfy physical and spiritual hunger by offering the “bread of loaf” together with the Bread of Life. It is a great help to know that you, dear friends, are standing alongside us amidst myriad times of difficulty. We shall not have the strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join in it with us. For how long can Lebanon sustain itself? Our tiny, diverse country now has the highest per-capita of refugees in the world. One of the main pipelines for Christians fleeing the Middle East runs through Lebanon.
Christianity was born in the Middle East
How long will the world be complicit in the elimination of Middle Eastern Christians? Sad times, these are indeed. A century ago Christians in the Middle East comprised twenty percent of the population. Today, we barely constitute three to four percent of the region’s populace. The majority of our diaspora is Christian. But this is not the end of Christianity in the Middle East! Emigration is not the only solution for Middle Eastern Christians…to gather our belongings, and pack up two millennia of history…to abandon the lands of our ancestors, and head west. Christianity was birthed in the Middle East and is essentially a Middle Eastern narrative – that detail seems to be overlooked today. Presbyterians have a long connection to the Middle East. Involvement in ecumenical efforts began in the early 1800s.
Emptying the Middle East of Christians is not the Answer
Christians should not be removed from the birthplace of their faith. Evacuating and re-settling Christians from the Middle East may be a well-meant Western argument, but it is not the solution. Such a premise is naive at best and complicit at worst - it merely realizes religious cleansing. Such a move only accelerates instability, since Christians are the bridge between the East and West. The Near East is not only losing citizens of all ages, but it is also more notably losing many of its most educated and accomplished individuals; the bright minds that would have been able to build our countries. We gain nothing by taking out the Christian educated class of public servants, teachers, and professionals, so crucial to our functioning societies. The whole world is feeling the phenomenon of large-scale migration. Seventy million people are currently displaced by war and violent conflict, according to the UNHCR (The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) – the highest number in 70 years.
Christianity will survive in the Middle East
Although the saga of the Middle East may be one of degeneration and deterioration, the story of Middle Eastern Christians is one of survival and endurance. Christians will forever factor into the Islamic heritage. Not all Middle Eastern Christians wish to leave. The Outreach Foundation recognizes this fact. You have empowered Christians to remain and regroup in the cradle of Christianity - your initiatives and interventions are already bearing much fruit. You have provided thousands of people with vital aid and long-term support, thanks to your unprecedented generosity and prayers. You have been committed to walking with us for as long as we need. But the challenges we face will not be solved overnight.
The Outreach Foundation has done its Homework on the Ground
You understand that real solutions depend on political settlements because you have first-hand eyewitness accounts of our harrowing journey and crisis. Your teams have exposed themselves to a very different reality in order to get the facts. You have visited the Middle East to get information and background, to judge and assess things for yourselves, and to furnish your own understanding. The reality on the ground is much different from the image the media portrays in the West.
You have talked with church leaders, journalists, professors, administrators, embassy personnel, and folks in refugee camps. You have sought out people in ravaged areas and visited numerous families in private homes. You have boldly engaged in dialogue with political leaders. You broke away from the “tour bus mentality,” and have done your homework. Unfazed by imminent danger, your teams courageously enforce a zero-tolerance policy and continue to take great risks to end this tragedy.
The Fostering of Unhealthy Dependence
Furthermore, you understand that it is counterproductive to create circumstances, locally, nationally, and globally, which cultivate unhealthy dependence by simply taking care of refugees, and then doing nothing to train, teach, employ, or help them return home. Repatriation is the key to providing a viable future for displaced people. An old and famous Arab proverb goes: “The feeding of a hungry man is no substitute for respect”. The Outreach Foundation believes in the dignity of all human beings.
Facilitation and Maximization of Fund Transfers
I consider it an honor and a privilege to assist you as financial liaison…to help facilitate and maximize the aid flow of humanitarian relief earmarked for the Middle East (in concert with our Synod). We combat logistical issues and cut through bureaucratic red tape to ensure that your fund transfers reach those who need it most. Thank you for your trust.
The Outreach Leadership Team
Under the auspices of the Outreach Foundation, comprised of men and women with a broad vision, much-needed attention has been given to issues of importance, so paramount to the Christian public at large. Your success has been the result of the vision, energy, and endless hard work of many dedicated people, combined with the governance and drive of a high caliber leadership team.
I hope you will permit me to single out three extraordinary and special people for mention: (1) your distinguished Executive Director, Rev. Dr. Rob Weingartner, (2) The Outreach Foundation’s globe trotter and ‘energizer’, Associate Director for Partnership Development, Marilyn Borst, and (3) your influential Director of Development, my dear brother, Rev. Dr. Mark Mueller. You have worked tirelessly in Lebanon, Syria, and the Middle East region to extend hope, faith, and aid.
Our Outreach Foundation “Family”
The truism that “friends are the family you choose” may be more correct than we suppose; especially in God’s family. It feels like I have known Marilyn, Mark, and many of you, my whole life – you have become ‘soul family’. The many bonds we have formed through our collective church interventions have bloomed into broader, long-term initiatives that went far beyond the initial intervention! Through the Outreach Foundation, God has walked alongside us when we least expected it. Eleanor Roosevelt said: “Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart”.
“Your physical presence” was the connection that strengthened and formed the strong ties between us. This has been the greatest encouragement for us, by far! We so cherish the deep friendships and bonds we have built during times spent together.
The Outreach Teams have Embraced Our Culture
Your teams have embraced our unique cultural heritage and exhibited a great deal of respect for our traditions – you are a rare find indeed. Once we connected, we felt something uniquely special. Over the course of a decade, you have visited and revisited our countries – every time it has been a real joy to meet you again and again. We hope you will always consider our land your home away from home.
My visit to the USA
It was my great privilege to visit with Rob and Terry, Marilyn and Mark, and with Mark and Toby, at home in the USA. I imagined it would be a time of rest. As it turned out, it was a whirlwind preaching/speaking tour. I hardly had time to catch my breath.
When People come together in the Spirit of God’s Love…
It always amazes me to see what happens when church leaders, parishioners, and communities come together to support one another for the greater good – amazing and unanticipated things happen. Collective values are fortified through philanthropy and acts of self-service. Surprisingly, people are suddenly altruistic, and celebrate teamwork, harmony, sacrifice, openhandedness, and humanity, as they care for others. God created us with the need to connect…he created us for each other – human kindness is built within us. The very act of giving is contagious for it contributes to our own happiness and sense of well-being. Our heart is disclosed in the mirror of Scripture - the Word in us becomes active through the power of the Holy Spirit. The distinctive attribute of the Holy Spirit is LOVE…the gift of God, who IS Love.
We are reminded again, that faith alone, without works is useless – it is “dead faith” (Jm. 2:13-26). Genuine faith is no mere verbal confession, but also includes complementary works, like empathy for the poor, consciousness of socio-economic stratification, and commitment to the underprivileged and down-trodden. The church has an imperative of spiritual, economic, and social obligation, to provide for the real needs of “all” broken people.
Conclusion 1: Goal - For Us to be the Agents of Our Own Progress
The fervent hope and prayer I convey on this anniversary occasion is that our nations will, in due course, be an agent of their own progress; free from unjustified external pressures, and strong in the sense of solidarity and mutual assistance. And, to see the power of reciprocity in action as people are able to ‘give back’ the love, faith, and support they have been privy to.
Conclusion 2: Hope for the Rebirth of Middle East Christianity
Surely, there is hope for the rebirth of Middle East Christianity. Together, we are already bringing that hope to the Middle East. Or else, the rich mosaic of people and cultures will be gone and lost forever! You have responded with remarkable determination to bring about positive change for our church families and others. Much has already been done, and yet there is much more to do. I pray, God use our efforts to heal and restore people’s relationships with Him and one another. We place repeated hope in the Christian principle of human brotherhood and stand in solidarity with all who labor to end conflict. We believe, with God all things are possible.
Conclusion 3: We Dare Not Be Silent
The Christian community dare not be silent in the presence of propaganda. Long neglect has led to chronic fever in the body politic. We call upon governments and churches to collaborate fully in the effort to find long-term solutions for the Near East refugee and Christian situations. We emphasize the need for a major reassessment of mission objectives and strategies.
Conclusion 4: Renewed Expression of Friendship and Best Wishes
I renew the expression of my friendship and goodwill, as we look forward to the next 40 years in partnership with you! May we continue to work together for the common good of all…to follow Jesus’ call to serve all humanity without distinction of race or creed. In this present age of partisan dissension, the role of the church as “comforter in chief” is one of its major tasks. May God use us as instruments of reconciliation. Our mandate is to overcome evil with good. I send you my warmest thanks and best wishes. May God bless you, and bring you much happiness and peace…
In His Service,
George Mourad, pastor
National Evangelical Church in Rabiya
And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is
honored, all the members rejoice with it – 1 Cor. 12:26