A Trip to Tripoli

by DD Blackman

What a fabulous day! We boarded the bus for a beautiful drive up the coast to Tripoli, the second largest city in Lebanon. The roads wound along the Mediterranean coast with its crystal blue water that sparkled in the sun.

We arrived at the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Tripoli, where we were warmly greeted by Rola Sleiman, the first woman to be ordained as a Presbyterian pastor in the Middle East! She was born in Tripoli and actually raised in this church. What an honor to meet such a dynamic woman!!!  She preached a moving sermon from Mark 5:21-24/35-43, the story of the grieving father who pleaded with Jesus to lay his hands on his dying daughter so that she might be healed. The sermon reminds us where there is Jesus, there is hope. In the Middle East the situation is so difficult we are always asking where is hope, what do we expect, where are we going? Jesus says don't be afraid, have faith. When the situation seems hopeless, Jesus brings hope. When you are afraid, Jesus gives us confidence.

We Are Marked

by Julie Burgess

Traveling with The Outreach Foundation on these ministry experiences as I have for the last seven years, I have learned many things. One of them is that you are part of a team, and even though we begin as strangers, very quickly we bond into a family knowing we have a common Father. Tonight we had the privilege of coming into deeper community with each other as we reflected on the day. Pam Hillis of First Presbyterian Tulsa led our devotion around Romans 12:9-16. In my travel NRSV Bible, the heading says, “Marks of the True Christian.” To paraphrase, we share our gifts, we lift each other in faith, we love and we serve. Those marks should reflect our lives in Christ, marked for us on his head, hands, feet and in his side. This is our model, and today we experienced those same marks on those we came to be with.

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

by Caryl Weinberg

"There is no fear in love but perfect love casts out fear.”  1 John 4:18 

Today was a witness to this verse from the time we left our hotel on the bus, to the Evangelical/Presbyterian Refugee School of Kab Elias, to the ministry of Together for the Family in a refugee camp at Zahle.  The morning began with our trip toward the refugee school, guided by Dr. Mary Mikhael. This former president of the Near East School of Theology and an Elder from the Presbyterian Church in Syria, she retired over five years ago with a vision to respond to the crisis of refugees from Syria coming to Lebanon. She and a handful of others believed that they should create schools to welcome children of these refugees caught in the limbo of having no country. And one and a half years ago, their dream began to materialize with the opening of the first of what are now five schools. She struck me this morning when she said our people didn’t want to create schools because they were afraid: afraid to welcome people who had disrupted their country, who could bring ISIS to their doors, who could threaten them in the future. And yet, Dr. Mary and others said they just kept meeting with people and talking with them, sharing the need to show Christ’s love. And the schools opened. They had moved beyond fear to love.

Faithful Women in Lebanon

by Marilyn Borst, The Outreach Foundation's Associate Director for Partnership Development

I have returned to Lebanon for the 26th time and will soon be joined by a team of eight women from California, Oklahoma, Maryland, Nebraska, Illinois and Washington, D.C! In the days ahead, we will meet with partners whose ministries with refugees from Syria are bringing hope and healing in Christ’s name. Grateful that Julie Burgess and Nancy Fox will return along with six wonderful "new women": Martha Erisman, Mary Beth Lawrence, Caryl Weinberg, Claire Levy, DD Blackman and Pam Hillis. Late on Sunday, we will head to the Women's Conference at Dhour Shweir, sponsored by the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, where we will be gathered, once again, with 100+ sisters from the Presbyterian churches of Syria and Lebanon. I am thinking ahead to the exuberant time we will have which I am calling Bibles, Beads and Beautiful Buddies – much time spent in study and worship around God's timeless Word, a craft project that uses beads (oh-so-many-beads) and hours of fellowship with our friends, old and new. As these pictures from last year reveal, there will be a whole-lotta love and joy goin' on! SO grateful to Rev. Najla Kassab for inviting The Outreach Foundation to return! And thanks to all of you for joining us on this journey…

Seeing God at Work

By Rev. Allenn “Chip” Grammer, pastor, Sherwood Presbyterian Church, Fayetteville, NC

Every Sunday I ask my congregation two questions: Where have you seen God this week? And, what is God saying to you? I believe it is important for people to look for God at work to help strengthen their faith. We often do not look and therefore we do not see. The second question focuses on our listening to the Holy Spirit - something that we all need to do better. In this post, I want to answer the first question. 

On the flight over from Dulles I met David, a Kenyan, who had great faith. He spoke with passion about the plight of the South Sudanese refugees and how God had not abandoned them. But man, in the guise of leaders, had allowed an evil presence to temporarily prevail. His faith in the power of God and the faith of the Sudanese people were so strong that I took great hope that this great burden was temporary in nature and that God would not only prevail, but would use it to further His glory. David said that the church would have to take the lead in bringing peace to South Sudan.

Youth Reconciliation: A Breakthrough for God in the Camps

by David Paduil, Commissioned Ruling Elder, Sudanese Presbyterian Church, Gallatin, TN

The joint trip of The Outreach Foundation and Presbyterians of the South Sudanese Diaspora in America to visit refugee camps in the Gambella Region of Ethiopia did not get off to a good start. Very soon after our arrival we learned that we could not enter the refugee camps this year because of unrest in the camps due to the political situation in South Sudan. In consultation with the Mekane Yesus Church and South Sudanese leaders in the camps, we decided to bring youth and pastors of the parishes from all the camps to Gambella for worship and the distribution of some musical instruments which we were donating to the youth in the camps. 

Tuesday morning, June 27, we began with worship and a conversation with the youth of the camps who shared about their lives, their hopes and dreams. It was a very special time. 

Ethiopian Journey: The Western Gambella Bethel Synod, Partners and Friends

by Jeff Ritchie

The Mekane Yesus Church has long been a partner of The Outreach Foundation. This year, as we carried out our mission on behalf of the refugees, we experienced a deepened partnership with the Western Gambella Bethel Synod of the Mekane Yesus. They were of immense help in planning our itinerary and in assisting in all the logistics of our ministry among the refugees. However, they have a vibrant ministry of their own, and we spent Monday morning, June 26, with them as they shared their programs, hopes, and dreams. 

Action Plan for Peace

by Jeff Ritchie

“The only hope for peace is the church.” So declared the Rev. Peter Gai, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, when our team visited him in Addis Ababa. The Rev. Gai had been part of the Ecumenical delegation which we met the day before, but an infected wound in his leg prevented him from meeting us then. He wanted to see us, however, and we were grateful to get his insights on how the churches can be the means of peace in the 3 ½ year conflict.

The Moderator spoke about the “Action Plan for Peace,” or APP. He underscored what we heard the previous day that the church needs to speak with a united voice, “We want peace.” It must share this message with all the churches in South Sudan, with all who have fled South Sudan and are in refugee camps, and with the Sudanese Diaspora. The latter, the Rev. Gai said, can play a pivotal role in bringing peace to South Sudan. Two of our team members are among the dispersed peoples of South Sudan, so this was a comment particularly to Jacob Gatkuoth and David Paduil in light of what he would later say.

Ethiopian Journey, Day 2

By Jeff Ritchie

Our whole team has now arrived. David Paduil, Commissioned Ruling Elder at the Sudanese Presbyterian Church in Gallatin, Tennessee, landed this morning. The others in our group are Elder Jacob Gatkuoth, from the Sudanese American Presbyterian Fellowship in San Diego; the Rev. Allen (Chip) Grammer, pastor of the Sherwood Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, NC; Frank Dimmock, Africa Mission Specialist for The Outreach Foundation; and the Rev. Jeff Ritchie, Mission Advocate for The Outreach Foundation.

We received some bad news today. A group from the World Council of Churches and the South Sudan Council of Churches had visited a refugee camp the day before to celebrate World Refugee Day and advocate for peace. Some residents of the camps who are upset about the current regime in South Sudan, have come to think that anyone coming to them from Juba, the capital of South Sudan, must be on the side of the Salva Kiir government. They became increasingly hostile toward the church delegation in the first camp that the group visited. As a result, the government organization responsible for administering refugees in Ethiopia, ARRA, kept the delegation from going to other camps for the sake of their own safety.

The result of this experience was that ARRA has decided for the time being not to permit other groups to enter the camps. This refusal of permission, unfortunately, includes our group...

World Refugee Day

More than coincidence that we should be on our way to Ethiopia to visit South Sudanese refugees today, on this World Refugee Day. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported this week that there are more than 65 million refugees and displaced persons globally as of the end of 2015. Nearly one third of them are in the African region we will be visiting. South Sudan, the world’s newest country, ranks third behind Syria and Afghanistan in number of refugees. There are now 6 or more camps in the Gambella region and we hope to visit 4 of them. The U.N. reports that there are around 375,000 South Sudanese registered in the Ethiopian camps. There are many more are awaiting registration. Presbyterian partners in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY), have welcomed their Sudanese neighbors and are doing their best to assist them. Many members of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) have been separated from their families, homes and congregations since the civil conflict restarted in December 2013...

The Last Day

For the team, Jonathan Cornell

Today is our last full day in the Holy Land. Words can't begin to describe what a profound experience this has been...and we're saving the best for last. The Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus pronounced the characteristics of blessedness in the Kingdom of God, Church of the Multiplication where he fed the 5,000 Jews then 4,000 Gentiles, capped off by a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. My deepest thanks to The Outreach Foundation and our wonderful leader Marilyn Borst for the experience of a lifetime.

The stones we've seen are good and worthy of remembering, but they are dead stones. It is the people here, Palestinian and Israeli alike, who witness to the risen Lord that are the living stones. And it is their story of hope and constant faith with which we return, and from which we draw strength for our witness and walk.

Jericho and the Jordan River

For the team, Marilyn Borst

A hot and exhausting but fulfilling day for our Outreach Foundation team! Headed into the desolate Judean desert, followed by a visit to the archaeological site of ancient Jericho. Took a cable car up to the Monastery of the Temptation. Waded into the Jordan River, where one of our team, Tracy Campbell, reaffirmed her baptism vows with Rev. Toby Mueller. Before ending the day with a swim in the Dead Sea, we stopped at Qumran. Here, a first century Jewish sect, the Essenes, withdrew into the desert overlooking the Dead Sea and spent their time copying ancient text.Some of their library, hidden in the nearby mountain caves, was discovered in 1947 – the so called Dead Sea Scrolls. Significantly, copies of the book of Isaiah found were 1,000 years earlier than the earliest manuscript of that book which had been seen to date – but matched up almost exactly, confirming how the Holy Spirit had guided the transmission of our sacred Scripture across the ages!