A Tree Grows in Lebanon
Before we get to the tree which came later in our Friday, we have welcomed Meryl Gaston to our group from Santa Barbara, California, who arrived in time to spend the day with us. And just moments ago we welcomed Kate Kotfila from Cambridge, New York, and Louise Westfall from Denver, Colorado. We are now six of eight!
But again, before we get to the tree, we spent the first part of our Friday with a delightful cab driver named Tony of Home Taxi and our beautiful hostess, Sadie Korkjian, who is retired from the Middle East Council of Churches. We drove through the streets of Beirut to get to the highway and twisty roads that would bring us to Anjar, the original Umayyad Caliphate city that was built in the very early eighth century. An inland city at the crossroads of two important land routes, it was destroyed after only 35 years when the Abbassid Caliphate ascended. As we learned from our delightful guide Assador, the ruins were only discovered in the 1940s and excavation and restoration ended in 1975 with the onset of civil war in Lebanon.
We had this quiet spot almost to ourselves. And one of the things we learned while there is that Anjar is a place where many Armenians settled after the genocide of 1915. Indeed, Assador and Sadie are both Armenians whose family history cannot be known or traced because of this loss. Even as we walked in this place of ancient history which is very well known, our friends' history stops suddenly before it can be picked up again. The loss to this people is great and goes unacknowledged as genocide. We hurt for them and we pray for their peace.
And so on to the tree...
After a wonderful lunch together, Tony gathered us up again and we set off for Barouk and the Shouf Cedar Reserve. Lebanon was known in biblical times as the source of this hardy wood. King Solomon ordered many tons of it from King Hiram of Tyre to build the temple in Jerusalem. The Romans used much of in their own building projects centuries later, but it was nearly wiped out by the Ottoman empire which cut it down to provide fuel for wood-burning engines.
Our dear friend, Sanaa Koreh, director of Hamlin Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center led us to this peaceful place to see some of the oldest trees in the world, even up to 2,200 years old, 900 years before the first stone was laid at Anjar. Our guide Wissam explained to us the way the tree grows from a seed that has sprouted after three years in the ground, sends a main root deep into the ground for about 250 years, and then sends out lateral roots to mirror the horizontal growth of the tree above ground. It seems a good parallel for our faith!
This biosphere reserve is preserving an important part of the natural history of this very ancient land and one of the ways they do it is through a program where people and organizations can adopt the very young trees that are being planted to reforest these rocky, spring-fed mountains. And so the tree...
The Outreach Foundation has been a strong partner of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon for a number of years, indeed it is the reason for our trip as we come to worship and pray with women in a conference led by women of the synod. And Hamlin Hospital is a part of the synod, and dear Sanaa out of her deep love and respect for this partnership adopted this tree in the name of The Outreach Foundation.
Seeds planted and nurtured. Roots going deep into the soil and holding on. Growth that spreads upward and outward. This is also our story, the story of a deep, abiding faith, with a history of 2,000 years.
And we have adopted it and care for it and preserve it so others will know this same good news. And our brothers and sisters in this land have persevered through so much loss and hardship, just like these trees.
And so our prayer today was for that tree, that it would grow in this place, its roots going down deep, that it would spread widely, and persevere in this same way.