Let the Children Come
Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." – Matthew 19:14
The war in Syria, like wars in many places, has not been discriminating in its victims. Old, young, men, women, Evangelical, Orthodox, Catholic, Sunni, Shia, all have suffered. But we, like many across the world, have had a special focus on the children for we know that Jesus, the one we call Lord and Savior, had a special focus for the children. And because he does, so does the church.
On our last full day in Lebanon we took a winding drive down the mountains from Dhour Chouier to the Bekaa Valley to visit two of the schools that NESSL has recently started to touch the lives of some of the thousands of Syrian refugee children living in the camps in Lebanon. After five years of war, there will be a lost generation of children who have not had access to Syrian school system. There are some schools in the camps run by NGOs, but so many will be lost for the lack of resources for so many. As we have come to know after being partners with NESSL for so many years, the evangelical schools run by the synod are exceptional at educating children, Christian and Muslim alike, with high standards of academics and also with Christian ethics and values. Their call to open schools for the refugee children, teaching them in the Syrian system, is finally operational in the opening of four schools in different parts of Lebanon.
Our first visit was to Kab Elias. In an old NESSL school built on multiple levels up a steep hill, there are now about 50 students in three classrooms. This facility is unique in that it was built as a school in the 1800s and only closed about seven or eight years ago when a new modern school was built in the valley nearby. Three years ago it had been renovated into apartments to serve refugee families coming from Syria, and there are still two young men living in two of the apartments. The hope is to eventually move them up to the upper level and convert those rooms back into classrooms to serve more students. We inserted ourselves into these classrooms to meet sweet young boys and girls who shyly smiled, sang us greetings and said their A-B-Cs for us. They are learning English and Arabic, and as we know, they are quick and sharp! They are being taught by tender-hearted teachers, some Syrian who themselves have found refuge here. Not only are the students being taught, the teachers are earning a small income. Pastor Tony Abboud of NESSL was our genial, patient host and guide.
After leaving there we headed to Rayak and the other school in the Bekaa Valley. This one is housed in the Baptist church and is a partnership between them and the synod. Assis Ramsey, the synod pastor in Zahle, and Assis Hadad of the Baptist church in Rayak, stood side by side in the fellowship hall to tell us the story of this place, where we met young students from places such as Aleppo and Raqqa, places of great pain and destruction that are names you might recognize from the the news. But now although living in tents in the valley, they are being loved with the hands and feet of Christ in this school housed in a beautiful church. The Baptist congregation here had been praying about ways they could minister among the refugees in these camps, and indeed, have active ministries of visiting and providing needed items like food, clothing and medicine. But how to reach the children? This was why they had been praying for guidance and inspiration. And in the midst of their prayers, they were approached by the synod seeking a place to put a school in Rayak. So now there is a Presbyterian school in a Baptist church and the body of Christ is working together. It is a beautiful model and a beautiful picture.
This project of finding ways to let Syrian children attend school and keep up in their own educational system is a sign of hope in the midst of a long and dark crisis. This is the church walking into its call to be salt and light. And we are grateful to witness it with our eyes and share it with you. For this is the kingdom in our midst.
The Outreach Foundation Team