Building Something Beautiful – Together – For God's Glory
In 1 Kings 5, King Solomon of Israel partners with King Hiram of Tyre to build a beautiful temple for the Lord’s glory in Jerusalem. King Hiram was to send strong cedars and cypress from the mountains of Lebanon, and Solomon, in turn, agreed to provide wheat and fine oil for Hiram to feed his family. This partnership built on a partnership that Solomon’s father, David, and Hiram had built previously, extending the mutual benefits of friendship and cooperation to another generation.
Today, our still-small team of four American women plus Dr. Mary Mikhael, retired president of Near East School of Theology (NEST) and Saidee, who has been facilitating our trip, journeyed south along the coast to the biblically and historically-important cities of Tyre and Sidon. Our purpose today was to strengthen the bonds of relationship and see the fruit of the partnership between The Outreach Foundation and the Evangelical (Presbyterian) Synod of Syria/Lebanon’s work with refugees – at just one church site in Tyre. We celebrate the work the Lord is doing through this partnership – it is truly something beautiful that gives God glory.
When we arrived, the 60 or so children enrolled in the school for Syrian refugees that is hosted by and in the Evangelical (Presbyterian) Church of Tyre were deeply engaged in learning stories and values from the Bible. Pastor Amir had these children, 6-11 years old, energetically discussing the story of Jesus’ healing of the paralyzed man whose friends brought him and lowered him through the roof to Jesus because of the crowds. Little hands shot up as kids were eager to share their ideas related to Amir's questions that related the story to their own lives and experience: What do friends do for each other when they are in need? Can you ask Jesus to heal another person even if that person doesn’t know? What can you do to help somebody else? ...and other great questions! The children sang songs about God’s love for them with zest, big smiles (most of them), and hand motions. A number of the older girls were wearing head-scarves as were some mothers who watched from the back. These are all Muslim children whose parents bring them to the church because that is where they receive care and hope. Some of these kids, whose lives have been disrupted by war and flight, have not been in school for three-five years, and many of the younger ones have never been to school. Now they are learning the Syrian curriculum (because nearly all of them just want to return to Syria when peace returns), but also English…and hope.
We missed seeing the kids in their classrooms because we were meeting with Pastor Amir, his wife Esther and other ministry leaders. We did get to see the kids again as they came through the line to receive their lunch sandwiches. They gave some of us a high five and headed into the courtyard to eat a much-needed nutritious meal. A less nutritious but really fun and colorful surprise awaited them after lunch! Akram, a Syrian refugee father of four, has not been able to find any work because he was injured and is now handicapped. The church gave him a loan and helped him buy a cotton candy machine, a plastic wrapping machine, and a motorcycle so he could set up his stand along the corniche and sell treats. He started to pay down his loan before it was even due, so that the funds can revolve and be given to help another family. Today, he had brought cotton candy to school to surprise the children.
The church uses every square inch of its space for three or four purposes each day. One room serves as a classroom for women in the sewing, small business, and hairstyling classes. Female volunteers with a group from a Christian college in Moldova were also sleeping there. Twenty-four women and men graduated from the various training classes just before Ramadan and are using their new skills to "eek out" an income for their families. Another series of classes will start soon. One Syrian woman, who took both sewing and business, will teach an additional class in crocheting in this next round, sharing a special skill of hers. So many of these mothers are widows. They were yanked out of their comfortable lives by the horrid realities of war and of Da’esh (the Middle Eastern term for ISIS). Thanks to the partnership of The Outreach Foundation and especially the ministries of churches like Tyre, many of them are now finding a firm place to stand, a shred of hope, a sense of contribution and restored dignity through being part of this community. Like their children were learning in chapel today, the parents, too, are learning to help others, and to seek a way forward based on trust in a loving God. We did waken to the horrifying news of the tragedy in Nice, France, and held on all day, as many of you, to the promise that there is a way forward because a loving God rules in this world.
After a visit to the Unesco World Heritage archaeological site at Tyre – 2nd century Roman and Byzantine arches, tombs, aqueduct and a hippodrome – we were relieved to drop our sweaty bodies in an air-conditioned restaurant for shawarma and cold drinks. It is wonderful having Marilyn Borst’s leadership! Before she turned her attention to the “living stones” of the Middle Eastern churches, she was an ancient art historian. She still gets excited about the ruined stones of such historical sites. But her love for the living stones is a delight to see!
Rev. Dr. Nancy Fox
Outreach Foundation Trustee
National Presbyterian Church, Washington, DC