From Ancient Stones to Living Stones
For the Team, Graig Flach
After Sunday morning worship, much of the group traveled to a nearby archaeological site known as Ugarit. Here we were channeling Old Testament themes as we traversed the stone remnants of an ancient “Canaanite” civilization. But our journey has much more to do with the living stones of God’s courageously faithful flock in Syria.
“Like living stones you are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood.” 1 Peter 2:5
Over and over again we are experiencing the holy priesthood of Syrian Christians of all ages, who form an indestructible spiritual house even when their personal houses are destroyed.
After a second worship service at the Latakia church, full of music and inspiring reports of what God is doing through the congregation’s ministries, we hustled off to a reception by the governor of Latakia governorate, Ibrahim Khodr al-Salem. It was an hour that carried with it a civics lesson and an articulate reminder of the virtues of Bashar al Assad’s regime, along with an expression of gratitude for the contributions of Christian missionaries and educators since the mid-1800s.
Monday morning, braving the unusual torrential rains, we traveled from Latakia via Tartus to Yazdieh to be received by the amazing Pastor Michel Boghos and his wife Huda. The ministry of this small hillside church to refugees is astounding. We met with numerous people who have fled their homes, mostly from Homs, to find support in Yazdieh. Story after story illustrated the suffering of IDPs, internally displaced persons, and the unconditionally loving response of the Yazdieh church’s people. “We lost everything. I am not Presbyterian but my Christian brothers and sisters here welcomed me with open arms and food and support.” We listened to many heart-rending stories, then rejoiced together over a fantastic lunch at a local lakeside restaurant.
Later that evening, we huddled together by flashlight and candlelight in the home of Pastor Michel and Huda to hear about what is going on in Aleppo, a city in the headlines for many months. Pastor Ibrahim Nseir had traveled to be with us, and his account riveted us. The Aleppo church was totally destroyed in 2012, so the congregation had to relocate and rebuild. Gradually things have stabilized, but the church – not to speak of the city itself – still has a long way to go. So many Christians have fled in frustration and fear. But the opportunities are huge to share the love of Christ with all who are in need.
The ministries of the living stones, the holy priests of Latakia, Aleppo and Yazdieh, demonstrate the significant impact of relatively small congregations whose faithfulness unleashes the power of the Spirit in very broken and needy places. This disproportionate impact is due partly to the support of The Outreach Foundation.
We tried to express our admiration and affirmation of these amazing pastors and their people, finding ourselves in awe of their perseverance. We are humbled by their commitment and strengthened by their example. Their spiritual sacrifices (I Peter 2:5) are surely “acceptable to God through Jesus Christ,” and they are amazing and inspiring to us.
Rev. Dr. Graig Flach
Lake Grove Presbyterian Church, Lake Oswego, Oregon