Impact: Divine, Human
For the Team, Julie Burgess
On our second to last full day on this most amazing of trips with The Outreach Foundation to Syria and Lebanon, we found ourselves in Tyre. You can read about King Hiram of Tyre in 1 Kings 5. Marilyn shared that story with us as we walked the ancient ruins of the place, but that is not the text that came to my mind for that day. What came to my mind was something I had read at the Nicholas Sursock Museum in Beirut at the beginning of our trip.
In a room filled with old photographs of Egyptian archaeological digs I found this explanatory sign on the wall. “The Human Scale: In the second half of the 19th century, photographic expeditions to Egypt multiplied, with a view to making an inventory of the Orient. Photography thus became a precious tool for archaeologists and scientists. Often, the monumental quality of a site can only be grasped through the inclusion of a human figure. Man is there only to indicate scale, but he inhabits these images which otherwise would be lifeless and frozen in an ancient time, like the ruins we are given to look at.”
In this photo, you have to look very closely to find the human being. He is so small next to this grand work of human hands; so small, that the work dwarfs him. But he is there to give an idea of the impact of the work of humans who walked the earth millennia before him, in a place now in ruins.
We have had the chance to walk in a place that is filled not with the ruins of time, but with the destructive capability we have in present times. In Tyre we have seen the positive impact of humanity on humanity in the faces of Syrian refugee children and in the stories we have heard from the families. These families have made their way to camps in and around Tyre in the south of Lebanon. Often marginalized by their own people, they have found their way to the small Presbyterian church led by Pastor Amir and his wife Esther, and an international group of God’s servants: Korean, American, South African, Lebanese and Syrian.
Listen to the words of Maged: “Arriving in Lebanon after fleeing the troubles in Syria, my wife and I were in need of medications for depression and emotional distress. We didn’t have any idea about churches, but the first gift we received was the Bible. It changed my life. The miracle I received was that I stopped needing the medications and so did my wife. All of our needs were met here. I found grace and the way through reading the Bible and I want everyone to taste this! I can share it with others.”
Maged and his wife have children, but in this place a new son was born whom they named Amir, after the pastor. And the impact of this holy encounter of pastor and refugee family? They named their son Amir because they want him to grow up to be a pastor as well. And Maged? He has been transformed from someone who needed the church into the one who gathers people to come to the church.
Here in Tyre, the impact is happening in a number of ministries that this intrepid band of saints is involved in. Not only are they running one of five Synod schools for Syrian refugee children (about 350 total in all five), but they are providing training in a number of areas for Syrian refugees – especially women – so that they may have a source of income for their families and not be dependent on relief aid. Training in needlework, hairdressing and cosmetology and small business formation and administration is having an impact on the dignity of real people in real ways and providing hope in what seems like a never-ending hopeless situation.
We spent some time in the company of the children as they sang praise and worship songs that any child in a VBS program or Sunday school program would love. Upbeat music. Hand and body motions. Big smiles! They recited Bible verses from memory. They shared smiles and hugs with us. God’s word is having an impact here that goes beyond my capacity with words to share. I hope you see it in these pictures.
And so I come back to those words at the Sursock Museum about human scale: How does that relate to the impact of God’s word? Here is what I have reflected on. Psalm 55:11 tells us, “…so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” That God of this passage sent out his living word – Jesus – in human size to impact us all for his kingdom; that word made flesh that moved into the neighborhood (John 1:14, The Message) has impacted everything since, and continues to do so. It is not returning empty, but is accomplishing his divine purpose! And with those children’s voices ringing in my ear, I can only join in the chorus of praise:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him all creatures here below. Praise Him above ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.
Julie Burgess, West Hills Presbyterian Church, Omaha, Nebraska