Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

by Caryl Weinberg

"There is no fear in love but perfect love casts out fear.”  1 John 4:18 

Today was a witness to this verse from the time we left our hotel on the bus, to the Evangelical/Presbyterian Refugee School of Kab Elias, to the ministry of Together for the Family in a refugee camp at Zahle. The morning began with our trip toward the refugee school, guided by Dr. Mary Mikhael. This former president of the Near East School of Theology and an Elder from the Presbyterian Church in Syria, she retired over five years ago with a vision to respond to the crisis of refugees from Syria coming to Lebanon. She and a handful of others believed that they should create schools to welcome children of these refugees caught in the limbo of having no country. And one and a half years ago, their dream began to materialize with the opening of the first of what are now five schools. She struck me this morning when she said our people didn’t want to create schools because they were afraid: afraid to welcome people who had disrupted their country, who could bring ISIS to their doors, who could threaten them in the future. And yet, Dr. Mary and others said they just kept meeting with people and talking with them, sharing the need to show Christ’s love. And the schools opened. They had moved beyond fear to love.

Our first stop was to the school at Kab Elias. Directed by Mrs. Ramak, this school currently has a summer session of 45 students. These students ranged in age from six to eleven and were divided into three classes. Most had never attended school before. In telling us about these students, we heard that at first when a fellow student fell down, others would step over them, and taunt them. But after these months of school, they now stop and help each other up. They greeted us with a song of welcome, they danced for us and with us. They read to us, and shared their love with us, complete strangers. Clearly their teachers loved them and were committed to them. Each one took pride in her classroom. And each had poured herself into the life of each student. They said it wasn’t their role to change these students to be like them. Rather, they were to share God’s love, God’s “perfect love,” and let Him do the work of transformation in these precious children, children who had once lived in fear, but now were experiencing the freedom that only comes with perfect love.

We spent much of the rest of the day with Izdihar Kassis experiencing and learning about her ministry, “Together for the Family.” The time started at a refugee camp in one of the tent homes where about fifteen mothers and their newborn babies had gathered. This ministry reaches Muslim mothers that are Syrian refugees in the camps at Zahle. Identified as mothers and babies at risk through a process of screening, they are followed for up to a year, making sure both mother and baby thrive. Together for the Family includes other ministries including sewing schools for young girls and trauma camps in both Lebanon and Syria for Syrian teens who have experienced the horrors of war. In all these ministries Izdihar says the key is to love these children and their families. A few days ago, she told me all we can do is love them more and more. A few may still may grow up to kill us. But we can’t think about that. We can only live out the love of Christ. “Perfect love casts out fear.”

Caryl Weinberg
First Presbyterian Church of Evanston