Gathering With Sisters

by Claire Levy

Today was the first day of the conference. It is like any church retreat, a time to get away from it all, see old friends and make new ones, and just be a little silly. Except for these women, what they are getting away from is a war torn country with horrific violence, deep personal losses, and fears for an uncertain future.

But the women, these Godly women who rely on the Lord, arrived with excitement and beautiful smiles. It was a joy to see wave after wave of these beautiful women arrive by taxis and buses. As they got off their buses, although I had never met them, they had no hesitation welcoming me with open arms, with many kisses…as family. I was overwhelmed by their joyous spirit, and the love they extended.

The first and last groups had the most difficult journeys. At about 10:30 we welcomed a group from three churches in the Jazeera, in the far northeastern corner of Syria – Qamishli, Malkiye, and Hasakeh. They said that some of them have traveled three days to get here. The last group to arrive was from Aleppo, getting here during the worship service, not long after we had prayed for their safe arrival. Hala (from Aleppo) said that it took them twelve hours to get here. Lunch and dinner were a wonderful time getting to know some of the women from the church in  Latakia. Many were teachers, one an economist. Many had relatives who now live in the U.S. or Canada. Some have been able to visit their relatives; one woman has not been able to get a visa even before the current restrictions. While Latakia is an area of relative safety, it is not untouched by the war. They face food rationing, businesses that are unable to function, among other things. And one woman has a son who has been in the army for eight years, something that breaks every mother’s heart. 

At 5 p.m. we all gathered for our first worship service, led by Najla, the second woman to be ordained as a pastor by the Presbyterian Church in the Middle East, and a fount of joy and energy. The theme of the conference is Psalms and Riad Kassis, a pastor and theologian, who clearly has a great wit, broke the Psalms into three types: get mad and jump, life is dirty and I am disgusted by it, and everyone is putting on a good face pretending everything is just great. I really look forward to looking at the Psalms in this framework!!

Tonight was built around Psalm 128. Riad gave a brief reflection on this Psalm, on the blessings a wife has, personally, as a mother, as a wife and as a professional. God has truly blessed us.

Izdihar Kassis, who we have blogged about earlier, then helped humble us all. She believes that we can worship God through art and had us all create a picture of grape vines and branches. Her picture was indeed something that worshiped God through a scene from His word.  Mine… well, maybe worship through art is not my thing. But it was fun for all of us.

Only the first day. I can’t wait to get to know more of the women, know who they are, and know their stories.

Claire Levy
National Presbyterian Church, Washington, D.C.