Mutually Encouraged

by Martha Erisman

One thing I wanted to do while here was to be an encouragement to my Syrian sisters in Christ, who are so far from my home in California, and enduring much hardship. Marilyn often reminds us of Paul’s words in Romans 1:11-12, which are the perfect theme for our trip: "For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you – or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine."

Every day I’ve been praying for God to put at least one Syrian woman in my path who I can have a genuine connection with and live out this passage. Yesterday and today I’ve waited and hoped for God to answer my prayer. God is faithful! Praise God for the conversations, tears, hugs and kisses. We are crossing a huge divide physically, culturally, and linguistically, and sharing the love of Christ. God is good! 

Rather than focus on my own wonderful moments of sisterhood, I wanted to include special moments from our whole group in today’s blog to give our readers the best possible sense of what it means to be here. 

  • Claire had a great conversation with a woman named Nervine, who said she hadn’t used her English in ten years and it was great! Nervine said the bead craft gave her so much joy today. Claire observed that she had a great time making jewelry for her whole family. Claire also remarked how great it is that we all have pictures of our families on our phones. Sharing these family pictures instantly connects us.
  • Mary Beth loves seeing these women from Syria come together here at the conference. They were so exhausted when they came and now they are exuding happiness. 
  • Caryl had a conversation with a women name Sabah at the tea break that was particularly meaningful to her. Sabah came from Fairouzeh. She was originally from Homs but had to move due to the war. (This seems to be common among the women here.) Caryl said it was a real struggle to communicate but they did a lot of pantomiming and she’s certain they understood each other. 
  • Julie told me of an encounter with Elias, whom she’s met on prior trips. Today she was wearing yellow, as was Elias and his wife Petra. He said, “Julie, come here so we can take our traditional selfie together!” Julie shared that she is normally a very private person at home and this really touched her.
  • DD was helping women make necklaces during craft time. (DD was working hard!) When she complimented one Syrian woman on her necklace, the woman took it off and gave it to her! DD was so surprised! Little did we know this is the custom in the Middle East. (Note to self: be careful what you compliment people on!)
  • Pam loved seeing the happy, smiling women while making jewelry. She credits DD’s encouragement for helping make it so fun for the women. Indeed, the necklace table was the most popular table! 
  • Nancy was moved by a sweet conversation that she also had with Sabah. Sabah is a teacher who lives in a small Christian village, surrounded by several small Muslim villages. She chooses to teach in one of the Muslim villages so that she can shine the light of Jesus into the lives of those children. (Note, Nancy is learning to speak Arabic and is doing a wonderful job!) 

Finally, I met a woman named Samiha, from Malkiyeh in the far northeast corner of Syria. She was really struggling with the jewelry making craft and spoke no English. I could tell she couldn’t see very well at close range, so I lent her my readers. The readers were ok for a bit, but they hurt her. I could tell she was very recently bruised and swollen. Indeed she’d taken a terrible fall. She was really hurting inside. There’s been so much war and their business was confiscated. We had some tears and hugs. 

This is the way we spend our very full days here at the conference. Laughter abounds. Tears are shared as we share life. We find joy in worship and the Word. And just as Paul writes to the church in Rome, we are mutually encouraged one to the other in faith. I pray that God continues to bless everyone, and I pray that God keeps all our families safe while we are away from home. 

Martha Erisman
Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church