See What Love Can Do

by Rev. Mary Beth Lawrence, Gaithersburg (MD) Presbyterian Church

This is my first trip to Lebanon and my first opportunity to meet so many wonderful Christians from Lebanon and Syria. I love the word “first” because it implies that there is a “second” or “third” that follows. I hope so.

There are so many things I could share, some of which my colleagues already have mentioned – the beauty of the country, this retreat center, and the women. Then there is the legendary hospitality of the Middle East. One feels like one has walked straight into the stories of the Bible. I now know the menu of the Great Marriage Supper of the Lamb. For sure there will be hummus, cucumbers, tomatoes, garlic, and pita loaves.

We have been honored to meet several church leaders while we are here. Many of the pastors and pastors’ wives are leaders of their local churches, of course. They are faithful and incredibly creative in how they minister in their local contexts.

They are working to meet the needs of displaced persons within Syria and Lebanon. Today we met a Presbyterian pastor from the south. He introduced us to a lovely young woman who is a refugee from the northeast part of Syria. Her mother was a Christian and her father a Muslim. Sadly, her entire family died when a bomb fell on their home. She was left alone. She joined a Muslim family who were fleeing Syria, and eventually they made their way to Lebanon. Her testimony is that the love of Jesus Christ met her there and she became a professing Christian. Her life was so transformed that the Muslim family who were her good friends also began attending the church. See what love can do.

As peace comes to various regions of Syria, the pastors and their wives are creating local ministries that will help rebuild their cities. One such ministry, supported in part by The Outreach Foundation, is in Homs, Syria. The church there is creating a business that will allow women to bake and sell various foods, the income of which will help them provide for their families. The location of this bakery is very strategic. It will be located on a main road that serves several schools. The students will be regular customers, I’m sure. See what love can do.

Two people we have met deserve special attention. The Rev. Joseph Kassab is originally from Aleppo, Syria, but came to Beirut years ago to do his seminary training at the Near East School of Theology, the seminary where he met his future wife, Najla Kassab. Rev. Joseph is the General Secretary of the Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon and also a pastor of the Synod. That means he’s the top Presbyterian church leader in both countries. “We don’t know what the future will look like,” Rev. Joseph said. “Only God knows. But we are trying to be faithful in our present.” In typical Reformed fashion, they are focusing on their schools. The evangelical schools in Lebanon are very well known for their quality education, and the Presbyterians were one of the first to establish schools for the children of the Syrian refugees. The Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon hopes to influence an entire generation for Christ. See what love can do.

Finally, the Rev. Najla Kassab deserves special mention. She is only the second Presbyterian woman to be ordained to ministry in the entire Middle East. Recently she attended a meeting of the World Council of Reformed Churches, where she received the very high honor of being elected to a seven-year term as president!

Sometimes we forget what the power of Christ’s love can do. But it can change individuals, families, nations and the world. And we have been given a glimpse of that this week.

Rev. Mary Beth Lawrence
Gaithersburg (MD) Presbyterian Church