"Go... and make disciples..." Matthew 28:28-30
by Rev. Mary Beth Lawrence
Saturday, July 29 was the last day of the Women’s Conference at Dhour Shweir. It was time to say tearful and loving good-byes to our new friends, take a few hundred last photos, and to think about returning home.
Saturday was also our shortest day of the Women’s Conference, so we decided to make it last as long as possible. We got up at 2:00 a.m.! We were up in the darkest hours of the night to say good-bye to the women of Aleppo. They had a 12-hour drive ahead of them – across a border, back into Syria, and with a desire to return home before the Syrian Army closed the road for the day. These dear saints had begun their journey to this beloved conference watching bombs being dropped all around them. (Literally.) We could not let them leave without saying good-bye and gathering in a circle to pray God’s blessing on them.
The closing worship service was a particular joy. All of the participants were thinking about what our lives might be like when we left the peace and joy of Dhour Shweir and returned to our homes. Some of us are blessed to have homes, families, friends, work, and vibrant faith communities. But many of the women have lost their homes, lost family members, and are worried about sons being drafted into the army. Their families and friends are dispersed across the globe, their church buildings have been destroyed, and many congregations have shrunk in size as members have either died or emigrated.
So it was a special joy to come together at the Lord’s Table to celebrate communion together. We needed, and will need, the grace that comes to us in broken bread and poured wine. We celebrated our unity as the one Body of Christ, even though we were preparing to go our separate ways.
One particular joy of this communion service was that it was led by two American pastors (the Rev. Nancy Fox and I) and, for the very first time, two newly ordained female pastors in the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon. We’ve mentioned their names before in this blog, but let me say them again: The Rev. Rola Sleiman, pastor of the Evangelical Church of Tripoli, Lebanon, and The Rev. Najla Kassab, who will become president of the World Council of Reformed Churches later in September. Another member of our team, Elder Caryl Weinberg, was invited to serve the elements.
As the four ministers stood behind the table to celebrate the sacrament, I looked out at the faces of the participants. Some had their cell phones out to record this historic worship service. Some had tears in their eyes and tears rolling down their faces. All were smiling, rejoicing at the goodness of the Lord in calling women as well as men to ministry in the Kingdom. Of course I remembered my own ordination more than 30 years ago.
I was reminded that all ministers, male and female – all Christians, in fact – stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. Our mothers and fathers gave us examples of what it means to live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. Our grandparents and Sunday School teachers told us the stories of Sarah and Abraham, Miriam and Moses, of Huldah and Jeremiah, of Mary and Joseph, of Dorcas and Paul. We didn’t invent this life of faith. It was given to us as a gift, like a runner handing a baton to the one who follows her. And now it is our turn to run with the wind of the Holy Spirit urging us along, and to pass the baton on to others.
Rev. Najla Kassab closed the conference with a challenge that I am taking to heart. She reminded us that we can only stay connected to the Lord and to one another if we abide in His Word. She urged us to read the Bible daily and to tell at least one person something of what we had read. This is my personal commitment and I hope you will take up the discipline, too.
God is not through with His church. There is still work to do. There are still people who need the love of Jesus Christ. Let us join the churches of Lebanon and Syria in joyfully proclaiming this Good News!
Rev. Mary Beth Lawrence
Gaithersburg Presbyterian Church