Lebanon/Syria Day 6: Love Without Borders

Outreach team with the Syrian pastors

Outreach team with the Syrian pastors

Jack Baca, for the team

“For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.”  Philippians 1:8-11

Wednesday is a day that began with longing in my heart: longing for permission to visit a country that I have come to love, longing for the chance to learn how things are since our last visit, longing especially to see the faces, hear the voices, and share in the lives of Christian sisters and brothers whose journey through life is indeed taking them through some very dark valleys. Such longing, of course, is born of love, the love Christ that flows into us and then the love for each other that is the fruit of Christ’s love.

Without visas for our group we moved to an alternate plan. If we could not go to Syria, then at least some of the Syrians could come to us. And they did. Ibrahim from Aleppo, Salam from Latakia, Boutros from Damascus, Mathild from Al Hasakeh, Feras from Qamishli, Jacoub from Fariouzeh, and Michel from Yazdia – all people of great dedication to their task of pastoring National Evangelical (Presbyterian) churches – made the long and often arduous trip to be with us. Their longing matched ours. Their love, too, is from Christ.

There is a certain kind of joy that fills the heart when you first meet with old and dear friends whom you have not seen for a while. That joy burst out as we greeted each other with the traditional double (or triple) kiss on the cheek and unabashed hug that Western folks often can’t seem to manage. In this place where displaced persons abound and where it is not to be taken for granted that you will see each other again as you say farewell, there is a special gratitude you feel when you have the privilege of meeting again.

We spent hours and hours together. The Outreach team mostly listened, and the Syrian pastors mostly shared. They shared about the history of the conflict, about the ongoing challenges of responding to overwhelming human need, about the faithfulness of God in providing spiritual and material support, about the faithfulness of church members who continue to worship their God and practice their faith despite the circumstances, and about their dreams, plans, and hopes for the future. Yes, the future.

In Aleppo, where 75% of the city is destroyed, Pastor Ibrahim shared about his church’s efforts to minister with sick and disabled children. In Damascus, where internally displaced persons have come for the relative safety of the capital city, Pastor Boutros outlined plans to build a clinic that would serve those least able to care for themselves. In Yazdia, Pastor Michel recounted the need for continued distribution of food, medicine, fuel, and other assistance to care for refugees still living in the mountains. Indeed, there has been and will continue to be a “harvest of righteousness” among these disciples of Jesus as they take the church outside of its own walls and out into the misery of the world, offering God’s love to any who need it: Christian, Muslim, or anyone else.

As the day progressed a phrase kept popping into my mind: “love without borders.” There is an organization of physicians who disregard national borders and enter places where their medical care is most needed. And there is an ancient organization of believers in Jesus who disregard borders of any kind: political, cultural, racial, social or any other. There is a border, for now, that our team cannot cross. But love has no borders, and so, for now we will be content to stay on this side of a line created by human beings, knowing full well that God is present and at work on the other side of that line. We are thankful for that. We are thankful for those who accomplish that work in God’s name. We are hopeful in the vision of that day when all human borders are erased between us. Love, indeed, flows over any lines between us, because God’s love first overflowed for us, in Christ Jesus.

Rev. Dr. Jack Baca
The Village Community Presbyterian Church, Rancho Santa Fe, California