Lebanon/Syria Day 10: The Power of the Spirit
Jack Haberer, for the team
Today was supposed to be the day of worshiping and bringing encouragement to the saints in war-ravaged Aleppo. A day-by-day wait to receive the elusive visas has kept us pursuing our Plan B – which featured four days of conversations at the seminary here in Beirut with the Syrian pastors, given their greater ease with crossing the border into and out of Lebanon. In fact, all of them came our way and the resulting conversations were stunning in the variety of experiences, profound in their depth, overwhelming in their witness to God’s power-amid-harrowing-circumstances, and, intermittently, accented with laughter.
Now that all those pastors had returned to preaching in their respective pulpits, we drove east over the western ridge back to the Beqaa Valley to worship with our Presbyterian brothers and sisters in Kherbet Kanafar, Lebanon. This congregation of seventy-five communicant members welcomed us into its beautiful church and fellowship hall. Attendance, not including us foreigners, was about forty, given that some of their members spend winter months in warmer locations. The building was rebuilt approximately ten years ago and included a tall steeple with a very loud carillon that peeled its invitation to worship at 10:45. Note: in a country where mosques broadcast sung calls to prayer five times a day, loud enough to startle us out of daydreaming or even deep sleep, the loud ringing of a church’s call to worship refreshed our hearts.
Pastor Tony Aboud and his wife Ramak Aboud (the director of the refugee school we visited on Day 3), were happy to incorporate many of us into the worship service. Among them was my close friend, Rev. Jack Baca, reading from Psalm 84 which speaks of being in the Valley of Baca (aka Beqaa, an unplanned convergence that brought grins afterwards). The worship leadership included four leaders of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland, who rode the bus over and back with us. The most striking worship leadership, apart from the sermon, came from a member-poet of the church whose prayer (expressed in English) uttered a sonorous adoration of God that sounded like it must be a psalm of David. We Americans presented an unrehearsed yet beautifully harmonized version, if we do say ourselves, of Holy, Holy, Holy.
Pastor Tony preached a passionate appeal to live a life of worship and prayer, without which our best efforts to serve are powerless. In contrast, a life marked by adoration and supplication evidences the empowerment promised by Jesus in Acts 1:8 (“…but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you…”). His language alacrity allowed him to preach antiphonally in Arabic and English – without missing any rhythm or passion in either language. When complimented for such skill, he introduced us to – and gave the credit to – his father, a retired university professor of languages and rhetoric.
Conversations ensued in the fellowship hall – which included long-time members and friends of this small agricultural town and newcomer refugees from Syria.
Among the friends was Pastor Tony’s best friend George, a Roman Catholic who, in this religiously segmented society, stood out for his ecumenical spirit. He attributed their camaraderie in part to Tony’s bridge-building in the village and to his childhood education at the Schneller School, in the Beqaa, which for generations has been breaking down the walls between Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox and even Muslims. Moreover, he has taught carpentry in the same school for twenty years. This past year, he stepped down from that role to expand his own carpentry business. However, he discovered that the presence of the Syrian refugees, many of them highly skilled in the trades, has brought down wages (they mostly work without having formal papers, and accept minimal wages), and made his business minimally profitable.
Among the newer friends of the congregation is a young family of four – refugees from Syria, who have been fortunate enough to rent an apartment for just $300 a month. However, as an undocumented immigrant he can only drive a school bus, which generates just $300 a month. He and she are needing to depend on others’ generosity to feed their two toddler boys, as they wait and hope to find a sponsor who will help them to move “to Europe, the United States, Canada, or Australia; anywhere,” as he said.
A long ride through a steady rain over the mountain range brought us back to our hotel and another day of pursuing our Plan B, while still hoping to be granted the elusive visa that allow us to return to Plan A, if only for a day or two. We’ll see.
Rev. Jack Haberer
First Presbyterian Church, Allentown, PA