Lebanon/Syria Day 13: Gifts and Graces
We are home. Two weeks on the road together establishes some pretty amazing bonds. I cannot get out of my head the short but potent confession we make in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in…the communion of saints…” Yep. I do, now more than ever. And I am enormously grateful for a particular (peculiar???) group pf saints who accompanied my colleague, Nuhad Tomeh, and me on this Outreach Foundation journey: Steve and Julie Burgess, Jack Baca, Lisa Culpepper, Marshall Zieman, Jack Haberer, Mark Mueller. Your humor, compassion, spirituality and generosity was only exceeded by your flexibility as each day morphed into yet-another-new-plan when our dreams to enter Syria and be present with Presbyterian family there slowly evaporated.
But those changing plans brought unexpected blessings: more time to be with precious partners in Lebanon and to experience the beauty and history of this endlessly fascinating country. (This was my 28th trip to Lebanon and I am ready to go back tomorrow!) We absorbed much history in legendary sites like Baalbek, Anjar, Byblos and Tyre. We celebrated Holy Communion twice as we worshiped with our Presbyterian family in Tripoli and Khirbet Kanafer. We saw much tender ministry to and with those who have fled war in their countries and are now embraced with hope and healing and the Love that is Christ.
Our major partner, the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, made it possible for “Syria to come to us” when it was apparent that we would not get into Syria, and over a period of four days EVERY ONE of the 10 men and women serving as a Presbyterian pastor in Syria came to “sit long and talk much” (as my Dutch grandmother-in-law used to say) along with the wife of one of those pastors who is leading multiple ministry initiatives: Salam Hanna, Mofid Karajili, Micheline Koudmani, Michel Boghos, Elias Jabbour, Feras Ferah, Mathilde Sabbagh, Ma’an Bitar, Yacoub Sabbagh, Boutros Zaour, Ibrahim Nseir. We were overwhelmed by their joy and their hopeful vision for God’s future. We were humbled by their courage and their perseverance. We were honored to be considered their partners in Christ’s mission. We treasured the fellowship shared over meals and over many, many, many small, cardamom-laced cups of thick Arabic coffee. And we owe an enormous “thanks” to the Rev Joseph Kassab, General Secretary of the Synod, for issuing the “summons” which brought these Syrian friends to our doorstep (actually, to the Near East School of Theology, where we met together).
In the Westminster Confession – one of the core documents of our Presbyterian heritage – this elucidation of “communion of the saints” is worth savoring:
All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by His Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with Him in His grace, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory: and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other's gifts and graces…
And so we lean expectantly towards the next time in which we can see one another – be that in Omaha or Allentown, in Beirut or Sidon, in Damascus or Aleppo – to share in one another’s gifts and graces. And until that time may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all…
Associate Director for Partnership Development, The Outreach Foundation