Lebanon/Syria Day Four: Answered Prayers
by Rev. Dr. Tom Boone, for the team
We are writing from Aleppo! Five words, which we did not expect to communicate; to understand how much this means to us, let’s wind the clock back 24 hours to 9 p.m. Friday. We had heard that, much to everyone’s efforts, the visa numbers did not make their way to the border. This news came on the heels of a roller coaster few days culminating in an 11th hour conversational prayer. A cry to the Lord that He might let the visas come through. Some of us were hurting to have come this far, yet not stand with our Syrian brothers and sisters, again. While the consultation was informative, we came to show up in churches in Syria, a gift deeply cherished by Christians suffering an eighth year of war.
At 10 p.m. Friday, people knocked on our doors. The visa numbers had arrived at the border! So we made quick plans to leave for Aleppo at 6 a.m.. Nine hours, one friendly border crossing and 21 check points later, through several bombed-out towns and villages, we arrived in Aleppo at the Presbyterian Church greeted by 100 children singing to US! Sharp contrasts in such a short span. An enactment of the hope and joy of the Lord, which is our strength (Neh 8:10) and which suffering does not extinguish (Rom 5:3-5). We enjoyed lunch with them, and their teachers.
This hope that suffering births continued to unfold before our eyes as the day shifted venues. We were honored with an invitation to a concert and prayer service dedicated to the kidnapping of two archbishops from the Syriac Orthodox Church and Greek Orthodox Church five years ago today. We broke every practical rule by attending this large gathering, yet found leaders from several Christian traditions here including the Mufti of Aleppo (Sunni Muslim). The Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church spoke about hope despite the kidnapped leaders having not been returned, heard from or even demanded ransom for. He encouraged Syrians to pray and sing about love (hinting at the tradition Aleppo has for its love songs). And he said that this is a time for Syrians to return.
Bringing our day full circle, we were greeted by the Patriarch personally in a gathering of other religious and political leaders, and he was thankful that his direct appeal to President Assad about our visas had worked. He thanked God that we have come when so many others would not. It was an honor to meet this man who had facilitated our visas.
The highlight for Joy and Julie came following the service. A Syrian man turned to them and said it had been many years since he had heard English in Aleppo. He thanked us for coming to Syria and for being with them in this moment of their crisis. Most others are staying away. This became such a powerful encounter of mutual encouragement authored by the Holy Spirit (Rom 1:9-12).
It’s the end of the day, but we can’t close without communicating from the words of Reverend Bashar and his wife Hula, who met with us. He told us that this war has produced suffering, but it has been good for the Christians. The Bible has come alive like never before, and they are drawn ever more closely to Jesus. Only through suffering has he seen that the Bible was written in the heat (of suffering), and can only be fully understood in the oven (suffering.) What a message to us, and it’s why we wanted to be here.
So, the team is thankful that the prayer of deep tears 24 hours ago has been answered in a day that has taken us through a wide range of emotion, seen the indelible scars of war, and experienced the undaunted hope that comes because every knee bows before the sovereignty of our Lord Jesus. We thank you for your prayers that sustained us today and allowed us to share this word of encouragement back to you.
Rev. Dr. Tom Boone, Bethel Presbyterian Church, Cornelius, North Carolina