Lebanon/Syria Day Eight: Coming Full Circle

by Tom and Joy Boone, for the team

Thursday in Damascus was to feature three official conversations and a bit of shopping to support Syrian seamstresses in business hoping to support their families in war. On the surface, it was a typical last day. But, by God’s will a bullet-list agenda became a journey, which birthed a story bringing us full circle.

The journey began with our Lord’s words from Acts 9, “Go to the street called ‘Straight’.” These words drew us forward, along that famous street past the area where Ananias baptized Saul of Tarsus. Straight Street is lined with shops and the scent of spices and lit cigarettes fill the air. About one km down we took a left onto Ananias Street, ending at Ananias Church, a two-room basilica on the original street level (15 feet below). Long ago within these walls, the Spirit cast a vision that would characterize the authentic witness of the gospel. “I will show him [Saul] how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16). Ours is the way of the cross. So, we sat quietly, some praying, others reading scripture, each of us privileged and humbled to be in this place where the witness of the church continues: where there is suffering, Jesus is Lord!

We next visited with the speaker of Syria’s Parliament, His Excellency Hammoudy Sabbagh, who is a Christian related to some of the church leaders in the Presbyterian Church, one at the church of Hasekeh and her brother at the church in Fairouzeh. (Both were celebrating important events in their home city of Hasekeh, so we did not get to meet them on this trip.) The church’s witness often includes navigating the interminable world of complex politics that his peace may reign. What we thought would be a quick 30-minute private meeting became a two-hour event. We met with around a dozen Parliament members, had dialogue, experienced even more hospitality, and were able to share of the church’s earnest prayer and our desire for peace to wash over Syria.

Our journey’s next milestone was with Patriarch Youssef Absi of the Greek (Melkite) Catholic Church. This man visibly carries both the suffering of his people and the hope of the resurrection. He smiles, but not brightly. His eyes show his enduring hope not in humanity, but that the Triune God will prevail. Through his words the Spirit spoke of God’s own woundedness not just about this war, but of suffering across all ages caused by the one whose whispers seem sweet as Syrian candy, but whose aim is pure evil. This visit, though not “happy,” was deeply encouraging for all. We presented him a cross of steel testifying to the witness of the church’s enduring testimony that in Christ alone we have strength.

The day’s journey concluded with a visit to Bishop Mata (Matthew), the Damascus bishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church. We had met the Patriarch in Aleppo, who appealed to President Assad directly for our visas. Through the endearing presence of the bishop, the Spirit brought us full circle, answering a lingering question. Jesus, yes wash this place with Your peace, but what does this peace look like here and now? His vision pulled the curtain back on the stubborn hope of the gospel in a broken world.

This church, the poorest of the Orthodox communions, is establishing higher education for Christians and Muslims, developing businesses and young leaders to make them fruitful, rebuilding homes in war-torn villages, serving refugees, and working within the government structure that it may speak Christ’s prophetic voice to it. Bishop Mata’s vision articulates what each of the churches in our Syrian journey is trying to achieve. Full circle.

It was not lost on anyone that on all days, today Syria was having the most rain of the year to the point of trucks being swept down Damascus’ narrow streets. “Jesus, so wash this place with Your peace through Your gospel. This is the Damascus vision You gave to Paul and Ananias. May we be part of His ongoing work to break down the walls of hostility, heal rather than break, and reconcile each one of us to You and one another through Your grace and love” (Ephesians 2:14).

Tom and Joy Boone
Bethel Presbyterian Church, Cornelius, NC

 Outreach team with Bishop Mata of the Syrian Orthodox Church. Their patriarch is pictured in the portrait on the wall.

Outreach team with Bishop Mata of the Syrian Orthodox Church. Their patriarch is pictured in the portrait on the wall.