Lebanon/Syria #11: Five Hundred Percent
by Ted Kulik, for the team
“Have I not commanded? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
In 2012 as war came to Aleppo, many members of the National Presbyterian Church of Aleppo began to flee the city. In the war years the church would go from 500 members to 80. Reverend Ibrahim Nseir and his wife Tami committed themselves to remain in Aleppo with their three children to be the church. At that time, he stated, “It is worth the risk to make the statement, the church is still here.”
Aleppo Presbyterian Church was one of many churches in Aleppo targeted by terrorists and was bombed beyond repair. Reverend Nseir received warnings at his home, threatening him if he did not flee Aleppo. Today when he remembers that time he tells us, “I know that God intervened for me.” Bombs were placed in his home and would have gone off when the water was turned on, but the water was weak flowing and the bombs were not detonated. The government was called, and the bombs were removed safely. Still Reverend Nseir and his family remained to be the church.
They began to meet in an apartment and the church began to grow. Attendance increased 50% in the worst years of the war. Church members worked together providing food and clothes to those in need, whatever their faith. Daily they visited the sick, provided transportation to hospitals, and gave comfort to the grieving. When they received word of displaced Syrians outside Aleppo in Jibrin being warehoused, they went and provided them with blankets, sleeping bags, food and water.
Did they ask, “Why is God doing this?” or “Why doesn’t God end this war?” Yes. Did they lose their faith or lessen their commitment to serving? No. Because of this devotion many were drawn to them and the church grew.
Many of the Christian denominations in Aleppo worked together creating a new ecumenical spirit. What a privilege it was to meet with Reverend Nseir and Armenian Catholic Bishop Btrous Mreyateb and see their affection toward each other and their strong bond of friendship built on their Christian faith and joy of service. The Muslim community has responded with great respect for the Presbyterian church, the head of Islamic property telling us, “I loved Reverend Nseir 100 percent before the crisis; I love him 500 percent today.”
Today the worst has ended, but the commitment remains. The Presbyterian Sunday school program is growing, meeting a great need in the community with the majority of children coming from families in other Christian communities. The young adult program is providing fellowship and mutual support at a time of intense anxiety about the future.
Reverend Nseir has begun the process of renovating a building across the street from the church. He envisions a new clinic, that will be free for all, with an emphasis on medication needs and dental care. He isn’t sure yet how the clinic will be funded but whatever happens, he knows as the people of all faiths know in Aleppo, that God is alive in this great city.
Ted Kulik, First Presbyterian Church, Brookline, Massachusetts