Lebanon/Syria #14 - Come and See, Go and Tell

by Julie and Steve Burgess, for the team

Once again this morning we found ourselves saying goodbye, this time to Yazdieh church, Pastor Elias and wife Petra, Adil and Vicki Sleiman who hosted Alan and Ted, and Moussa Moussa who hosted Julie and Steve. We try to turn our goodbyes into until-we-meet-agains, but it is always bittersweet to look behind the car and see these places get smaller. Dark clouds, heavy rain and thunder kind of added to the bitter part along with our tears, and yet we made our way down the road and through the checkpoints.

Our destination was Homs, where we were joyfully greeted by the elders of the church and their pastor since this past December. A familiar yet unknown man met us: unknown because we had never met him, but familiar because he is the father of Elias whom we had just left. His name is Yousef (Joseph) Jabbour and he is from Aleppo. After we heard from the leaders in his church, he gave us some good scriptural advice about visiting Homs:

“When you come to Homs, you must come as Thomas. When you leave Homs, you must leave as John.”

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said unto them, “Except that I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. John 20:24-25

That which was from the beginning which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the word of life for the life was manifested and we have seen it and bear witness and show unto you that eternal life. 1 John 1:1-2

Yousef told us that we needed to come to Homs and place our fingers into the side of the wounded body of Christ there as did Thomas, and to then bear witness to what we have looked upon as John said. This would become the blog today as Steve summed it up with our chosen title: come and see, go and tell. We offer what we have touched and seen and heard today and bear witness with that as a litany of prayer.

Elder Najwa reported that the church, through the work of the women’s committee, is still helping 680 families with monthly food parcels.

Come and see, go and tell.

The children of the Sunday school, as reported by Nour, made Christmas gifts and distributed them to the fire station, the local traffic police, the home for the elderly and a school for children with special needs. A beautiful video followed their progress through the day.

Come and see, go and tell.

Amar, a young man of the congregation and who serves on the Administrative Council of the Synod reflected on remaining in Syria during the crisis. “We decided to stay. Should we leave or try to make it better?”

Come and see, go and tell.

Elder Marwan shared that on February 12, 2012, Homs was totally under siege. Most of the 60,000 Christians who lived here left, and it was impossible to get to the old city to worship in the Presbyterian Church, which had been damaged in a major way. Fifteen persons met for worship at the Elderly Home where worship grew and they had to remove a wall to accommodate all those who were coming. The war had caused many to fear, but faith drew them into community and they grew in their faith.

Come and see, go and tell.

After the siege ended, they could choose to rebuild the church but people had no homes to return to, so who would come? The idea of rebuilding forty homes of church members was born; partners came aboard and this was accomplished. Elder Najwa’s was the first house renovated and she was the first to return.

Come and see, go and tell.

Fadia also tells of February 12. With bullets flying over her head she left to join the diaspora in the Christian Valley near Mashta Helou. Her conscience would not allow her to resign her position, so every day she commuted back to the university in Homs on very dangerous roads, a one hour commute before the war. Even walking from the classroom to the bus stop included shelling and snipers. Her family lived in Mashta for four years and she continued this daily commute. It took two years to fix her home and to return.

Come and see, go and tell.

We could not leave the young people. We needed to stand with them and show them that hope comes only from Jesus.

Come and see, go and tell.

Elder Abdelmessiah (Slave of God) and his wife Abeer were the last ones on their street to leave in May, 2012. They also left under difficult circumstances. Living in exile from Homs, it was hard to bear the title of displaced persons. How do we retain our roots? Jesus was our encouragement. Through all of this we learned that we must help others.

Come and see, go and tell.

In the midst of crisis, relationships among people were broken as radicals worked to divide Syrians one from another. Homs Church began a program called Space for Hope, bringing together young Christians, Muslims and Alawites to begin the work of reconciliation while horrors were still being committed. They built strength in relationships through meeting together, through games and sports.

Come and see, go and tell.

We met with two bishops, one Greek Orthodox and one Syriac Orthodox, in their churches, which were damaged severely in 2012. Some of us personally witnessed this damage in 2014 and now we walked into old places where worship had returned. There was choir practice in an ancient tongue. The Lord’s Prayer was recited in the language closest to the one Jesus taught in. There were plans for new centers to care for those orphaned by war.

Come and see, go and tell.

There are broken places and broken people in this place, and yet the faithful gather together to praise the one who was broken for us all. Those who doubt or do not know that the body of Christ is still present in Syria, do not listen to the news for that is not where the gospel, the good news is to be found. Here it is grounded. Here it is found.

Come and see, go and tell.

Julie and Steve Burgess, West Hills Church, Omaha, Nebraska

The Outreach team with pastor and leaders of Homs Church

The Outreach team with pastor and leaders of Homs Church