Lebanon/Syria #16: 12 Days, 10 Churches, 1 Body

Marilyn Borst, for the team

Romans 12: 5 “…so in Christ, we who are many, form one body…”

When we pulled up to the Presbyterian Church in Fairouzeh, a few miles outside of Homs, I wondered if I had enough energy left to project joy and encouragement to the congregation which awaited us inside. They had, after all, come for this special 4pm service just to be with us, having already gathered in worship that morning at their “usual time.” We had just finished an ample lunch (how many ways ARE there to do “kibbeh,” that ubiquitous local dish of bulgur, chopped onion and minced meat?!?!) with the church elders and leaders and then their pastor, Rev. Yacoub “Jake” Sabbagh, his wife, Grace, and daughter, Celine. We were at the end of a rich and rewarding 12-day Syrian journey to stand with our family-by-faith that had taken us to the far northeast of the country, close to the borders of both Turkey and Iraq; to worship in the historic capital of Damascus, tracing Paul’s footsteps down the Street Called Straight; to stand in the ruins of the old church in Aleppo where Rev. Ibrahim Nseir would pull from the rubble a fragment of marble upon which was inscribed the 23rd Psalm; and to see in all 10 churches a vision for the future of Christ’s Church that had sprouted from the seeds of perseverance which had germinated during the devastating years of war, terror and deprivation.

12 Days, 10 Churches, 1 Body

The experience, as we ascended the steps in the cold, damp night was a familiar one now: a line of smiling faces---some I knew and other soon-to-be friends---beamed a bright welcome, and we exchanged the three kisses, alternating between cheeks, which reminds us we are not strangers in this place. As we walked down the aisle, to the front pews which had been reserved for us, my energy was revived to see assembled there so many young people, so many children, the elderly---and everyone in between---all these who had remained to be yet one-more faithful congregation of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon. As Rev. Yacoub made a valiant attempt to start the service, our Outreach Foundation team resisted order as we took photos of and with the exuberant congregation. I suddenly noticed, standing at my feet, a boy of 6 or 7, starring up at me with the biggest smile and the brightest eyes. I bent down to ask “Shu ismak ?” (What is your name?) “Richard,” he replied. My Arabic proficiency thus ended, I gave him a hug and 3 kisses and, of course, took his photo. Charmed, to the say the least, I momentarily contemplated whether he would fit in the large, purple duffel bag being carried by Steve and Julie Burgess. (He WOULD have, but I quickly abandoned the idea of carrying him home, realizing that the future of the Church here rested upon the tiny shoulders of these “little Richards.”)

12 Days, 10 Churches, 1 Body

With the service ended, having been thoughtfully crafted by Rev. Yacoub to include both English and Arabic hymns and readings, we were presented with a gift: a plywood “map” of Syria with Scripture from Romans 12: 5 “…so in Christ, we who are many, form one body…” Simple words, but a profound and mystical reality: with these Syrian Christians from far away---who might easily be separated from us by miles, language, culture and politics---we were one body. I am enormously grateful to all of you who followed us on this journey through these blogs and many, many Facebook posts, lifting prayers for us along the way even as you celebrated the faithful Church encountered through our stories and images. Along with us, you experienced the incarnational reality of the one body. And for The Outreach Foundation team, which my colleague, Nuhad Tomeh, and I were honored to lead---Carlos, Rob, Julie, Steve, Allen, Ted, Mike, Lisa, Jack---an even more profound “thanks” for your trust, resilience, sacrifice and presence. And as to the question you will endlessly be asked, i.e., “Weren’t you afraid to go to Syria?” you might just show them the photo of “little Richard” and then watch as a smile forms on their face…