Posts in Lebanon Syria 2018 #2
Lebanon/Syria Final Blog: YES

by Marilyn Borst

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are YES in Christ. (II Corinthians 1: 20)

In the pile of rubble that was once the sanctuary of the Aleppo Presbyterian Church, we rooted about and claimed some small, portable mementos: a tattered Sunday School coloring sheet of Noah’s ark, a page from a commentary on Ezra from the pastor’s study, a 6” square of glazed tile, a bit of carved plaster from a molding…My “treasure” was a golf-ball size piece of carved glass which had once been a part of a chandelier. I had worshiped on this very spot eight years ago. Standing there upon the ruins of this historic church might have been a depressing experience – a reminder of the destructive evil that is war – had it not been for the assurance that this place was not the Presbyterian Church in Aleppo.

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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.

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Lebanon/Syria Day Seven/Part Two: And We Are Still Living

by Jim Wood, for the team

As he speaks, I strain to hear over the shelling. Relentless, less than a mile away. New for me but daily – 2,300 straight days daily – for him and the 180 or so beautiful bright smiling preschoolers romping around us. Knowing the question on my face, Pastor Ma’an Bitar looks at the children and says, “They sleep hearing voices and they wake hearing voices.”

“Only our city remained,” he speaks with deep pride. Mhardeh, his rural town of 23,000, all Christian, three hours north of Damascus is the only town or village where all chose – choose –not to flee. Stubborn defiance. The photos of the martyrs, those young and old killed by the crisis, memorially ensconced on his Presbyterian church walls. A growing roll call of saints. “And we are still living.” His words bring chills.

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Lebanon/Syria Day Seven: On the Journey

by Julie Burgess, for the team

Come with us as we drive from north to south…

Good evening from Damascus, where it is 9:00 p.m. and we are gratefully behind the doors of the historic Beit Alwali Hotel, tucked into comfortable rooms in three traditional Damascene homes combined into one hotel. When you walk into a hotel and the staff greets you with roses and cool drinks, you almost feel like royalty. We are tired. We are spent emotionally. But we are at home!

Our day began at 7:30 this morning as we packed up our bags and left Aleppo for the south, with a planned short stop at Mahardeh, followed by the drive to Damascus. In two cars, we sped down the roads and highways, stopping only at the numerous checkpoints along the way.

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Lebanon/Syria Day Six: Turning Graveyards into Gardens

by Brian Collins, for the team

Today was the day we visited East Aleppo. We've all seen the pictures of the destruction, but what I didn't appreciate was how widespread it is: a seemingly endless expanse of torn and collapsed buildings. These were homes, places of work and prayer. Each represents disrupted or even extinguished lives. A numbness set in at the monotony of viewing block after block of the same destruction expressing itself in different ways – this building without a front, that one without a roof, the next just rubble.

The people of Aleppo endured much during the fighting. Parts of the city were closed off; food hard to find or sometimes not to be found. Unable to access burial grounds in dangerous parts of the city, the dead were interred in a number of small gardens around the city.

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Lebanon/Syria Day Five: The Tree of Life

by Julie Burgess, for the team

And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Rev. 22:1-2)

I cannot help but mention that this is Earth Day, which reminds me that from the beginning God made us stewards of his garden and all of creation. And I come from Nebraska, the home of Arbor Day, which we set aside to recognize the importance of planting trees. These things struck me as we began our day at the National Presbyterian Church of Aleppo with the planting of an olive tree, but I will return to that later.

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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.

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Lebanon/Syria Day Three: A Taste of Hope

by Joy Boone, for the team

We’ve been in Dhour Shweir just three days, yet it feels like home. It is easy to feel God in this place as we wake each morning to the crisp mountain air and breathtaking view of the hills of northern Lebanon. Our gatherings are as richly flavored as the baba ganoush and schwarma we have heartily shared at meals. In our worship this morning Pastor Elias Jabbour, the associate in Latakia, Syria, led a powerful worship that included intercessory prayer. He taught us the Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy) chant to an eastern melody that perfectly punctuated the spoken prayers of the people.

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Lebanon/Syria Day Two: Saying "Yes"

by Brian Collins, for the team

Why are we here in Lebanon, poised to go to Syria in a matter of days? Observing the faithful gathered here from as near as Beirut and far as Brazil, I suspect that we all have quite different stories of how we got here, but essentially the same reason: because we are called to answer “Yes,” in a world that is all too often full of “No.”

Marilyn led us in prayer this morning, quoting Paul (no stranger to traveling long distances) in 2 Corinthians 1:20: “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ.”

We have been hearing a lot about the “Yes” at work in Christ’s name in Lebanon and Syria. Amid the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, local Presbyterians and their partners have stepped up, providing for material needs (such as food, water, electricity) for the displaced and spiritual and emotional support for those caught up in this seemingly endless conflict; launching schools for refugee children and job skills programs for their parents.

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Lebanon/Syria Day One: Gathering

Our team has fully assembled at the conference center up in the mountains above Beirut: Tom and Joy Boone, Jim Wood, Brian Collins, Marilyn Borst and myself. Dhour Shweir Evangelical Center is our home for three days of a gathering of the global body of Christ. For some of us, it is like returning to the bosom of family in a big reunion. For others, it is the first time but you all probably remember the first time you met distant relatives. This is the feeling we have when we gather. Lebanese, Syrian, American, French, English, Swedish, Swiss, German, Hungarian, Irish…it is a big family!

We have gathered around this theme, “Together for Reconciliation and Reconstruction,” and we take our call from the book of Nehemiah, the second chapter, the eighteenth verse: “And I told them of the hand of my God which had been upon me for good, and also of the words which the king had spoken to me. And they said, ‘Let us rise up and build.’ So they strengthened their hands for the good work.”

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