Posts in Lebanon 2017
The Company We Keep

by Marilyn Borst

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers [and sisters!]  dwell together in unity! These are the opening words of Psalm 133 and I know that each and every one of my Outreach Foundation team who went to Lebanon would echo this sentiment. It was, indeed, so very good and so very pleasant to spend eleven days learning from and in fellowship with our Church partners of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon. After five intense days spent at the conference center of the Synod, north of Beirut, in the slightly cooler mountain air of Dhour Schweir, where our days were full with Bible studies and seminars, conversations shared over meals and oh-so-many hugs and even more photographs, we said tearful goodbyes to more than 85 Presbyterian sisters from the churches of Lebanon and Syria. Over the next day and a half, we shared with each other our impressions and “take aways,” and helped one another “fine tune” what we might share when we returned to our congregations in Omaha, Tulsa, Moraga Valley, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Evanston and Gaithersburg and were asked “how was your trip?!?!... 

Click HERE to read the full story originally posted on the Outreach Blog.

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"Go... and make disciples..." Matthew 28:28-30

by Rev. Mary Beth Lawrence

Saturday, July 29 was the last day of the Women’s Conference at Dhour Shweir. It was time to say tearful and loving good-byes to our new friends, take a few hundred last photos, and to think about returning home.

Saturday was also our shortest day of the Women’s Conference, so we decided to make it last as long as possible. We got up at 2:00 a.m.! We were up in the darkest hours of the night to say good-bye to the women of Aleppo. They had a 12-hour drive ahead of them – across a border, back into Syria, and with a desire to return home before the Syrian Army closed the road for the day. These dear saints had begun their journey to this beloved conference watching bombs being dropped all around them. (Literally.) We could not let them leave without saying good-bye and gathering in a circle to pray God’s blessing on them.

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Fruit That Will Last

by Rev. Nancy Fox, National Presbyterian Church, Washington, D.C.
 
This morning I enjoyed the amazing privilege of leading the women of this Synod conference – Syrians, Lebanese and Americans – in a Bible study of John 15:1-17. This passage is a part of Jesus’ urgent parting words to his disciples as they are gathered around the table for what Jesus knows to be his “last supper” with them. He is preparing them to carry on with his own fruitful ministry when he is no longer walking among them: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit” (v. 5).

We talked about the pain of pruning, very real in their lives in this time of war in Syria and of the crush of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Lebanon. We talked about what it means to abide in Jesus, and that we are all refugees in this world until we find our home in him. We talked about how Christ’s life in us bears lovely fruit that is a blessing to others around us, and as I looked at them, I thanked the Lord for the lovely and creative generosity their churches are showing in this time with refugees and displaced people – from food aid to sharing water to giving blood to educating refugee children who have been out of school for over six years to helping restore dignity through productive lives and opportunities to support themselves through business opportunities…and the list could go on and on.

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The Kingdom of Heaven Has Come Near

by Julie Burgess

“As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of Heaven has come near.’”   Matthew 10:7

Thursday of the women’s conference week is a day away from sitting and listening and a day of journey to some special place for fellowship and laughter and food. Not that those three things aren’t happening daily! We loaded up four busloads of women and one man, our gracious worship leader Elias, for a trip to the Bekaa Valley and the Dairy of the Convent of Tanail, a nature preserve and organic farm. It was so hot, we headed out a bit early so we could have a leisurely walk before the heat of the day really set in.

106 women and Elias entered the beautiful old Catholic church for a wee bit of worship before we walked. Najla led the women in several songs in the old stone church, a structure meant to amplify the blended human voices in glorious sound. They ended with the Arabic “Abana in Heaven,” the Lord’s Prayer. Find it on YouTube, close your eyes and listen, and you will hear that the kingdom of Heaven has come near.

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See What Love Can Do

by Rev. Mary Beth Lawrence, Gaithersburg (MD) Presbyterian Church

This is my first trip to Lebanon and my first opportunity to meet so many wonderful Christians from Lebanon and Syria. I love the word “first” because it implies that there is a “second” or “third” that follows. I hope so.

There are so many things I could share, some of which my colleagues already have mentioned – the beauty of the country, this retreat center, and the women. Then there is the legendary hospitality of the Middle East. One feels like one has walked straight into the stories of the Bible. I now know the menu of the Great Marriage Supper of the Lamb. For sure there will be hummus, cucumbers, tomatoes, garlic, and pita loaves.

We have been honored to meet several church leaders while we are here. Many of the pastors and pastors’ wives are leaders of their local churches, of course. They are faithful and incredibly creative in how they minister in their local contexts.

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Mutually Encouraged

by Martha Erisman

Today was the first full day of our official daily conference schedule. The days begin with a morning meditation in small groups followed by breakfast, then worship and three speakers on various topics, with meals and breaks in between. Today’s topics were a Bible study on 1 Corinthians, followed by a talk on “The 5 Love Languages,” and finally a fascinating college-level seminar titled “The Impact of Reformation on the Church.” Each day after lunch is an extra long break for the Syrian women to re-connect with each other, as they come from all over their country and are not able to see each other easily anymore. Most importantly for our group (“The Americans” as we’re lovingly referred to), it was day one of two craft days. Marilyn put together a veritable smorgasbord of beads and jewelry making supplies for bracelets and necklaces. Our job was to assist the women during the two-hour craft time. It was hectic but lots of fun!

We’ve had a couple of worship times now, led by newlyweds Elias and Petra. They met here at the Dhour Shweir Conference Center and were just married in May. What a joy they are to see and what joyful music and worship they lead! Petra has a beautiful voice, and Elias accompanies on the piano. The room fills up with such a beautiful sound of women’s voices singing uplifting hymns in Arabic. I can’t understand their words, although we do get the title translated, but it doesn’t matter. Worshiping God through music doesn’t need to be in our words here, it transcends language. It’s truly beautiful and joyful to hear. 

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Gathering With Sisters

by Claire Levy

Today was the first day of the conference. It is like any church retreat, a time to get away from it all, see old friends and make new ones, and just be a little silly. Except for these women, what they are getting away from is a war torn country with horrific violence,  deep personal losses, and fears for an uncertain future.

But the women, these Godly women who rely on the Lord, arrived with excitement and beautiful smiles. It was a joy to see wave after wave of these beautiful women arrive by taxis and buses. As they got off their buses, although I had never met them, they had no hesitation welcoming me with open arms, with many kisses…as family. I was overwhelmed by their joyous spirit, and the love they extended.

The first and last groups had the most difficult journeys. At about 10:30 we welcomed a group from three churches in the Jazeera, in the far northeastern corner of Syria – Qamishli, Malkiye,  and Hasakeh. They said that some of them have traveled three days to get here. The last group to arrive was from Aleppo, getting here during the worship service, not long after we had prayed for their safe arrival. Hala (from Aleppo) said that it took them twelve hours to get here. 

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A Trip to Tripoli

by DD Blackman

What a fabulous day! We boarded the bus for a beautiful drive up the coast to Tripoli, the second largest city in Lebanon. The roads wound along the Mediterranean coast with its crystal blue water that sparkled in the sun.

We arrived at the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Tripoli, where we were warmly greeted by Rola Sleiman, the first woman to be ordained as a Presbyterian pastor in the Middle East! She was born in Tripoli and actually raised in this church. What an honor to meet such a dynamic woman!!!  She preached a moving sermon from Mark 5:21-24/35-43, the story of the grieving father who pleaded with Jesus to lay his hands on his dying daughter so that she might be healed. The sermon reminds us where there is Jesus, there is hope. In the Middle East the situation is so difficult we are always asking where is hope, what do we expect, where are we going? Jesus says don't be afraid, have faith. When the situation seems hopeless, Jesus brings hope. When you are afraid, Jesus gives us confidence.

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We Are Marked

by Julie Burgess

Traveling with The Outreach Foundation on these ministry experiences as I have for the last seven years, I have learned many things. One of them is that you are part of a team, and even though we begin as strangers, very quickly we bond into a family knowing we have a common Father. Tonight we had the privilege of coming into deeper community with each other as we reflected on the day. Pam Hillis of First Presbyterian Tulsa led our devotion around Romans 12:9-16. In my travel NRSV Bible, the heading says, “Marks of the True Christian.” To paraphrase, we share our gifts, we lift each other in faith, we love and we serve. Those marks should reflect our lives in Christ, marked for us on his head, hands, feet and in his side. This is our model, and today we experienced those same marks on those we came to be with.

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Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

by Caryl Weinberg

"There is no fear in love but perfect love casts out fear.”  1 John 4:18 

Today was a witness to this verse from the time we left our hotel on the bus, to the Evangelical/Presbyterian Refugee School of Kab Elias, to the ministry of Together for the Family in a refugee camp at Zahle.  The morning began with our trip toward the refugee school, guided by Dr. Mary Mikhael. This former president of the Near East School of Theology and an Elder from the Presbyterian Church in Syria, she retired over five years ago with a vision to respond to the crisis of refugees from Syria coming to Lebanon. She and a handful of others believed that they should create schools to welcome children of these refugees caught in the limbo of having no country. And one and a half years ago, their dream began to materialize with the opening of the first of what are now five schools. She struck me this morning when she said our people didn’t want to create schools because they were afraid: afraid to welcome people who had disrupted their country, who could bring ISIS to their doors, who could threaten them in the future. And yet, Dr. Mary and others said they just kept meeting with people and talking with them, sharing the need to show Christ’s love. And the schools opened. They had moved beyond fear to love.

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Faithful Women in Lebanon

by Marilyn Borst, The Outreach Foundation's Associate Director for Partnership Development

I have returned to Lebanon for the 26th time and will soon be joined by a team of eight women from California, Oklahoma, Maryland, Nebraska, Illinois and Washington, D.C! In the days ahead, we will meet with partners whose ministries with refugees from Syria are bringing hope and healing in Christ’s name. Grateful that Julie Burgess and Nancy Fox will return along with six wonderful "new women": Martha Erisman, Mary Beth Lawrence, Caryl Weinberg, Claire Levy, DD Blackman and Pam Hillis. Late on Sunday, we will head to the Women's Conference at Dhour Shweir, sponsored by the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, where we will be gathered, once again, with 100+ sisters from the Presbyterian churches of Syria and Lebanon. I am thinking ahead to the exuberant time we will have which I am calling Bibles, Beads and Beautiful Buddies – much time spent in study and worship around God's timeless Word, a craft project that uses beads (oh-so-many-beads) and hours of fellowship with our friends, old and new. As these pictures from last year reveal, there will be a whole-lotta love and joy goin' on! SO grateful to Rev. Najla Kassab for inviting The Outreach Foundation to return! And thanks to all of you for joining us on this journey…

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