Lebanon/Syria #15: The Light Prevails

by Ted Kulik, for the team

“For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Hebrews 11:10

The Presbyterians of Homs cherish the view from their church courtyard. From the courtyard, they can see the many different churches and mosques that surround them: a symbol of what Homs once was and what it will be again.

When the war began in Homs, the church neighborhood was the city’s most dangerous area. For fear of safety many members left the city, but many also stayed. Those that stayed committed themselves to maintaining the church in Homs. Even after terrorists drove them from their church in 2012 and then occupied it and vandalized it for a year, they stayed in Homs and worshipped at the Presbyterian elderly care center, where we worshipped with them in 2014.

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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.

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Lebanon/Syria #13 - Beads and Seeds

by Julie Burgess, for the team

“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’” Matthew 19:14

This is a day to share the stories of ministry to children and youth. We have shared in previous posts about the precious Sunday school children and their sweet smiles singing their songs of JOY. It is one of the enduring ministries of the churches here. We have seen much on this Friday, but the thread that strung our stops together like the beads on the prayer chains you see being rubbed by so many here, was the ministry for children and youth.

While traveling with Rev. Nuhad Tomeh last summer, he told our group of faithful women that he and two partners were opening a KG – a kindergarten – in his village of Yazdieh, Syria. The purpose he said was twofold: to minister to children in this village and to provide jobs for local women who were widowed by the war or its effects. God’s word commands us to love, to teach, to heal, and this brand new Love and Hope Preschool was doing all three in bright new surroundings.

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Lebanon/Syria #12 - A Place for Healing

NOTE: Due to some technical difficulties, we were delayed in posting for a few days. The following blog was supposed to be posted on Saturday. We are sorry for the confusion. Additional blogs will be posted later today.

by Jack Baca, for the team

February 14. Valentine’s Day. Or, to be more accurate, Saint Valentine’s Day, named for the 4th century bishop who was persecuted and beheaded because he insisted on marrying young men and women against the orders of the Roman emperor, who wanted his soldiers not to have any romantic attachments so that they would more willingly die for the empire. The bishop believed in love—passionate, committed, sacrificial love—the kind that makes marriages work, the kind that makes the whole world work, the kind that looked down from the cross and said, “I forgive.”

The team rises early and says goodbye to Aleppo as we drive through apocalyptic scenes of bombed out buildings and posters with pictures of soldiers killed in action.

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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.”

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Lebanon/Syria #10: Struck Down but Not Destroyed

by Steve Burgess, for the team

Today has been another full day. In the morning we met with the Archbishop of the Armenian Catholic Church in Aleppo, His Grace Butros Mreyatee, who shared with us the many trials of the church in recent years. But his was a message of hope despite the damage to cathedral and the emigration of over half of his members.

Despite all of the losses, there has been a strengthening of faith with a renewed sense of dependence on God, the goodness of God, the renewal of hope, and a reminder that our God is the God of light and of love.

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Lebanon/Syria #9: After Death Comes Resurrection 

by Julie Burgess, for the team 

I met Mathilde Sabbagh, now pastoring the church in Hasakeh, while she was a student at NEST, the seminary in Beirut, in May, 2013, on an Outreach trip. I remember her words very well and they are the title of this blog. This is the good news of the gospel: Jesus lived, died and rose again, and those of us in Christ die to ourselves and are resurrected in new life. This is what we celebrate in baptism. 

Today we left the comfort of the Beit Al Wali Hotel in Damascus and headed for Aleppo, about a six-hour drive to the north. Before leaving the crush of the city traffic in this busy old city to eventually get on the highway, we started to see the damage. The farther we drove the worse it got, until eventually we came to the Douma area which was the last part of Damascus to be relieved of the terror of radicals.

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Lebanon/Syria #8: The Light of the Gospel

by Lisa Culpepper, for the team

On this Lord’s Day, February 10, we are awakened by the light of a new day in the biblical city of Damascus. I had waited for thirteen months to be here. Traveling with The Outreach Foundation to Lebanon in January, 2018, we were not granted visas into Syria.

Turning in my Bible to Acts 9:3-9, I read of the light from heaven that flashed in brilliant life changing mercy for both the apostle Paul and the waiting world, and now the morning light had greeted me with a word of welcome to the narrow cobblestone streets that wound around tattered awnings and ancient doors.

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Lebanon/Syria #7: Father, We Put This in Your Hands

by Julie Burgess, for the team 

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” Matthew 4:23 

Carlos led our devotion this morning as our team gathered at Qamishli church before breakfast with the elders. Using this one verse from Matthew’s gospel he illustrated how Jesus’ entire ministry could be summed up in four active verb phrases: he went, he taught, he proclaimed, he healed. He tied it all together so beautifully for us that I was determined to take this into our day to help me frame this blog for those reading at home. 

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Lebanon/Syria #6: Education: From Desperation to Hope 

by Mike Kuhn for the team

“And David ran quickly toward the battle line …” (1 Samuel 17:48) 

We spent the day in Hasakeh, a city in northeast Syria. The region is known as the “Jazeera” (peninsula) because it lies between the Tigris and the Euphrates. I learned that the area is dominated politically and militarily by the Kurdish forces who have cut a deal with the Syrian regime. The deal shielded the region from some of the atrocities of ISIS, but not all. What surprised me is that the Kurdish domination has led to the closure of many public schools. It seems the Kurds want all education to be in the Kurdish language, even though only about 20% of the population is Kurdish. Once again, it is the most weak and vulnerable (the kids) who become the victims of political aspirations to power. But church-affiliated schools remain in operation…a window of opportunity. 

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Lebanon/Syria #5: A Dream, a Calling, a Family 

by Rob Weingartner, for the team 

It seems to me that one could return to this place countless times and always experience a deep sense of privilege and awe, privilege for the opportunity to be with God’s people in such a difficult place and awe at the Christian’s commitment to bear faithful witness to the Gospel. 

Yesterday (Friday) began with a visit to the Presbyterian School at Qamishli with 800 students from Grades 1-9. The school has grown during the war as other schools closed and as pressure mounted from the Kurdish leaders who control this area in an agreement with the Syrian government. The Kurdish leaders are seeking to close the schools and impose their culture on all in the region. 

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Lebanon/Syria #4: Relinquishment

by Julie Burgess for the team

You know you are in a difficult part of the world when the flag that flies changes along the road from one set of colors to another and you have not left the country. We began the day where the Syrian flag flies and headed north and east about sixty miles to where Kurdish colors are flown. Land is contested here; it is relinquished involuntarily and yet it is relinquished.

Standing in the National Presbyterian Church of Qamishly this morning in the area of Syria known as Jazeera, we listened to the pastor, Rev. Firas Ferah, tell the story of losses through the years of war. Approximately fifty percent of the Christian families have left this area. They have relinquished their homes for other places like Sweden or Australia. The question was asked, “Why do they leave?”

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