Rwanda #2 - What Are You Busy Doing?

by Erika Shapiro, for the team

There is nothing like sleeping in a real bed after traveling to the other side of the world! We rested well under our mosquito nets at the guest house in Kigali. We got up for some individual quiet times, as the rain fell on the tin roof of porch outside of our rooms. Our theme verse for the trip is Luke 5:1-11, and today to help identify with Simon who was busy fishing in this passage, we answered the question: what are you busy doing?

After our quiet times, we had an awesome breakfast: boiled eggs, omelets, passion fruits, mango, bananas, pineapple, oatmeal, and toast. It was so yummy!!

Kind people from the Kanombe congregation picked us up and took us to church, where once again we were very warmly received. People welcomed us with hugs and handshakes and big, beautiful smiles.

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Rwanda #1 - Made it to Rwanda!

by Sara DeVries, for the team

Good evening to all from the land of a 1,000 hills. We stepped out of the airplane into the fresh thick Rwandan air, the night sky was clear and the lights twinkled in the distance. We almost immediately removed our outer jackets as it is much warmer. We passed through customs quite smoothly, got our bags and walked outside to the biggest and most welcoming arrival crowd around. We were greeted by the president and vice-president of the presbytery, youth, some of Outreach Projects Coordinator Ebralie Mwizerwa’s family members, and everyone in between – there were probably 20 people there. It was such beautiful hospitality and such a kind gift to receive

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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 4:00 p.m. 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

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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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