Syria Relief - September 2014 Update

 Rev. Ma'an Bitar

Rev. Ma'an Bitar

Syria

Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.                    James 1:2-4 

“Exuberant” would be the first word which comes to mind when you meet Rev. Ma’an Bitar. Pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Mhardeh (Ma-har´-day), he follows in the footsteps of his father, who was pastor there before him. Located about 20 miles northwest of Hama on a major and strategic road to the nearby mountains, this village of about 23,000 is almost completely Greek Orthodox, except for the 1,200 Presbyterians who call it home. And for the last few months, it has been caught in the cross fire of the sundry wars raging inside Syria.

 Dining al fresco on Rev. Ma'an's patio

Dining al fresco on Rev. Ma'an's patio

Just a mile to the east (and easily visible from the roof of the church) is a Muslim village of about 30,000 – Halfaya – with whom Mhardeh has always had peaceful relations. But a few months ago, Jabhat al-Nusra, a branch of al-Qaeda in Syria, set its sights on Halfaya, and although the stretched forces of the Syrian army tried to protect them, most of the residents have now fled and Al-Nusra has taken it over. Adjacent to the   ongoing battle between opposing forces, stray shells easily make their way into Mhardeh – some 10-15 a day, according to Rev. Ma’an. Four of them have fallen on his church’s property with one (thankfully, unexploded) landing on his own patio – the scene of many dinners of hospitality when I have stopped there with my groups.

When asked how this affected the “normal life” of his congregation, he assures me that the activities of the church – Bible studies, women’s fellowship, children and youth gatherings – have proceeded, except when the shelling is fierce. His phone, he says, rings night and day with the problems of the congregation: twenty-five families, so far, have experienced major damage to their homes or cars, jobs and paychecks have been seriously interrupted, anxieties run high. And then there are the thorny theological questions: How can God allow this to happen? Where IS God in all of this? Not only does Rev. Ma’an attempt to address these tough issues in his sermons, but he has now instituted a weekly “forum” for Q and A around these topics which has attracted people from the other churches along with his own.

“When all of this is over,” he muses, “the effect of this war upon my congregation will be related to how we behaved during the crisis. To be a member of Christ’s Body is to be concerned with the ‘before’ of our life of faith [who are we and for what have we been called]. Christ will take care of the ‘after.’” 

 Worship in Mhardeh

Worship in Mhardeh

If “exuberant” is the first word I would use to describe Rev. Ma’an Bitar, “faithful” would be the definitive word, as he is one of the nine Presbyterian pastors still serving 18 congregations in Syria.

Marilyn Borst, Associate Director for Partnership Development

Your generous gifts for the "Syria Appeal," which supports the Presbyterian work in Syria at this critical time, have totaled over $330,000. These funds have been used by the Synod to provide direct aid, such as food and clothing, housing, and educational support for children. Some resources have been used to strengthen the Synod’s pastoral and psychological care to those who have been displaced. More resources are needed in support of the churches’ relief work as the fighting in Syria continues. You may send an additional gift to our office or make an online gift through our website, www.theoutreachfoundation.org. You may also scan this QR code with your smart device to make an instant gift. Please designate your gift for the “Syria Appeal.” You can find a downloadable bulletin insert on our website along with earlier updates.