Syria Appeal - July 2015

Syria

I pray, always for Him to keep us strong to serve more – not just to live more –                                                                     because we do not fear death since He has risen.     Ghawth Hanna

The news media, this week, gave much airtime to the tragic statistics: 4 million Syrians are now refugees in other countries and 7.6 million are internally displaced. With a pre-war population of 22 million that makes for half of the population having left their homes and livelihood – the equivalent of about 150 million U.S. citizens, if this was our story. So who has stayed? Well, the Church has stayed. Or, at least, a substantial portion of the Church – still committed to its work and witness and worship, its mission and ministry. That is what the Church is called to do…just as we see in this glimpse into the Presbyterian Church in Mhardeh and the kindergarten which serves its almost-entirely Christian town of around 23,000….

Ghawth Hanna (seen here, 2nd from the left, with her family) runs the church’s preschool/kindergarten. Her husband, Ma’an Bitar, has been the pastor here for more than 25 years – a pulpit once filled by his father and then his uncle. A civil engineer by training, Ghawth has been a life-long Presbyterian, and with Ma’an raised their two daughters in this largely Greek Orthodox environment. Their peaceful life was shaken last summer when an Al-Qaeda affiliate, Al Nusra, tried to take over the town next door, and Mhardeh, pictured here, was caught in the crossfire between militants and the Syrian Army. In fact, a stray mortar exploded on their front patio, and many homes in the town were also hit. And then, a few months later, Al Nusra set its sights on Mhardeh, besieging the town and destroying the main power plant. Aided by the local National Guard the army repelled this takeover, and Mhardeh now lives in an uneasy peace. 

With the economy in shambles the kindergarten was struggling to survive, but the church knew that it needed to continue to serve the children whose families were once able to fully pay the modest tuition. Your gifts to the Syria Appeal have helped to keep the school going, and Ghawth recently sent this word of thanks. I have tried to preserve her words with just a few edits:

…Before the bad war in our country we had a good time: teaching and looking after more than 120 children every year. But as the war began, everything changed. People are getting poorer, more insecure, more anxious. Many were injured and have died. Many had to take their children out of the kindergarten because they couldn’t pay for them. Therefore, we had only 80 children to look after and take care of and teach. But we kept our staff the same – six teachers [all are young women of the church] who needed their salaries every month. Also, because of the war in our beloved Syria, gas and oil became so expensive (when these items can be found, at all) so we had to pay a lot of money for the two buses we are running to transport the children from and to their houses. But because of your financial support we could have more than 15 children on full scholarship – their families are so grateful for the aid and they are coming near to the church and learning more about Jesus and his message. We could continue our year safely and could give the children small presents on Christmas, Easter, Mother's Day and on the last day of school. It was a great help for us to keep running this small ministry related to the church….

I asked Ghawth how she, personally, keeps her faith strong during these difficult times, and she wrote:

I strongly believe that God exists through every time and place. Even in this bad situation of our country we feel His existence and presence many times. I feel that Jesus is with us – with our family, with our church, with our city – because we were protected, miraculously, from several missiles which were dropped in our yard. I study God’s Word carefully, going deep into its meaning and purposes. I pray, always, for Him to keep us strong to serve more – not just to live more – because we do not fear death since He has risen. 
 The congregation of Mhardeh gathers for worship. Some of its members are serving in the local National Guard.

The congregation of Mhardeh gathers for worship. Some of its members are serving in the local National Guard.

I also asked her how things were looking for the kindergarten for the upcoming school year. She admits that if the war and its effect upon the economy continues they will need “a little support once again.” But she then added, “we hope to have a peaceful year with our children – to continue witnessing about our Lord: His love and His care.”

May it be so, my sister, may it be so.

Marilyn Borst
Associate Director for Partnership Development

Your generous gifts for the "Syria Appeal", which supports the Presbyterians in Syria at this critical time, have raised almost $600,000. These gifts have supported individual families as well as the mission and ministries of many of the 18 Presbyterian churches, like the kindergarten in Mhardeh. Their work – and their needs – continue. You may send gifts to our office or make an online gift by clicking HERE and selecting "Syria Relief" under Designation.

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