Syria Appeal - August 2015 Update

 Elham, from Sidon and Julie, from Omaha

Elham, from Sidon and Julie, from Omaha

At the end of July, seven women from Presbyterian churches around the U.S. made a unique mission-vision journey to the Middle East to meet, learn about and build personal relationships with women from Presbyterian churches in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. Led by Marilyn Borst, The Outreach Foundation’s Associate Director for Partnership Development, they spent a week at the conference center of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon at Dhour Schweir in the mountains north of Beirut. A hundred sisters came together from difficult places for a time of learning, rest, fellowship and exuberant worship. Here are two stories, shared by participants in that trip, which give a glimpse into both the challenges and the faithful witness of the Church in Syria for which your generous gifts and diligent prayers have provided both support and encouragement.

“Please come visit my home”
Rev. Lisa Culpepper, pastor
St. Paul Presbyterian Church, Hemingway, SC

How many times have you hesitated to host the Sunday School party or a bridal shower thinking, “Oh, my home isn’t nice enough,” or “Oh, I don’t have time to get things cleaned up enough to host a party.” We have all used these excuses, yet these parameters are not part of the conversation I had with Lina and Salwa of Aleppo, Syria. It wasn’t long after I posited myself on the stone wall next to these two conference participants that Lina asked, “Have you ever been to Aleppo?” “Why, no…,” I answered, my thoughts wandering to recent reports from the region (55% of this once thriving city has been destroyed and the remainder is under a looming threat and heavy surveillance). “Well, you must come,” Lina responded. “I want you to come to my house.”

 Brave women from Aleppo: Lina, Muriel, Tammy, Rawaa, Salwa

Brave women from Aleppo: Lina, Muriel, Tammy, Rawaa, Salwa

Lina and Salwa live with their families in a neighborhood much like mine, except that they flinch and pray when bombs and rockets pass by overhead or explode across the street. They no longer have running water but must follow the examples of their biblical foremothers in collecting rain water or going to fetch water from a newly dug well. Sometimes they are able to buy bottled water. It was obvious that neither Lina nor Salwa have time to bemoan their hardships, for these women are busy. Under the leadership of their pastor, Rev. Ibrahim Nseir, Lina and Salwa gather food and clothing for a refugee family of seven who live in a single room where they sleep on the floor.

As I sit with them trying desperately to wrap my head around the images I am hearing, Lina explains to me that she is  “OK.” She is OK because she believes that God is in control of her circumstances. “We trust in God,” she adds. “God is sovereign no matter what happens to us.” Lina continues with a question that seems to be a point of controversy for Syrian Christians. “Should I stay or should I go?” she asks me. In that split second, I recalled the agonizing conversations that I had witnessed this past November between Synod member pastors regarding whether or not to encourage congregants to remain with the church in Syria or to flee to higher ground. The question has become a very painful and controversial theological dilemma for church leaders and members.

 With the old church destroyed by mortars in another part of town, a new Presbyterian Church raises in Aleppo.

With the old church destroyed by mortars in another part of town, a new Presbyterian Church raises in Aleppo.

Ignoring a nagging sense of inadequacy, I responded, “Follow your heart, Lina. You will know in your heart what is right for you, and this may be different from the conclusion that others come to.” Lina continued, “I have family in El Paso, Texas who have asked me to come live with them, yet I do not want to. Aleppo is my home.”

I remember how my grandmother (whose name also was Salwa), after immigrating to the U.S.A. in 1921, demonstrated exquisite Middle Eastern hospitality by welcoming friends and strangers alike into her home. Today, I realize that in addition to being a cultural norm in the Middle East, hospitality is a biblical directive, yet it takes two to respond to it. One to invite and one to accept. 

“Come to Aleppo.”

“Redeemer” 
Meryle Gaston, elder
First Presbyterian Church, Santa Barbara, CA

Lydia, pictured below, is from Kharaba in the southern part of Syria. She is now in Damascus because her village is in the hands of extremists, and the churches are closed. Sometime before leaving, Lydia’s son-in-law was kidnapped. Her husband and the Orthodox priest took the ransom, went to negotiate with the kidnappers. The kidnappers took the ransom money, did not release the victim, kidnapped the other two and demanded more ransom. Lydia’s husband apologized to the priest for getting them kidnapped. “It is my call to be with you. It is what I have to do.” After saying this, the kidnappers killed the priest. Eventually Lydia’s husband and son-in-law were released after paying the money demanded. But the priest’s sacrifice is clearly recognized by her. She says quietly, “His name was Fadi. Fadi is the word for “redeemer.”

Your generous gifts for the "Syria Appeal," which supports Presbyterians in Syria at this critical time, have raised over $650,000. These gifts have supported individual families, the nine pastors and the mission and ministries of the 19 Presbyterian churches. 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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