Hope for Syrian Students in Syria and Lebanon - February 2018 Update
This project was formerly known as “Schools for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon.”
In January I took a team of seven mission leaders and pastors to Lebanon. The Rev. Dr. Marshall Zieman, former Outreach trustee and current pastor of the Presbyterian Church of the Cross, Omaha, Nebraska, was part of the team. Marshall shares his account of the visits we made to two of the six schools for Syrian refugee children which are run by the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon with whom we partner.
Marilyn Borst, Associate Director for Partnership Development
January 8 After spending yesterday with the local church in Tripoli, Lebanon on the warm coast of the Mediterranean Sea, we headed over the snowy mountain pass east of Beirut into the Bekaa Valley – the breadbasket of the country – to the city of Zahle, near the border with Syria. Today’s visit focused on refugee children. We were able to interact directly with Muslim children whose families fled their homes because of ISIS in Syria and found lifesaving refuge among the Christian community in Zahle.
Just outside Zahle in the village of Kab Elias, the National Evangelical (Presbyterian) Synod of Syria and Lebanon has converted one of its former school buildings into a school for refugee children. When I visited in 2013, the Synod was using it as housing for refugees fleeing nearby Syria. Since then, the U.N. has provided for refugee camps nearby, so the Synod has turned the old school back into a school, but this time for refugee children – one of six such schools! Many churches and individuals have contributed to the renovation and supervision of these schools, including the church I serve in Omaha.
As we entered the school we were serenaded by the children who had been waiting for us to arrive. With a mix of Christmas and children’s songs, it was easy to feel the joy and love that abides within these walls. Now in its third year, the Kab Elias refugee school currently has 110 students ages 4-13, most of whom are from Sunni Muslim families living in the camps nearby. Eight teachers instruct the normal Syrian curriculum of Arabic, science, math, and social ethics. They also teach English from the Lebanese curriculum. My favorite part of the day was sitting in class with little children who were learning to read. I squeezed into one of their desks and could almost see the wheels turning in their heads. What a gift to be among children as they learn! I wanted to stay all day and learn Arabic with them! For these families, all thoughts of schooling were abandoned as they fled places in Syria like Daraa, Aleppo, Idlib, and Raqaa. And now thanks to many caring and talented Presbyterians in Lebanon and Syria, with the support of Presbyterians worldwide, little lives and minds are being shaped and formed. The Spirit of Jesus was truly palpable.
Besides the curriculum, these children are learning about respect and behavior as they develop their communication skills. The school’s director, Ramak Abboud, is a pastor’s wife whose family comes from Syria. Ramak explained to us that it is heartening to see that changes in the children’s behavior are noted by their parents. Ramak’s teacher’s heart was obvious as she exclaimed, “These children could have been lost in the streets and camps.”
Bible stories are told at school, with the goal that these Muslim families know and understand who Christians are and what we believe. The refugee parents don’t object. One parent told Ramak, “We’ve been treated like animals until we were helped by these Christians.” Ramak noted the Apostle Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 13 in the great chapter about love, “Love never ends.” This echoes the Synod’s motto, “Showing God’s Love through Service.”
January 17 With our hearts and minds crammed with information after a full week of hearing from Syrian pastors, we again ventured across the Bekaa Valley only a few minutes away from the Syrian border. The purpose of today’s trip was to visit another school for refugee children from Syria and also visit the ancient city of Baalbek, one of Lebanon’s premier attractions.
Located in the town of Anjar, this school is the sixth school for refugee children opened by the Synod of Syria and Lebanon. This school is a partnership with the local Baptist church. The current school is housed on a floor of an old office building which has been divided up into four classrooms of about twenty-five kids each. With a current enrollment of 214 students, the school runs a morning shift (9:00 a.m.-noon) and then more students come for the afternoon shift. The school has vans that pick up the children from nearby refugee camps. Even with a space heater the classrooms are cold, and the kids all wear their coats during school. There is construction going on there, which will bring a new building for the school this summer.
Crammed into a small office the school’s director, Samar, explained the schedule and curriculum. She shared with us her passion for seeing God’s hand in using the war to bring these children to this school, where Muslim children are taught by loving Christian teachers. “These kids came from some of the worst places in Syria. They were from tribal areas, Bedouin areas. We couldn't go to them, so God brought them to us so we can teach them that there is a God who loves them.” The kids learn Arabic, math, science, and English and are also taught Bible verses and Bible songs. We were serenaded by a rousing chorus of “Father Abraham” and other songs, all expressed with great gusto. As Samar explained to us, “We alone cannot do much, and you alone cannot do much, but with Christ in us we can do great things together. May God unveil our vision to see our common mission.”
We just finished Advent, where we sang about our Messiah as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is Lord in times of war and times of peace. He is Lord over all the earthly kingdoms, for all time. He is the Lord of your life, and the Lord of these refugee children who were belting out “Father Abraham” with their hearts, minds, and voices today.
Rev. Dr. Marshall Zieman
Presbyterian Church of the Cross, Omaha, Nebraska
Through this and many other efforts of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, Christ is glorified and his name made known. We invite you to continue with us on this journey of accompaniment. Gifts for Hope for Syrian Students may be made HERE by typing in Hope for Syrian Students on the Designation dropdown or by sending a check to our office. In addition to supporting these refugee schools the Synod, with our permission, may use some of our gifts for Syrian refugee children who with financial assistance can attend the regular Synod schools in Lebanon; a small portion sometimes assists Presbyterian university students in Syria who require help with transportation and housing.