Syria Appeal - June 2019

In February I took another Outreach team to Syria, thanks to an invitation from our partner, the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, and their General Secretary, the Rev. Joseph Kassab, who was with us in Syria for much of the time. At the end of this update, you will find a timely word from him: a reminder that support for the families that make up these faithful congregations still requires our help until the economy of Syria recovers. In this trip update two of our travelers, Julie and Steve Burgess, share their reflection on our time in Homs, which suffered much through the war, including substantial damage to the Presbyterian Church.
Marilyn Borst, Associate Director for Partnership Development

Come and See, Go and Tell
Once again we found ourselves saying good-bye, this time to friends at Yazdia Presbyterian Church. We try to turn our “goodbye” into “until-we-meet-again,” 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 – Rev. Yousef (Joseph) Jabbour, who is from Aleppo. After we heard from the leaders in his church, he gave us some good scriptural advice about visiting Homs:

“When you come to Homs, you must come as Thomas. When you leave Homs, you must leave as John.”

The other disciples, therefore, said unto him [Thomas], “We have seen the Lord.” But he said unto them, “Except that I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. John 20

That which was from the beginning which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the word of life for the life was manifested and we have seen it and bear witness. 1 John 1

Yousef told us that we needed to come to Homs and place our fingers into the side of the wounded Body of Christ, the Church, as did Thomas with his Lord, and to then bear witness to what we have looked upon as John said. We offer here what we have touched and seen and heard and bear witness with that as a litany of prayer.

Elder Najwa Kachich reported that the church, through the work of the women’s committee, is still helping 680 families with monthly food parcels.

Come and see, go and tell

The children of the Sunday School, as reported by Nour, made Christmas gifts and distributed them to the fire station, the local traffic police, the home for the elderly and a school for children with special needs. A beautiful video followed their progress through the day.

Come and see, go and tell

Elder Marwan shared that on February 12, 2012, Homs was totally under siege. Most of the 60,000 Christians who lived here left, and it was impossible to get to the old city to worship in the Presbyterian Church, which had been damaged in a major way. Fifteen persons met for worship at the elderly home where worship grew and they had to remove a wall to accommodate all those who were coming. The war had caused many to fear, but faith drew them into community and they grew in their faith.

Come and see, go and tell

After the siege ended, they could choose to rebuild the church but people had no homes to return to, so who would come? The idea of rebuilding forty homes of church members was born; partners, like The Outreach Foundation, came aboard and this was accomplished. Elder Najwa’s was the first house renovated and she was the first to return.

Come and see, go and tell

Fadia, a professor, also tells of February 12. With bullets flying over her head she left to join the diaspora in the Christian Valley near Mashta Helou. Her conscience would not allow her to resign her position, so every day she commuted back to the university in Homs on very dangerous roads. It took two years to fix her home so she could return. Fadia leads the ministry with young adults: “We could not leave the young people. We needed to stand with them and show them that hope comes only from Jesus.”

Come and see, go and tell

Elder Abdelmessiah (“Slave of God”) and his wife Abeer, a doctor, were the last ones on their street to leave in May 2012. They also left under difficult circumstances. Living in exile from Homs, it was hard to bear the title of displaced person. “How do we retain our roots? Jesus was our encouragement. Through all of this, we learned that we must help others.”

Come and see, go and tell

In the midst of crisis, relationships among people were broken as radicals worked to divide Syrians one from another. Homs Church began a program called Space for Hope, supported by The Outreach Foundation, bringing together young Christians, Muslims, and Alawites to begin the hard work of reconciliation while horrors were still being committed. They built strength in relationships through meeting together, through games and sports, listening to one another and seeing the good in each other.

Come and see, go and tell

There are broken places and broken people in this place, and yet the faithful gather together to praise the One who was broken for us all. Those who doubt or do not know that the Body of Christ is still present in Syria: do not listen only to the nightly news for that is not where the gospel, the Good News is to be discovered. Here it is grounded. Here it is found.

Grace and peace,
Julie and Steve Burgess, West Hills Church, Omaha, Nebraska

From Rev Joseph Kassab, General Secretary of the National Evangelical Synod and Lebanon:

The Syrian people’s daily lives carry hourly struggles that take the form of shortages of milk, electricity, water, medication, medical services, car fuel, cooking gas and other necessities which they lack due to the difficulty of the situation. Despite all, the people remain resilient as they face their hardships with patience and scarcity. In the light of the above, we acknowledge that Syrian Christians are left with churches as their only source of hope and help in order to meet their basic needs and retain their human dignity as they remain in their country. It is worth noting that many of the Syrian people look enviously at their fellow citizens and relatives who succeeded in departing Syria to a neighboring country or the West without weighing the dangers of the transition. Our goal today is to keep the Syrian people in their country and around their churches while meeting their basic human needs.

The Outreach Foundation gives thanks to God that you continue on this journey with us alongside the faithful, witnessing Church in Syria, especially now that peace is being restored. Make a gift HERE or by sending a check to our office.