Syria Appeal - September 2019 Update
“You can never learn that Christ is all you need, until Christ is all you have” is a familiar quote of Corrie ten Boom, the courageous Dutch Christian whose family sheltered Jews in their home during WWII and who, along with members of her family, would be found out and sent to a concentration camp where she watched her sister die of starvation. A popular praise song often heard in our current contemporary worship services embraces a similar assertion:
In Christ alone, my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This Cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my all in all-
Here in the love of Christ, I stand.
“In Christ Alone” words and music by Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend copyright © 2002
On my 20th trip into Syria, just a few weeks ago, I encountered an entire congregation whose lives give witness to what many of us sing and to what Corrie ten Boom professed. This congregation was from Kharaba, a small city in the far south of Syria, near the border with Jordan. When terrorists overran the city in 2014, most of the inhabitants were forced to flee to the city of Sweida, about 20 miles away. I met with that congregation when they gathered in a special worship service for the purpose of meeting me. That was a humbling experience. I brought then a word of encouragement and an assurance of our oneness with them. But mostly, they encouraged me by their faith and their faithfulness.
I knew some of their history and had actually been to their church back in 2009, escorted there by Rev. Boutros Zaour, the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Damascus. In the photo, you will see Rev. Zaour (left) being greeted by two elders, Shawkee (middle) and Salman. Shawkee was kidnapped and killed by the terrorists. And two summers ago, at a women’s conference near Beirut sponsored by the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, to which I have brought Outreach teams of women for 7 years, we met Lydia, whose son had also been kidnapped and held for ransom. Lydia’s husband, accompanied by a priest from the Orthodox Church, brought the money to the kidnappers, who seized the two and demanded more money. Eventually Lydia’s husband and son would be released but the priest would be killed. The sacrifice of the priest touched her deeply. Quietly she said to us, “His name was Fadi.” “Fadi,” in Arabic, means “redeemer.”
There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for his friends. John 15:13
Today, that congregation of about 135 families, displaced mostly to Sweida and a few nearby villages, but with some members having sought refuge in Damascus, is pastored by Rev. Saleem Ferah, who shuttles back and forth, up and down the highway, and around the area to care for his “flock.” Saleem came to ministry as a second career, leaving behind his work as a lawyer and judge to attend seminary, moved by the shortage of pastors in Syria brought on by the war. His brother, Rev. Firas Ferah, is also a Presbyterian pastor in Syria, serving in the far northeast city of Qamishli, but comes often to Sweida because his wife Sylva’s family is one of those displaced from Kharaba. The Alliance Church in Sweida has opened its doors for these displaced Presbyterians from Kharaba but can only give them limited access to the space. Rev. Saleem laments that they cannot hold youth or Sunday School meetings because of this.
That morning before worship, and after making the 90-minute drive south from Damascus, I was welcomed at the home of Sylva’s mom, Amal, and her father, Hilal, an elder from the church. Along with Sylva, we sat on the tiny balcony of her parent’s apartment and had breakfast. It featured fresh pastries, which Hilal has just brought from the bakery, and a large dish of homemade butter. Hilal had a small dairy farm in Kharaba where he made butter and yogurt. All was lost to the terrorists. Their home had also been taken. As we talked over the course of the day, I sensed no bitterness, but rather a quiet confidence that God would, in his divine time, restore their life of the past. Hilal had been quietly making trips back to their house to repair damages, even as the terrorists seemed to be diminishing in strength. But a dark cloud still hangs over Kharaba – they had heard from neighbors that the interior of their church had been set afire barely a month ago.
The war in Syria is almost over. On this visit, I heard no mortars exploding in the distance and I personally experienced the hustle and bustle of “normal life” having returned in places like Damascus, with cafes overflowing, stores open late into the night and a joyful wedding packing the sanctuary of the Presbyterian church there. But for now, the “normal life” for our family-by-faith from Kharaba is still in the future and their burden of loss is substantial. But for now, we can await that future with them, humbled by a faith that demonstrates that when Christ is all you have, you learn, albeit painfully, that Christ is all you need….
Confident in Christ,
Associate Director for Partnership Development
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, even as the needs of families and for the Church’s ministries continue. If you would like to make an additional gift for the Syria Appeal, you can do so HERE or by sending a check to our office.