Posts in Middle East
Hope for Syrian Students - November 2018 Update

They were expecting forty-five refugee children this year at the school in Tripoli. When they reached one hundred and twenty-five, they had to stop enrollment as their resources were at capacity….

In 2015 with more than 1.2 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon (60% of those were of school age) the National Evangelical Synod [Presbyterian] Synod of Syria and Lebanon came up with a vision: open a school for 200 of these refugee children and offer them the Syrian curriculum so that they could both build upon their previous education and be prepared to return to their “normal schools” once the war was over. The Synod was not a novice in the field of education, as they have operated schools in Lebanon for over 150 years. Two refugee schools were opened in the Beqaa Valley where vast tent cities of refugees had been formed. Another one would evolve north of Beirut in Minyara, and a fourth was needed south of the capital in Tyre.

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Refugee/Internally Displaced Persons Appeal - October 2018

And winter is coming …

They are Iraqi Christians who fled ISIS and Syrian Muslims were driven out by war. They found safety in Lebanon and Jordan but not much else, as they quickly overwhelmed the capabilities of the governments who opened their borders to receive them. International aid agencies came to their assistance but so much more was needed, especially considering that more than 60% of them are school-age children. The numbers are hard to grasp: 1.3 million Syrians came to Lebanon – in a country of only four million people. In both Jordan and Lebanon, many want to go home but their countries are not yet stable. Others are in the long queue to immigrate to the West. Most just do not know what the future holds for them and their families. Some have made a temporary life in tents. Others crowd together in small rooms. Despair is found in abundance. Hope is a rare commodity.

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Syria Appeal - September 2018

Bringing a child forward for baptism is always a sacred moment-holy ground-both for the parents and the congregation who, in our Reformed tradition, pledge to assist the family in raising that child to know Christ and to serve him. And there is little Christian Khatouf, pictured above with his two older brothers barely visible behind his mom, awaiting the water, old enough to know what is happening and seemingly “at home” in front of a “full house” in his home church in Nabek, Syria about 50 miles north of Damascus. As Christian looks up at the camera, he is also seeing a “wall of clergy” standing in the chancel, for his baptism had been delayed for just this moment in time – the rededication of his Presbyterian Church home that had been badly damaged by terrorists during the war.

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Hope for Syrian Students and Refugee Appeal - September 2018

In late July I took a small team of women (Sheryl Wood, Evangeline Paschal, Julie Burgess) to Lebanon to participate (for the fifth year!) in a women’s conference held by the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon. With almost 80 women joining us from the Presbyterian churches in Syria, our week together left us with hope as we heard many, many stories of how the war is winding down and peace is on the horizon. But the harder reality is that most of the refugees who fled into Lebanon from Syria are not yet able to return home, largely because they have no home to which to return….and will not, into the foreseeable future. The ministries which serve these refugees continue to engage deeply and compassionately in serving these “neighbors” in Christ’s name. Our team visited with two of them and Julie Burgess reflects upon that experience below (excerpt from trip blog published July 19).
Marilyn Borst, Associate Director for Partnership Development

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Philemon Project Preschool - August 2018 Update

The Philemon Project's GROW Center was founded to provide the best practices of quality early childhood programs for the underserved. We provide equity in child outcomes within those we serve by focusing and maintaining the highest quality possible.

GROW: Problems our Project Seeks to Address
Neuroscientists, economists and early childhood development experts all suggest that investing in a child's early years is the most powerful way to affect change in society. Reaching children in their earliest years is emerging as a top focus around the world.

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Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo

On June 1st we celebrated a wonderful time of graduation. The church was filled to overflowing with students as well as friends, families and our own seminary community, people who came to share our joy celebrating the graduation of 44 students. Eight of the students graduated with M. Div. degrees and will become pastors in congregations throughout Egypt; ten with Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership; twenty-five with Master of Arts in Theology and one student with Master of Theology. We praise God for the wonderful ways he is working through ETSC.

We are also grateful for the faithful support of our friends and partners inside and outside Egypt through which ETSC continues to provide affordable quality theological training to prepare pastors and lay leaders to serve the church and society in Egypt, the Middle East and Arabic communities abroad. Please join us in praying for our graduates as they face their daily challenges of ministry. Pray that each one of them will be able to fulfill God’s calling in serving the church and society.

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Refugee/Internally Displaced Persons Appeal - June 2018

They are the most vulnerable of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, these babies…

Izdihar Kassis, director of an outreach ministry called Together, for the Family, met Muhammad when he was only one month old. His family had fled Aleppo and ended up in the Beqaa Valley in western Lebanon. His father found part-time work in construction, but the only home they could afford was a tent – leaky and cold – on top of an apartment building. The mother had to undergo a C-section since there were some complications during Muhammad’s delivery. The United Nations helped with birth expenses, but the family didn’t have resources for Muhammad’s basic needs like milk and diapers.

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Syria Appeal - May 2018

In April, I was able to take a small team into Syria to meet with three of the congregations of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, which your generous gifts have sustained and encouraged. I cannot but be enormously grateful for those who chose to defy all of the possible “no’s” to come on this journey and be present to our sisters and brothers there: 
Rev. Tom and Joy Boone, Julie Burgess, Rev. Jim Wood and Brian Collins. The fact that their families and congregations (Bethel Presbyterian Church, Cornelius, NC; West Hills Church, Omaha; First Presbyterian Church Norfolk, VA) sent them off with their (somewhat anxious?) blessing confirms their discernment that God’s YES preceded our journey. What follows is part of our daily trip blog, this one written by Julie Burgess while we were in Aleppo in April.
–Marilyn Borst, Associate Director for Partnership Development

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Bethlehem Bible College - April 2018 Update

In February of this year, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was temporarily closed by Jerusalem’s Christian leaders in protest of a new taxation imposed upon the Christian institutions by the city of Jerusalem. This was an unexpected break in the status quo going back to the Ottoman era which had previously granted tax-free status to the city’s religious institutions. The shocking announcement included a century of back taxes, totaling almost $200 million; an expense that would have forced many ministries out of the land. Some leaders felt this imposition was a way to continue to weaken the presence of Christians in the city. In protest, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of Jerusalem’s most-visited sites was closed.

Because this event took place about a month before Easter, there were worries that the church would remain shut during our holiest season. Thankfully, after three days of closure the situation was at least temporarily resolved, and the doors of one of the world’s oldest churches were swung back open.

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Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo - March 2018 Update

Warm greetings from ETSC where we are now in the middle of the spring semester and our final year students are beginning to be excited at the prospect of graduation and what lies beyond. It has been an eventful year so far, including two big book launches!

On Friday, March 9th ETSC celebrated the book launch of the Arabic translation of Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. 150 people gathered to hear speeches by Dr. Atef Gendy, ETSC's president; Steve Hawthorne, the general editor of Perspectives; Dan McNerney, a representative of Frontier Fellowship; and Swailem Hennein, the translation supervisor. It is the culmination of over ten years of work, which was initiated by Swailem Hennein in 2006 and involved 17 people translating the136 articles on mission which make up the collection. The book has two volumes and is accompanied by a study guide.

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Palestinian Bible Society - March 2018 Update

The Palestinian Bible Society held its fourth annual Bible Day in Bethlehem on October 20. Entitled “Let the Children Come to Me,” this year’s Bible Day focused on getting the message of the Bible into children’s lives and hearts. Nearly 1,000 children from all around the land took part, along with group leaders, parents, and church leaders from all denominations. Songs, videos, crafts, outdoor games, puppets, and a live drama engaged everyone with the message in fun ways throughout the day. At the end, each child received a gift bag with a children’s Bible and a USB drive containing several versions of the Bible and audio Bible stories.

The event was broadcast live on Palestine TV and on the Radio Mawwal Facebook page. The next day, Director Nashat Filmon was interviewed on national TV and radio and received calls from Gaza residents who had seen the live broadcast.

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Iraq Appeal Update - March 2018

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.  Matthew 25:35-36

Some parts of this passage are easier to live into than others. If you periodically bring canned goods to a food pantry, you have fed him. If you ever donated money in the wake of a natural disaster to provide potable water to victims, you gave him something to drink. Made a Goodwill drop off with old clothes? You kinda clothed him, I guess. And who hasn’t visited someone who was sick or injured in the hospital. But HAVE we ever invited in the stranger? The Presbyterian Church in Kirkuk opened its doors to 70 unfamiliar people fleeing ISIS in the summer of 2014 – and half of them are still there. And then there is that prison thing….

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Refugee/Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Appeal - March 2018 Update

Every blessing you receive is for you to be grateful and to pass it on. We remain committed to our mission, the mission that our Lord Jesus Christ entrusted to us: we must continue to be there for the stranger, the refugee, the child and the most vulnerable. We want to be his ambassadors, and we are always open to be used as tools for our Lord. We are aware that with the little we offer to those people we are making a big difference. This is an opportunity for everyone to step in with us, hand in hand, to continue this work, as partnership is what our Lord Jesus Christ meant when he said, “for where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” These words of Wafa Goussous, who directs the Orthodox Initiative (of the Middle East Council of Churches) in Amman, come from deep within her heart. For it is into the midst of her nation of Jordan that tens of thousands of Syrian and Iraqi refugees have sought safety and help... and The Outreach Foundation has come alongside this ministry, over the past two years, supported by your generous gifts.

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Musalaha - February 2018 Update

Light in the Darkness

On a rainy afternoon in Jerusalem, fifty-seven women arrive at Tantur Ecumenical Institute seeking reconciliation against the odds. Despite common faith in Jesus, the group is far from ordinary – composed of Palestinian Israelis, Jewish Israelis, and Palestinian women living in the Palestinian Authority.

Recent political activity tried to exacerbate the distance between these communities; so, everyone who walks through the door is performing an act of courage, vulnerability, and gentle defiance against stereotypes. Still, each person carries a unique set of expectations or doubts.

In the first session rather than focusing explicitly on the theological rhetoric and the wounds and fears that have historically served to dichotomize these communities, the staff brought our focus to relationship building. The group is broken into smaller circles, and we engage in a game: each person is given a different colored slip of paper.

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Syria Appeal - January 2018


Now to the Lord sing praises, all you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas all other doth deface.
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Aleppo is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places on earth; many historians believe that the site has been lived in for more than 8,000 years. But over the past five years, our nightly news stunned us with the images of this ancient city turned to rubble due to a bloody war. In Aleppo alone, over 5,100 civilians were killed in 2016. In all of Syria, over 470,000 civilians have been killed during the five-year span of the conflict – from March 2011 to February 2016.

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Iraq Appeal Update - December 2017

This update is provided by Rev. Haitham Jazrawi, the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Kirkuk, Iraq. It is a powerful reminder of how our faith can sustain us in the midst of unimaginable loss and brokenness.    
-Marilyn Borst, Associate Director for Partnership Development

Since late summer 2017, the Iraqi Armed Forces and the Kurdistani Peshmerga Forces, aided by the U.S. Air Force, have been able to regain control of the Nineveh Valley and much of its surrounding towns. The capital of Nineveh Province, Mosul, was finally “liberated” from ISIS in late July. I use the term “liberated” very loosely in this sense because, in reality, Mosul hasn’t been so much liberated, as it has been obliterated. Western Mosul, also known as the “Old City,” is practically rubble; it’s easier to count the buildings that remain standing than the ones that have been destroyed.

Stories of families running as bullets rained left and right became the norm. Sometimes children laid in the rubble and used the bodies of their dead parents to shield themselves until the armed forces were able to pull them out of harm’s way. I still remember the sight of a mere five or six-year-old little girl; her face made the rounds on Iraqi television stations. She had clung onto her dead mother’s body in the street for three days in the hope that mom would wake up and save her. These are but a few of the sights that are burned into our memories from this past horrific summer.

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Bethlehem Bible College - November 2017 Update

Dear friends,

Greetings from Bethlehem Bible College! I hope you are well and prospering in all that our Lord has called you to do.  

As we approach the end of 2017, we look back over the year to evaluate how we have managed what the Lord has given into our hands and to look forward to planning how we can best follow in his footsteps in the future. We are happy to share the success of our college programs. We have students studying for their BA degree in Biblical Studies and Christian Education, for their MA degree in Christian Leadership and Ministry, and for their diploma in Tour Guiding and Mass Media. 

God has opened yet another door for us at Bethlehem Bible College – our Online Diploma Program in Biblical Studies has attracted students from around the world! Refugees from Syria and Iraq, Palestinians living abroad, and others from the very heart of the Muslim world study together in this interactive program.

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New Church Development in Egypt - November 2017 Update

With a Capital “Z

“Ig-ZOO-ber-ant” is the way we say it. “Exuberant” is the way we spell it. Its meaning is defined as effusively and almost uninhibitedly enthusiastic, abounding in vitality, extremely joyful and vigorous. And now I know the place where this adjective might have been invented: the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Zagazig, Egypt. “Zagazig… Zagazig” …say that a few times and you almost have to smile – it’s one of those words that is just, well, fun

Rev. Wael Nashat, Zagazig’s young pastor, is full of zest and that is much-needed in overseeing this growing, active congregation which is also experiencing a revival as the Synod of the Nile focuses resources here to revitalize an old church (dating back to 1886) as a strategic part of its vision for New/Renewed Church Development in Egypt. 

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