Posts in Middle East
Bethlehem Bible College - April 2019 Update

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Bethlehem Bible College (BBC). They recently shared the following stories about their ministry and involvement in the local community in God’s mission in the world.

After the resurrection, Jesus met his disciples in Galilee where he gave them the Great Commission “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations ...” Matthew 28:16-20

The classic cross, pictured here, is seen throughout the Holy Land and is known as the Jerusalem cross. It is made from locally sourced olive wood and crafted by artisans in the Bethlehem area.

The shape of the cross has a deep historical and spiritual significance. The large cross represents Jesus. The four smaller ones represent the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – going out to the four corners of the world.

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Hope for Syrian Students - March 2019 Update

At the Al Hanan kindergarten, the 75 little ones probably do not understand the profound significance of the name of their school. “Hanan” in Arabic means “compassion” carrying with it the broader nuances of “kindness,” “love,” “care.” For this all-Christian village in Syria of about 23,000 souls, 85 miles south of Aleppo, the Al-Hanan kindergarten and preschool has provided a haven of stability and normalcy – a sanctuary of love and care and compassion – in a place where the war still threatens, even while most of Syria is experiencing some peace.

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Syria Appeal - March 2019 Update

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 one of our travelers, Mike Kuhn, shares his reflection on the ministry of education offered by two of the Presbyterian Churches in the far northeast corner of Syria: Hasakeh and Qamishli.
Marilyn Borst, Associate Director for Partnership Development

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Refugee/Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Appeal - March 2019

Up the dingy stairway to a small and unremarkable second floor apartment we went, as we almost always do when we come to Beirut. Here in this crowded Christian suburb of Bouchrieh (Booch-REE-ah) is one of our precious partners in God’s mission – the Our Lady Dispensary. A few of our Outreach Foundation team, who would soon head into Syria, had come a day early: Julie and Steve Burgess, Rob Weingartner and myself. For our short time together with Grace Boustani, the social worker who oversees this mission of the Middle East Council of Churches, and with Rola Al Kattar, a volunteer who conducts the trauma healing program with children, we lived into the promise put forth on the plaque which adorns the pale green wall of the narrow entry hallway: You Will Be Blessed …

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Iraq Appeal - Good Shepherd School and Nursery - March 2019 Update

The faithful Presbyterian families in Iraq always amaze me. And the extended family of Rev. Farouk Hammo, pastor of the Baghdad Church, is a prime example. Despite decades of hardships, terror, sanctions, and uncertainty, there is a deep commitment in this congregation to “be the Church” in Iraq and beyond. Their numbers may have diminished, but not their zeal to make Christ known. Along with Farouk’s sisters and their families and his niece and her husband, the ministries of the church – for women, youth and kids as well as outreach to those who do not yet “lift high the cross” – go on. But nowhere is the church’s vision to be “salt and light” more evident than in the Good Shepherd Nursery and newly-opened elementary school.

When our Outreach team was there in late 2017, an old house which stood in front of the nursery school was being renovated to become the elementary school. Rev. Farouk and the school’s principal, Ban, who is a member of the church, proudly shared the results of a university study done on the city’s 400 private preschools: the Good Shepherd Nursery School (which now has 108 students) ranked #2!

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Refugee/Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Appeal - January 2019

Generous friends,

Late last fall, we sent this word on behalf of the three Christian refugee ministries with which we partner in Lebanon and Jordan: “winter is coming.” Your response over the next month allowed us to make available $25,000 to be shared by Together for the Family and Our Lady Dispensary in Lebanon and the Orthodox Initiative of the Middle East Council of Churches in Jordan. Soon, food parcels, blankets and heaters plus medicines and assistance with rent were bringing Light and Hope to thousands of Syrians and Iraqis, both Muslim and Christian. In Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley, where Together for the Family serves many who live in tents, the context turned dire recently when intense winter storms brought bitter temperatures along with rain and snow. On January 16th I received an unsettling update on these vulnerable Syrian refugees from Mrs. Izdihar Kassis, founder and director for Together for the Family:

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Musalaha - January 2019 Update

As part of promoting reconciliation in the community, we conducted a joint Christmas training for our women's groups from Bethlehem and Aboud, emphasizing the value of giving. The weekend focused on sharing our love and message of reconciliation with children who have physical and psychological needs, many of whom would not be able to spend the holidays with their families. The women prepared gift baskets and gave them to neighbors in need as part of learning to celebrate Christmas through giving, love, and reconciliation.

University students are hard to pin down. For many, their energies are devoted to their studies. They are at the mercy of rigorous course and exam schedules and have too much to do with their limited time.

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Iraq Appeal - January 2019 Update

In October my colleague Rev. Nuhad Tomeh and I brought a small team to Iraq to meet the three Presbyterian congregations there – Basrah, Baghdad and Kirkuk. Rev. Ginny Teitt, Ms. Gretchen Tilly, Mr. Sichan Siv (a former ambassador to the UN) and Rev. Tony Lorenz were an encouraging presence to the Faithful Church there and we were all, in turn, moved and inspired by those who can say with confidence that they, “rejoice in their suffering, because suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Rev. Teitt shares here her reflection on our time in Basrah.

Marilyn Borst, Associate Director for Partnership Development

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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!

Perspectives
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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