Posts tagged Syria
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.

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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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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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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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Syria Appeal - January 2018

ALEPPO: TIDINGS OF COMFORT AND JOY?

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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Syria Appeal - November 2017

With Every Act of Love

I was recently listening to a favorite song by Jason Gary and the refrain reminded me of the many, many ways in which your gifts to the Syria Appeal have encouraged the work and witness of the Presbyterian Church in Syria over these past years of war: supporting families so that they can remain despite the awful economics of war; undergirding the mission and ministries of individual congregations; helping to train the next generation of leadership for those churches.

We bring the kingdom come
With every act of love
Jesus, help us carry You
Alive in us, Your light shines through
With every act of love
We bring the kingdom

The photos included here give glimpses into the ways in which your generous gifts – your “every act of love” –

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Hope for Syrian Students in Syria and Lebanon - November 2017 Update

At the Top of the Hill: Hope

When I was anticipating knee replacement surgery, I once counted the steps: 106 of them leading up a steep hill to an old school building in Kab Elias owned by the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon in western Lebanon. Into this small country, about the size of Connecticut and with a population of only four million, Syrian refugees had been streaming (over one million now registered, 60% of those being school-aged children). Our Presbyterian family there (the Synod) discerned fairly quickly what God was calling them to do in this crisis – educate those children, many of whom had been out of school for several years because of the war or had never had the chance to even begin their schooling. This “re-purposed” school overlooking the Beqaa Valley, where a sea of white refugee tents is visible, would be joined by four others: Tripoli, Tyre, Minyara and Rayak. All five (with a sixth planned) are under the oversight of their local Presbyterian church with many of the teachers coming from those churches. More than 350 little lives are being embraced by this demonstration of Christ’s love and imparted with Christian values that are impacting their families, as well. 

Just a few weeks ago, I revisited the school at Kab Elias and spent some time with Ramak Abboud, the principal. Her husband, Tony, is the pastor of the Presbyterian Church down the road in Khirbet Kanafer. Since I was here in July, Ramak has had to add two more classes as her student body has increased to 102. 

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Refugee/Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Appeal - November 2017

The Years the Locusts Have Eaten

How does one keep faith following a sustained tragedy? The prophet Joel importuned God, in the aftermath of a disaster in Judah, concerned that even the priests were doubting God’s presence asking, “Where is their God?!?” God responded, taking “pity on his people”: I am sending you grain, new wine and olive oil, enough to satisfy you fully; never again will I make you an object of scorn to the nations…I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten…

In August, I spent a week with Outreach partners in Jordan who are ministering to refugees in Jordan. The Orthodox Initiative, which we support, is under the umbrella of the Middle East Council of Churches; its director, Wafa Gassous, has a huge heart for Iraqi Christians who were driven out of their homes by ISIS in Mosul and from the surrounding villages. 250 of these families have found a haven at the Syrian Orthodox Church in Amman. I was with them on the morning when modest food parcels were distributed: rice, sugar, flour, pasta, tomato sauce, tuna, corned beef, oil and tea filled bright blue bags, neatly arranged in the courtyard of the church. Inside the crowded church hall, the families gathered. As their names were called, they came up to a table in front and presented their “ID” – for all of them, this was a photocopy of their UNHCR Asylum Seeker Certificate. They were given a slip of paper and then took that “receipt” out to the courtyard to receive their parcel. 

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Syria Appeal October 2017

What is the Church Supposed to Look Like?

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.   Romans 12: 10-12

What does YOUR church look like as the fall activities get under way? Perhaps Paul’s “litmus test” is a good way to assess its vitality, visibility and vision. The same “test” could be applied to the Presbyterian Church in Syria – which your gifts to our Syria Appeal have supported and encouraged over these past difficult years. Consider these glimpses into the mission and ministry of these congregations of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon and judge for yourself – and then thank God for the work and witness of the Church in Syria, even in the midst of war! 

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Hope for Syrian Students - June 2017 Update

Who didn’t grow up singing “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world: red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”?

I am reminded of Jesus’ unswerving love for children every time I visit the Middle East. I am moved by the realities of life for Syrian children and young people, be they refugees now living in Lebanon or Syrian children and young people in our Presbyterian churches who remain in their own country, even in the midst of war. What they all have in common is a need – a thirst – for education.

Many of you, both churches and individuals, have given generously to support the five special refugee schools which serve close to 400 children. 

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Refugee/Internally Displaced Persons Appeal - June 2017

Doubles and Triples

I just finished reading an inspiring report written by one of The Outreach Foundation’s partners in Jordan, the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC). For the past few years, with your generous gifts, The Outreach Foundation has supplied funds for MECC’s ministry with some of the 2.7 million – million – Iraqi and Syrian refugees who have sought a haven in this country which, admirably and with great dignity, refers to them as “guests.” MECC’s “hands and feet” for this ministry has been the Greek Orthodox Church which has been faithfully ministering to these refugees and bringing them glimpses of Hope and Light. The following excerpts and photos are taken from that report on their Winter Appeal, which focused on the “Orthodox Initiative (OI).”

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Syria Appeal - May 2017

I live in Atlanta and, like most Americans who spend a lot of time in their cars, I am well aware of how long it takes to drive to other cities where I sometimes go for work or even vacation: it is about a four-hour drive, north and west, to get to Nashville; in the other direction, it is about four hours east and south to get to historic Savannah. I was recently in Hasakeh, Syria, where that “four hours away” analysis recalled an unsettling reality: four hours to the west was Raqqa, the self-proclaimed “capital” of ISIS in Syria; four hours to the east was Mosul where, even now, the Iraqi army is attempting to drive out ISIS from the city they had hoped would be their “capital” in Iraq. Connecting Raqqa and Mosul is a swath of fertile farmland where, in the middle, stands the city of Hasakeh, smack dab in the center of the area which was targeted to be the “heartland” of a new ISIS caliphate. 

If you were a Christian living in Hasakeh, and in such proximity to danger, would you be “too close for comfort”?

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Syria Appeal

God with Us

Note: An Outreach team of ten traveled in January to Lebanon and Syria. They visited some of the 18 Presbyterian churches in Syria, meeting with pastors and church members. Jack Baca, an Outreach trustee, reflects on a part of the journey…

One of the key affirmations of Christian faith is that, in Jesus, God came to be with us. The angel said to Joseph that the child to be born would be called precisely that: Immanuel, God with us. We Christians take our clues for how we are to live from what God did and does in Jesus, and so we, too, go to be with others. This is an expression of love: to do what it takes to be with others.

This ancient theology kept running in my mind on Saturday, the second full day of our time in the Middle East, as we spent the better part of the day traveling. Early in the morning we left Beirut for the arduous trip through that bustling city, into the countryside and through farmland, across the border, and into Syria, as we made our way to Latakia, on the coast.

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Syria Appeal

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2

In this city, which was once a heap of ruin following a three-year siege at the beginning of the war, the women of the Presbyterian Church in Homs could not ignore the needs outside the walls of their church. With so many people displaced from other cities and often with no family or resources, to be sick or wounded was a frightening prospect. And so Micheline Koudmani, wife of Homs’ pastor Rev. Mofid Karajili and president of the Evangelical Women’s Charitable Association of Homs, challenged her organization (which was founded in 1930 at the Presbyterian Church) to minister to those whose needs could not be met adequately by other agencies. With a grant from The Outreach Foundation they began to bring hope and the presence of Christ in lives unraveling...

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