Keeping Kessab in Prayer
Yesterday as I was doing some final preparations for the weekly chapel service, two students came into my office and asked if we could be intentional about praying for Kessab. Kessab had been in the news. It is a small, predominantly Armenian village on the Turkish border of Syria and was one of the few remaining border crossings in the hands of the Syrian government. English news had references that “some fighting” had taken place.
To the Armenian community, Kessab is more than a village. It is one of the few historic, predominantly Armenian villages remaining in this part of the world. People don’t just have apartments; they own homes, land, and gardens. It is a place that has natural beauty, peacefulness, and history—of people and families. While I have not visited Kessab, I have visited places like it and can understand the significance. The meaning of such a place grows exponentially for a people who have had so many of their ancestral lands taken away from them.
For these two students, concern for Kessab wasn’t about the place. Their concern was for the residents, most of whom are now refugees. People they could put faces and names to because they were friends and family members—some are the mothers and fathers of HU students.
- Residents, had little to no warning that their community was about to become a battle zone—some only had minutes to prepare and left in their pajamas.
- Almost the entire village fled with only a few remaining, primarily the elderly who were not able to leave or had decided that they had lived in Kessab their whole lives and were prepared to die in Kessab.
- Many fled to Latakia, where people and institutions have opened their doors to people who arrived without money, food, clothing, and resources – stretching the resources of those communities to the breaking point.
- The fear is that the war will follow them into Latakia – the news suggests that this fear may be real.
- When residents have called their homes, soldiers have answered and said things like “Your food is good. You have a nice home.” When soldiers answer the church’s phone, the message they have given is one of disrespect toward the church.
Once again, war has come into the lives of the innocent; and the ranks of refugees have swelled with yet another group is fleeing for their safety, praying they will have enough to survive, that one day they might return to their homes, and that something will be left upon which they can rebuild. This time it came to people known to the Armenians here at Haigazian – people and families who thought they were “safe.” Unfortunately, they were not.
Of course we made prayer for Kessab a part of our chapel service. I encourage you not only to lift up Kessab in prayer, but all refugees in prayer. I also encourage you to continue taking steps and helping in other ways: whether direct assistance for refugees, assistance for their children to have an education (primary, secondary, or at a University like Haigazian), or to be a part of peace building. Our world needs ever so many more peace builders.
Bruce Schoup serves at Haigazian University, Beirut, Lebanon as Chaplain.