NESSL Newsletter-June 2015
Written by Dr. Mary Mikhael*
I greet you personally and on behalf of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon.
We pray that the Holy Spirit, in this holy season, give you power and grace to continue your ministry in the best way possible.
Indeed we praise God for your participation in our church’s ministry among the many Syrians who are displaced and made refugees now entering the fifth year of a tragedy that is hitting all with no mercy, creating so much suffering, poverty, and loss of life, history, and culture.
Thank you for your faithful support, and continuous prayers. Your help supports our effort to encourage our people not to leave the country and immigrate to far places.
Watching, and hearing of the tragic events evolving day by day we can only cry to God for his mercy and compassion.
Just one example of the historical city of Palmyra (like many in Iraq), a city with a Roman theater still intact as no other archeological site in the world, getting into the hands of those who believe that anything pre-Islamic is idolatrous, that destroying it is a service for God. Thus, upon taking the city, 240 persons were shot because of being civil employees, thus making them supporters of the government (in the opinion of ISIS, Jabhat an-Nusra [the Islamic Front], and their affiliated groups who are regretfully gaining ground in many areas). And only few days ago 20 persons were shot inside the theater as if that was a theatrical entertainment.
However, and despite all, please let me tell at this point of a special event that seems with a deep mystery:
Only few days ago there was a Holy Mass in the Catholic Cathedral in Damascus to celebrate the return of three Iron Church Bells that were stolen upon the attack on Maaloula, the ancient Christian town, when its churches and monasteries were attacked, and it’s valuable treasures stolen. Those bells found their way to somewhere in Lebanon, were either given or sold to some who knew what these were. The Lebanese owners then returned the bells to the church in Damascus. While this event was significant, and may be a sign of hope, it was a cause to be happy and to be sad. The bigger question is, who will return what cannot be returned? Who can return fathers to the orphans, sons to grieving mothers, history and culture to a country destroyed? Only God can help, and to Him we pray.
We surely are stunned by the events in Syria and Iraq. Our questions have no answers! So we stopped asking, but continue to cry to God, Lord for how long? Our good friends, please continue to plead with us for God’s intervening to end this tragedy.
Today a meeting for all Christian leaders in Lebanon was held in the Maronite Patriarchate to discuss the situation of the Christians in the face of developing events. The Rev. Fadi Dagher, General Secretary of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, participated. Despite the fact that so far the Lebanese situation remains reassuring, concern and fear are growing.
I praise God for giving me the opportunity and honor to participate in the Annual Conference of the Uniting Church in Sweden May 13-19. Their theme was, “Come Holy Spirit and transform us,” a theme that fits the Holy Season of Pentecost. This was indeed, a transforming experience for me to be with Christians who are committed to a mission of transformation. Their mission is to show love and to serve wherever, and however. May God give them the power needed to continue their mission.
In Gothenburg, the beautiful city where the conference was held I had the chance to meet some Syrian refugees. Some were happy to have escaped the war zone but are deeply worried for their families who are still in Syria. No doubt, some are still confused and ask, why we are here? A young man, with a Master’s degree, who had all he wanted in Syria, a family, a job, a car, and a home, found himself washing dishes in a hospitable country but a stranger. Another young man who is an architect, finds himself dependent even for his living expenses. Thinking about his father, and brother, he said, “I feel as if I am slowly dying.” However, so many are grateful to Sweden, yet pray for peace to return to Syria, a country they love.
Coming back home there were even more stories where hopelessness is even the mark. We are sad and stunned by the fact that so many continue to run away for refuge, and so many of those staying express even more need to survive the day.
The sign of hope in our ministry as a church, is seeing that our people are getting hungry for more biblical and spiritual feeding, and our church retreat center is continuously used by groups who run away to find rest and search for knowledge, seek fellowship and pray.
Our Synod’s committee on spiritual and ecclesial matters, works hard to contact and connect our pastors both in Syria and Lebanon through holding seminars and study meetings to fill the need.
On May 25-29, a study leave for pastors was held in the church center in Lebanon. All 20 Presbyterian pastors attended, with a special 3 pastors from Jordan and Palestine. The study centered on the recent book of the wonderfully concerned scholar, the Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb of Palestine. The theme of the book was so appropriate for our time, Faith in the Face of the Empire. In six sessions, Dr. Mitri himself led the study. And the study leave was concluded with two sessions on Worship and Liturgy from a Reformed perspective.
I had the opportunity to meet with the Syrian pastors from Homs, Qamishly, Aleppo, and Latakia. All four pastors expressed that fear and concerns of a loss of a future fill the hearts and minds of all. All expressed that the living needs are growing, needs for electricity, water, and fuel became drastic. The desire of so many to leave the country and emigrate is worrying all pastors.
The fact is, so many have gone. All those cities have thousands of the displaced that came from the northeast and the northwest. All those churches are involved in hosting as many as they can and trying to provide what they can. The Rev. Salam of the Latakia church said, “We are helping 700 families.” Everyone said that the loud cry of all is, we need peace, stability, an end of terror, the stopping of emigration, and Syria back to normal life.
What is amazing is the fact that all these churches continue holding worship services, youth groups, Sunday schools, women’s meetings, and Bible studies. We praise God who gives the hope and courage.
All those churches in Syria continue to be the hand of the NESSL in reaching out to the needy, and the relief effort continues to respond to the needs of many. I am given from the business office the figures of contributions, and the donors as follows:
Amount received from donors/partners by the beginning of June: $1,458,503.
Amounts distributed to families: $ 1,223,275.
$ 120,000 to be transferred within the next week.
Amounts remained to be distributed: $ 115,229.
Please note that many continue to receive kits of food and hygiene material, ($30 per month per family), and cash for rents and medicine.
However, the number is less than it was up till the end of 2014, when we shifted to the” winter appeal” when we needed to help with fuel for electricity, water, cooking gas, and heating ($50 per month per family). This project is helping 1500 families for the duration of 2015.
Surely in hope we are preparing future projects for rebuilding of our destroyed churches, and homes for many of our church families, and continue to need your partnership.
Deep appreciation, by all those benefitting families and NESSL, to all our partners and friends who have faithfully been God’s hand in this great ministry. Of course we are ever grateful to all individual churches and persons who have had a part in this ministry in the variety of ways.
To God be the Glory now and always. We need your continuous prayers and support to continue. Without you, many who are hurt cannot sense the healing. So please remain our partners. May you be blessed now and always.
*Dr. Mikhael is a staffperson for the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, the immediate past president of the Near East School of Theology, and a former member of the Common Global Ministries Board of Directors.
The United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) continue to offer support for the work of many partners in the region to provide humanitarian response to the needs of Syrian refugees. Please consider supporting the work of Global Ministries’ partners’ relief efforts in and around Syria. You can do that through One Great Hour of Sharing (UCC), the Week of Compassion (Disciples), or through Global Ministries directly.