Written by Dr. Mary Mikhael*
Dear friends and partners in the service of God, may you all be richly blessed.
I would like to thank you sincerely for your continuous prayers and for your support of all the ministries carried on by NESSL. May the New Year 2017 began with much hope on its wings.
Indeed what we need most urgently is to have peace and stability return to Syria. Surely we do not want more refugees and displaced running to one country or another. Rather, we need all those who are able to help the Syrians be able to stay in their homes with dignity, and their children have normal childhood. Only that will spare presidents (like President Trump) from issuing regulations to deny entry of refugees to the United States of America. Many thanks to all who objected and demonstrated against regulations they considered as negating democracy and human rights. Most of all we urge that Mr. Trump will help bring Peace because we believe the USA is a great country that affect the world issues.
We are so grateful to groups and individuals who have taken the risk, and came to meet with the displaced and refugees in both Syria and Lebanon, and listen to their painful stories. Indeed our congregations were deeply moved by the visit of Pastors and leaders who all have come out of their concern and love to show solidarity and to reassure our Churches that they are not forgotten or forsaken by their brothers and sisters in the world. Indeed we are being reassured of the unified Body of Christ across the world.
Some of you already know that our National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL) congregations in Syria, despite all the trials and tragedies, continue their Church activities of worship, hymn singing, group meetings, and Christian education, and reaching out to the needy around them.
THE CHURCH IN HOMS:
The Church in Homs continually renews its activities of its established youth group-called-"Space for Hope". They gather youth from different parts in the city, and of a variety of religious traditions (including non-Christians), work with them in creative activities such as sport, addressing certain topics, discussing a future together where all be responsible to build up an inclusive society that promote reconciliation, and cooperation, and peaceful working together… Youth are the creators and carriers of the proper human values. The group numbers more than 130 persons. Praise be to God!
Many thanks to partners who continue to help. Surely with the help of the PDA of the Presbyterian Church in the USA, the Homs Church, with gratitude and faith commitment had already renovated the Sanctuary, and also renovated 46 destroyed homes of members of the congregation, so those were able to get back to their homes and live as normal as is possible. Elders and members of the Church also are reaching out to their sisters who are married to non-Presbyterian husband so that they also will have their homes renovated.
Pastor Mufeed said, we are trying to establish activities involving families of the youth to encourage fellowship and cooperation and all work for reconciliation in the City.
THE CHURCH IN FAIROUZEH:
A small but very active Church, with a sense of ministry for the whole village. Pastor Jacob said, they collect 300 children of Sunday School ages from the village, bring them to the Church four times a week to tell them stories and teach them hymns and help them have good time. On the other hand their 45 Church women are also actively reaching out to other women and meet weekly to study and learn. Indeed the Church is an agent of the good news for all.
THE CHURCHES IN HASAKAH,QAMISHLI, AND MALKIEH:
Those Churches in the North East of Syria, the very troubled area with Turkish, Kurds, and other groups fight together. Pastor Feras said, between 50%--70% of the Christian community have ran away from that area, some to other part of Syria (supposedly safer), and others to emigrations. Yet those who are left continue their worship and church group meetings and reaching out to their neighbors
THE CHURCH IN DAMASCUS:
Pastor Peter sent a long report with photos of all the activities carried on in the Church. A Church highly active with youth, women, choir, Sunday school and bazaars and others. To God be the glory who enables the congregation in Damascus live and serve as if all is normal.
The above can be samples of all the functioning Presbyterian congregations in Syria despite fear, tragic experiences, and needs.
Of course NESSL with all its committees continue to responds to all what the congregations need, and examine case by case how it can reach out and attend to every need whether medical, fuel, electricity, food, and emerging medical surgeries. The needs are on the increase as the situation continues to cause tragedies in the entire country. We seek continuous prayers and advocacy for peace from all our partners.
THE EDUCATIONAL MINISTRY:
Indeed the most tragic situation is hitting the children in the camps and where the displaced people gather.
NESSL has taken on its shoulders to educate as many children as it can from the camps in Lebanon. We began in February 2016 in two locations next to camps in the Bekaa Valley with 50 children in each. One of those soon opened another section for another 50 children.
It was followed by two others in March 2016. One in Tyre-South with 61 children, and one in Minyara-North with 75 children.(Total number 286). More requests were continuous.
For this academic year we began in September/October 2016 in five location as we added one in the City of Tripoli-North beside the first four. In Tripoli we began with 50 children and increased to 57 children. The same in other locations such as in one of the Becaa had to serve 65 children. And the Minyara school decreased from 75 to 59 due to some issues in the camp there.
Total continuous for this year is 350 children, yet some weeks the number goes up and some weeks decreases a few depending on children getting winter cold.
All those who are working with those children take their role as a mission to help those children have a happy, loving, and normal atmosphere.
The winter this year has been especially harsh, so that those children needed more heat, heavier winter jackets, hats, and more nourishing food. We are trying our best to help!
WITH YOU WE CAN DO IT! THANKS BE TO GOD!
The celebration of Christmas and the New Year was an experience for the children first in their lives.
Indeed the special committee supervises the work very closely and tries to meet every need. It holds special seminars to the teachers to equip them with skills to deal with children with learning difficulties, as we have many of those. The committee calls the directors of those schools almost once every two months to have them share their experiences, and challenges. The committee also every now and then hosts individuals who carry special activities with the children.
A medical doctor and dentist team visits those schools and examines children and provides the needed medicine.
On behalf of all the children, the teachers working with them, and the special committee, and NESSL I would like to express deep gratitude for all of you our partners who made this healing ministry possible to continue.
PS. Some children were asked if they know why are they in Lebanon. Samples of the answers as follows: Zahra, from Racca, lives in a crowded apt. with two families. she is delighted to be in school. Racca is under Daesh [the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, ISIS, ISIL].
- Shroud, from Hama, their home is destroyed, and many rockets fall near.
- Aisha, from Aleppo, "too much fear and war. I love being in the school."
- Asmaa, from Idlib, was hiding in underground shelter there. "It is so good here."
- Muhammad, "We ran away from Aleppo, when our home was destroyed."
- Hassan, "I only know the our home is broken and burned."
- Shahed, "Our home and shop are destroyed. I am happy in the school."
- Shms, "My sister and I live with our uncle in a small room, no place to move. We love it here in the school."
- Lara, "We lived in a shelter in Syria. It was bad. My brother and I are happy here."
- Imarat, "Our home is destroyed in Syria, the school is good."
- Mohamad,ran away from Racca, Daesh is there.
- Erdoghan, "Our home is destroyed in Homs."
Homes destroyed and Daesh is there. That is all the children know of why are they in camps or in little apartment.
The school is the only happy place for them.
To God be the glory.
*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.