Strengthening the church in Syria
Strengthening the witness of the Church in the Arab World is the very reason we exist as LSESD. We made a decision to stand by the Church in Syria since the beginning of the war in 2011, and to date we continue to partner with around 25 churches that are deeply involved in responding to the needs of their people. Nine years into the war and God’s transforming work continues both among the caregivers and the care-recipients. And despite the challenges all around, every trip to Syria leaves us more certain than before that we’re on the right track – this is where we should be, and this is what we should be doing particularly as the needs in Syria today by far exceed the needs in previous years. In fact, the situation has deteriorated even further with the recent financial crisis in Lebanon.
Our trip to Syria the first week of Feburary coincided with snowstorm Karim that hit both Lebanon and Syria and chilled families with temperatures as low as -3 to -5 degrees Celcius in the absence of heating options due to severe power outages and fuel shortages.
The Sunday morning service was at a partner church that does not have much space, yet the entrance of the church was lined up with 50+ chairs, almost in open air. Though trembling from the cold, they stayed and humbly worshipped their Creator.
One of the families we visited included a 29-year old mother and her 6 children. The husband was killed 5 years ago. Like a mother hen gathers her brood under her wings, Hanan* gathers her six children into a room that has a heater at the center. Originally operating on fuel, the heater now runs on pieces of wood that they pick-up off the streets. Highly dependent on the food parcel that she receives from the program, Hanan is keen on her children having an education. “My husband and I had huge dreams for them, and the dreams start with finishing school.” She sends them off to school in the morning while she goes out in search of opportunities working as a cleaning lady. In the afternoon, when they’re back from school, she sits with them and helps them with their studies. “They are very bright you know! All I need is a sewing machine! I can then work from home and earn our living without having to force my 14-year old to drop out of school. I can do it. I know how to.”
Intrigued by the church’s genuine care for her and her family, Hanan started sending her children to a nearby Sunday school: “I want them to have the same heart and learn to care for others as the Church people do”.
providing for the needs of the displaced
Moving to another area and partner, we met with the leaders of a children’s program that we started together some four years ago and that doubled in size last year as newly displaced families came to the area. Among the children were two boys who carried knives with them to church and were quite the bullies. Not wanting to lose them, the church leaders invested quality time in them, creating in the boys a sense of responsibility towards the younger children. Today, these same boys help the youth leaders in the program. They’re not the only ones who have changed. Others have too! One mother shared that ever since her son started coming to the children’s program he “is no longer the same. What did you do to him? He doesn’t curse anymore, nor create problems for his siblings.” Now that she herself comes to church she says, “Now I understand.”
Among our partners in Syria is a center that has been operating for about a year now. It is both a Child Friendly Space (CFS) and a center for children with special needs (offering therapy and helping with integration). Together, the Center serves around 150 children with a range of disabilities such as Down’s Syndrome, Autism, PTSD, ADHD, Hypoxia, Cerebral atrophy, and cerebral palsy. The center also welcomes other extreme cases that will be integrated with the other children in the center when they reach the same level as them.
We were fascinated by the heart and spirit of the team. The Center’s team leader, himself a deacon at his church, identifies the tools his leaders need for the therapy sessions and prepares them himself. A mother of a child at the Center told us, “You know, I never thought of it before, but I want to come to know the Jesus who calls you to such a service.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “The church is the church only when it exists for others.” The Church in Syria and in Lebanon is learning what it means to exist for others, and in the process God is blessing both Church and community.
I don’t know about you, but my heart is encouraged! Dear friends, kindly keep us in prayer as we stand steadfastly by the Church so that it may be salt and light in truly challenging times.