Gone But Not Forgotten

Today we participated in a historical event.  Four female pastors, two Americans, and two Lebanese stood together and served communion. Earlier this year, these two pastors received the honor of being the first females to be ordained in the Middle East.   It was emotional, lots of tears and lots of photos! The message  Reverend Najla Kassab sends home to America, “Convey our love to your churches and thank them for their prayers”.

We represented seven churches from the United States, visiting different churches throughout Lebanon.  What we learned is there is only one church, with the same ministry ….love and service!

God bless, Syria, Lebanon, and the United States of America.  God bless you and your family!

DD and Pam

DD at church with Rev. Najla Kassab (far right) and a precious church member (center).
Our translator…Arabic to English!
Famous homemade Tripoli frozen lemonade while we fellowship at the Presbyterian church in Tripoli.
Our transportation for the last two weeks…Evangelical School for Girls and Boys bus!
Pam and her new favorite Christian leader…Rev. Najla Kassab.
Stopping on the road for a snack!
Saying goodbye to these women we have grown to love!
The wonderful and kind couple, Associated Pastor of a church in Latakia, Elias, and his wife, Petra.
2:00 a.m….Wishing the women from Aleppo goodbye as they prepare for a 12-hour journey through 17 checkpoints. They must reach home before 4:00 p.m. when the army closes the highway.

Sitting in the Clouds!

It was a remarkable day!  A cloud like fine mist came rolling in from the sky and sat right on the mountain tops where we are staying.  It was like sitting in a cloud,   I have never seen anything quite like it!

It was another great day of study, fellowship, and learning.  We are beginning to form relationships and bonds with many of these women. It’s hard to believe next week we will be across the world from each other!

Dr. Mary Mikael, past president of Northeast School of Theology

Tonight is the beginning of the close of our conference.  At 2:00 am, 14 women will board the bus to return to Aleppo, Syria. They are leaving in the dark as it is a very long and dangerous return to their home.  Please pray for their safety! Just a reminder how important this time of peace, calm, safety, time with friends, worship, prayer has been.

Dhour Shweir Conference Center

Today’s scripture teaches us that we can not do this alone, we are all without a home until we abide in him.

“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”

John 15:4

DD

Everyone has a Story

The more time we spend here at peaceful Dhour Shoueir with our Syrian and Lebanese Christian sisters, the deeper our conversations, the better we get to know each other and the more familiar these Arabic names become.

Everyone has a story. We all have a story!

DD’s story:

We awoke this morning to fantastic news!! Her daughter, Amanda, is engaged! Praise God and blessings on the marriage of Amanda and Matt! (We found your venue today!!).

The beautiful lady in the white dress told us her story today after a delicious and plentiful lunch…and dancing:

She and her husband, who is a physician in Damascus, told us that on one day, four bombs dropped in her neighborhood. She saw her neighbors across the street hit. Her windows were blown out. She is happy that her grown sons have gotten out of Syria. She said that she prays, “God, why is this happening? I know you see and I know you have a plan. Please let us live.” She said, “We pray, we laugh, we cry…all at the same time. But today…we dance!”

Micheline’s story:

This beautiful lady lives in Homs with her pastor husband and twelve-year-old son. (Feel free to click on the map to see where in Syria this city, which is larger than Dubai, is located.)

Micheline and her husband choose to stay in Homs, even though it is destroyed by bombing, to serve the poor with food distribution, etc. Tonight, on the front porch, she told us about her new idea! She found a space to rent and open a bakery for the widows in her church to earn money by baking. Many women have lost their husbands and sons in the war. She will get a group to paint the space and fix it up, find a generator, refrigerator, and whatever else it takes to open for business. The brilliant idea is to make sandwich rolls. These cannot be obtained nearby. Also, they hope to make communion bread for churches.

The Presbyterian churches of Syria and Lebanon are very close and supportive of each other. They are very organized into a group called a synod. The synod is giving them a bit of money at first to help get this up and going.

I’m amazed at the joy she has when she explains serving others. She said she has always loved working in the church.

Blessings from Lebanon ~

Pam

We are the same all over the world!

Well, it’s the third day at our women’s conference and the world is sure getting smaller!  Pam was enjoying breakfast and a beautiful Syrian woman shared that her son has just moved to Houston.  He is looking for a home church and visited First Presbyterian Church Houston. Pam excitedly explained her daughter, Kathryn, also attends FPC. ( Kathryn has been attending FPC for about a year, is very involved in the activities, and made several friends.)

Pam is arranging for the two to meet and worship together!

This morning we were introduced to two beautiful women, both Muslim Syrian refugees that found a home in Tyre, Lebanon.

Suzanne told a tragic story of while she was out,  her home was bombed and entire family killed. Alone and afraid, she fled to Lebanon.  A Muslim family took her in and provided shelter.  Although she was Muslim, she turned to the church for help.  The Presbyterian church in Tyre creates a relationship with refugees.  They provide education for refugee children and also teach the women skills like sewing and cosmetology so they can care for themselves.

“Don’t give them fish, but teach them to fish.”

Suzanne credits the love of Christ has changed her, and that it is also changing the family she is living with.

Our day has been both educational and fun!

We have attended excellent lectures about women’s changing roles that have sparked some very lively conversation!

We ended the day with a craft that our group hosted, Jewelry Making.  We found that you don’t have to speak the same language to laugh, create, and enjoy each other!

A new commandment I give to you, that you Love one another just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.

John 13:34

DD

The Future of the Church in Lebanon

This leisurely evening was spent sitting in a breeze on the big marble porch and enjoyed visiting and eating baklava with Joseph Kassab, the General Secretary of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, and his beautiful and brilliant wife, Najla.  Najla is an ordained Presbyterian pastor and head of this women’s conference in the mountains of Lebanon. Joseph shared the following with us regarding the future of the church here:

Presbyterian churches of Syria and Lebanon are very close, like a family. The Lebanon churches take loving care of the Syrian churches especially since the war began. This war has turned families and individuals upside down. They laugh and joke here to be rid of pain. The church has to take care of their sheep. The young people have gone to other countries to be safe. The young ones who are left couldn’t obtain visas. There are some very brave pastors who choose to stay with their people. One pastor in northeast Syria (see map from yesterday) was left alone for four years alone, serving four churches encouraging people to stay.

The entire country is devastated. He does not believe Syria will come back to be the advanced and thriving country it once was. To build a strong country, one must start with schools. Education is very important and 70% of children go to private schools. The church has schools to educate children. ISIS knows this, too, and one of the first things they did was to start ISIS schools to indoctrinate children in their violent ways.

Churches need churches to help them because nobody else will. It has been so exciting to visit some of these wonderful evangelical schools who are educating all children, both Christian and Muslim to learn, love and envision the kind of future they want.

Blessings from Lebanon~

Pam

Praying for Our Sisters

Smiling, happy and excited women arrived from Presbyterian churches all over Syria and Lebanon today to the women’s conference in the cool, quiet mountains of northern Lebanon.

Like women all over the world, they are happy to get away from chores at home, work, and responsibilities for a week of laughing and talking with other Christian sisters.  Unlike other women all over the world, some flew because it is too dangerous to drive across Syria due to car bombs and Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of ISIS. (I am sending a map of Presbyterian churches from where these ladies come). One beautiful lady, who is a stylist and mother of two boys, told me that her husband was kidnapped for two days, but is fine. Another shared that her house has been taken over by terrorists, but they are fine and together, so they will just forget about their house. Our sisters from Aleppo were the last to arrive as they had been driving for twelve hours waiting in checkpoint lines. Please pray that this week brings them rest, peace, and joy. Also, ask God how He wants us to respond to them and how to comfort them.

Psalm 28 was the theme for tonight. We all made pictures of those verses (you will see them pictured). These women love the Lord and their faith is in Him and not in their circumstances. What can I take away from that?

Praying for peace~

– Pam

A Trip to Tripoli

What a fabulous day!  We boarded the bus for a beautiful drive up the coast to Tripoli, the second largest city in Lebanon.  The roads winded along the Mediterranean coast with its crystal blue water that sparkled in the sun.

We arrived at the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Tripoli, where we were warmly greeted by Rola Sleiman, the first woman to be ordained as a Presbyterian Pastor in the Middle East!  She was born in Tripoli and actually raised in this church. What an honor and dynamic woman!!!  She preached a moving sermon from Mark 5:21-24/ 35-43, the story of the grieving father who pleaded with Jesus to lay his hands on his dying daughter so that she might be healed. The sermon reminds us where there is Jesus, there is hope.

In the Middle East the situation is so difficult we are always asking where is hope, what do we expect, where are we going?  Jesus says don’t be afraid, have faith.  When the situation seems hopeless, Jesus brings hope.  When you are afraid, Jesus gives us confidence.

Following the inspiring sermon, we were allowed to be a part of a wonderful celebration to honor two young students that had passed their government education test!  Pastor Rola and several of the church elders took us to a delicious lunch at a local restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. As we enjoyed the fabulous meal in this incredible setting, a very wise elder shared that there is war and suffering just 38 kilometers away!

As I reflect on the day, I am so impressed with this congregation.  The support and love that they have shown to their pastor, the graduating students, the school for Syrian children where they teach and operate, and the hospitality they showed us!

“Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Matthew 11:28

– DD

[Quick correction to yesterday’s post: Lebanon is not the oldest country in the world, but has the oldest city in the world, Babylos!]

The Sights & Flavors of the City

Today is a light and fun day for us to enjoy the many beautiful sights of Beirut before we travel north to Tripoli.

A few facts:
Lebanon is a small country making it easy to visit in a short amount of time.  TRAFFIC permitting you can drive from the north to south country in three-to-four hours! It has remarkable topographical diversity from Mediterranean coastlines, mountains, valleys, rivers, waterfalls….truly beautiful! Lebanon is considered the oldest country in the world (correction: Lebanon has the oldest city in the world, Babylos). Three languages are spoken prominently: Arabic, French, and English. It also has a very diverse religious makeup with approximately 50% being of a Muslim sect and 40+% Christian.
At present one in four persons is a refugee ( about 1.5 million Syrians, and 750,000 Palestinians). The refugees are usually contained to life in crowded camps, in one-room homes, and work is limited to menial jobs or no employment as to not take jobs from the locals.

Lebanon has been gracious to open its borders to house these refugees, however, it is a tremendous drain on its economy.  Many of the refugees register with the United Nations and wait years for any response.  They are people with no country, no home, no hope.  In my short time here, my observation is that it is the church, its ministries and the love of God that are providing an authentic, constant and unconditional help to these Muslim families.

We are currently staying in Beruit, the capital referred to as “where East meets West.” It’s on the coast, fast-paced, fashionable, and has a rich history.  We have visited some renowned museums and seen some historical sights.

Please enjoy the pictures below

DD

Hope

 

Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” But you, LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.

Psalm 3:2-6

Pregnant with her first child and due in four days, this beautiful Iraqi woman (in the striped shirt) fled Mosul with her husband two years ago when Daesh, the Arabic verbiage for ISIS, was coming. Being Christian, they came to Our Lady Dispensary for help. We visited this loving place today and cried with these two women as they told us their stories. This lady was a teacher in Mosul and her husband was a painter. Now, they live in a little store and can barely pay their $320/month rent, and could not afford an apartment. Iraqis are not allowed to work in Lebanon, nor send their children to school.

Our Lady Dispensary is a loving place funded by The Outreach Foundation. They help with trauma counseling, medicine, food coupons, and the love of Christ.

This other beautiful lady (in the yellow shirt) is from Syria. They ran from ISIS, as well. As a Muslim she, too, came to the Dispensary. She was mad at God for what happened to her. Every week she came to Bible study here, learned about the love of Christ and gave her life to Him. The light of Christ shines through her smile. Can you see it? She, her husband, and her mother-in-law live in a room of a high school where her husband is a security guard. They have no rights here and hope, one day, to return home.

These two women are such an inspiration to us! They are building our faith as they show us that the love of God is with us, no matter what, that God is our shield and sustained no matter how many thousands assail us.

Please pray for these two sisters in Christ and for peace.

-Pam