For information about Presbyterians serving in Lebanon, please contact the office for the Middle East and Europe.
Click here to donate to PC(USA) partners in Lebanon as they continue to serve during the current conflict.
Each day we will post a communication from one of the participants of the Syria Lebanon Partnership Network/WM trip (April 20-30, 2015).
Tuesday, April 21:
Six O’Clock PM Lebanon Time found me loading my suitcase into the taxi to make my way to the Beirut Airport. In the next hour I would be meeting the team of seven traveling from various places around the United States to welcome them to Lebanon!
Everyone had smooth flights and made all their connections. Everyone’s luggage arrived with them! And, everyone made it painlessly through passport control and customs. We loaded up into the taxi car and mini-van around 8pm and started up the winding mountain roads to Hamlin Guest House in Hamana. The dancing lights of Beirut’s suburbs guided us along the way.
After receiving a warm welcome from the Hamlin Staff, we took some time to overview the coming eight days together, and then everyone turned in for a hoped for good night’s rest.
Tomorrow (Wednesday) we’ll spend the day at Hamlin with pastors from the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon. It will be a day to learn more about the Synod’s work in Syria and with Syrian Refugees in Lebanon…stay tuned for more!
From Rev. Elmarie Parker, PCUSA Regional Liaison for Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon (based in Beirut, Lebanon)
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
What a privilege to meet with several pastors and elders who serve the seventeen Presbyterian churches located in Syria. All traveled significant distances to join us on the property of Hamlin Hospital in the mountains outside Beirut, Lebanon. One ministered traveled two full days to share the stories of the congregations he serves.
While we heard statistics that are staggering about the numbers of lost and displaced Christians in Syria during the current conflict, we also heard amazing stories of resurrection and hope.
Every pastor cited incidents of violence that have affected his churches and their members. Homes of church members have been destroyed. A church operated school serving 1500 was forced to close for three months. One pastor now drives 120 miles to serve a third congregation whose pastor chose to leave Syria. Electricity is limited to 12 hours a day at best, making study and business particularly difficult. Food and money are in short supply and inflation has only made the situation worse.
Yet each pastor and elder also had good news to share in their stories of hope and renewal. The churches in Syria are coordinating many relief efforts. A significant donated sum of money provided cash, food and medical supplies for 5000 families. The school that was forced to close reopened with only 200 students. This year the enrollment reached 800. Destroyed homes are being rebuilt by churches. One congregation reported 160 children attended last year’s VBS.
With all the physical needs that face the Syrian churches and their members, each and every speaker reiterated that what they need most is our support and affirmation. Simply knowing that we care about them goes a long way toward renewing hope for the churches in this ancient country, among the first to receive and bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ.
REFLECTION BY HEATHER MCLAUGHLIN, Parish Associate for Congregational Care, Harrisburg, PA
Thursday, April 23, 2015
Our day began with flashes of lightning and the stirrings of thunder amid a hard rain, even hail at times. We traveled into Beirut from our comfortable lodging at the Hamlin Hospital Guest House and arrived at the Synod Offices in Beirut. Worship was led with each of us taking a part in the liturgy and a meditation by Tim McCalmont from the SLPN team, whose text was from Romans 1:7-13 centering around the gift of mutual encouragement we offer to one another.
Following the worship, Pauline Coffman presented a plaque to the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon which beautifully illustrates our partnership going forward—a heart made of fused glass in various colors representing how we are fused as one in Christ from Syria-Lebanon and the United States.
The first presentation was from Riyad Jarjour, who introduced the work three related organizations are doing to address the crisis in Syria and the larger region. Joining him were three associates , two Christians and one Muslim telling us of ways their work was facilitating the healing of “a broken community” and the many displaced people. All three spoke clearly of specific ways reconciliation is taking place, particularly among the young people of Syria and Lebanon, both Christian and Muslim. Their Forum for Development, Culture, and Dialogue (FDCD: http://www.fdcd.org) is providing constructive ways to engage the crisis in Syria like we have never seen. The three associates all spoke of programs that helped young people “from all confessions” to collaborate and dialogue together, building relational bridges and practical, on-the-ground reconciliation and peace development projects that seem to be taking hold.
These programs are working to bring together people of the various faith communities in a dialogue to confront the influences of extremism in the area and the effects of “islamophobia.” The young people are doing this through music and art, relief work, and practical problem solving that bring together Christian and Muslim toward a common goal.
Rev. Suheil Saoud, representing the Synod’s work in Education then spoke convincingly about the strategy the synod is using in impacting the current situation through schools in various areas. Taken from the importance placed on education out of the Reformation period, he reminded us of how the work of the Presbyterian church in Syria and Lebanon first began, with the plan to build two schools for every church in a community. He illustrated how that not only grew the faith community but how it impacted the education of so many young people in Syria, regardless of their faith tradition. In fact, the majority of moderate Muslim leadership in the region, if you were to look at their educational history, you would find that most of them have attended a Christian School or University. To this day there are 7 schools in Lebanon and 1 in Syria run by the Synod and another four schools in Syria run by individual congregations. The Synod hopes, with the help of partners from the USA and Europe to open two more schools to accommodate low-income/no-income Syrian students currently displaced to Lebanon—a need for the foreseeable future. These schools have survived the recent crisis and stand as a beacon in their respective neighborhoods. He highlighted the schools in Homs, Aleppo and Tripoli as examples. Prior to the war, the church-run school in Homs had an attendance of 1,600 students, 53% of whom were Muslim. This school, which stayed open with exception of three months, during all of the awful fighting that took place in Homs, currently has an enrollment of 800 students. The feeling among many is the churches will not continue without complimentary schools.
Rev. Suheil closed speaking of how the schools are getting along with the state requirements by teaching Bible values in place of the Bible itself. The plan avoids pure proselytizing but teaches Biblical values to create a model for community in a safe environment.
Najla Kassab, shared the critical importance of the four-pronged approach of the moral, spiritual, social and material goals of their ministry. All are important to emphasize for the church’s work in the Middle East. She raised the question of what the impact in the region will be if the church carrying out this multi-pronged work disappears from the face of the middle east. We must be the voices who speak out for this priority at this time.
The day ended with discussions of how the interactions in Syria/Lebanon and the actions of the PCUSA influences the ministry here. We reiterated the need to keep our focus on areas of common interest and on the centrality of Christ and the gospel going forward.
Quite a full day, with more to come. Stay tuned….
REFLECTION BY TIM MCCALMONT, Pastor, Costa Mesa, CA
A letter from the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon
As our Armenian brothers and sisters are commemorating the Hundred Anniversary of the massacre inflicted on them in early 20th century, we watch with great sadness and are stunned by the news of Christian villages in the Northeast of Syria being criminally attacked by ISIS. We appeal to all who love peace and justice to cry with us to the God of life and hope for this tragedy to come to an end.
Lebanese seminarian brings prayers in Arabic and a window on the Middle East to Huntsville, Ala. Rola Al Ashkar encourages people of faith to be more active in lobbying the U.S. government to participate in peace-building solutions in the area.
Practicing hospitality in an inhospitable place
Christian churches and Muslim communities in Lebanon are doing what they can to take care of people displaced by war, violence and terrorism
Syrian refugees worried as UN cuts back its food aid in Lebanon
Lebanon, now home to nearly 700,000 Syrian registered refugees, is stretched to breaking point. The UN is beginning to prioritize the most vulnerable.
A letter from Rev. Fadi Dagher, General Secretary of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon
We urge the international powers to refrain from the use of power against Syria…
Watch a video as Rev. Fadi Dagher and Rev. Nuhad Tomeh speak about the ministry of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon and other partners of the PC(USA) during these days of violence and turmoil.
PC(USA) Mission History in Lebanon (and Syria)
Christian history in Lebanon goes back to the days when Christ visited south Lebanon during his public ministry. Until the early 1970s Christians comprised the majority of the Lebanese population but at present they constitute less than 45 percent.
Lebanon is the only country in the Middle East in which religious freedom is constitutionally protected.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) involvement in Lebanon began in the early 1800s, through missionaries from the Reformed tradition who worked there in education and health care. In 1956 the national church, known as the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, assumed total charge of the ministries of the Presbyterian churches.
At present PC(USA) involvement in Lebanon is through mission personnel working with traditional partners in the country: the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL), the Near East School of Theology (NEST), the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) and the Jinishian Memorial Program.
National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon
Begun in 1823, the NESSL is one of the earliest active and continuing overseas mission outreaches for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Through this mission Presbyterian churches throughout Syria and Lebanon were planted. The entire Bible was translated into Arabic and printed in that language for the first time. World-class educational institutions were established; for example, the American University at Beirut, Beirut College for Women [now a full university known as Lebanese American University] and some 20 elementary and secondary schools. Health institutions (e.g., Hamlin Hospital) and other ministries were started and have continued to flourish. The church is challenged with rebuilding its membership after a 17-year civil war in Lebanon and devastating conditions resulting from recurring Middle East conflicts.
The NESSL owns and operates an excellent conference center known as Dhour El Choueir Conference Center. Located in a gorgeous area of the mountains east of Beirut, this is the original camp and conference site of the Presbyterian Mission in Syria and Lebanon. The center is now fully renovated after nearly total destruction during the civil war (when it had been occupied by warring factions). Today the center is throbbing with activities for children, youth, women and families. It is also a popular location for conferences and retreats. The Synod considers Dhour El Choueir Conference Center to be a major locus for continuing education of clergy and laity. Note: If you would like more information on Dhour El Choueir Conference Center — availability, rates, etc. — please contact Najla Kassab or visit the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon website.
The NESSL also owns and operates Hamlin Hospital, an institution of distinction in the area of health care. Hamlin Hospital was originally an emphysema clinic located in the cool, fresh air of the mountains just east of Beirut. Later Hamlin also developed into a mother and child hospital. During the civil war it served Lebanon as a general emergency hospital. Hamlin Hospital is now reconstituting itself as a specialty hospital for geriatric nursing and other services in accordance with the emerging needs of its mountainous location.
Near East School of Theology
The Near East School of Theology (NEST) is a high-level theological seminary located in Beirut. With roots tracing all the way back to 1835, NEST was actually founded in 1932 with the merger of two theological schools: one from Turkey and one from Lebanon. “From the beginning NEST has always been multi-national, multi-confessional, and multi-cultural,” (George F. Sabra, “Truth and Service: A History of the Near East School of Theology,” Librarie Antoine: 2009, p. 125) serving Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Lutherans and Episcopalians from Lebanon, Syria, Palestine/Israel, Turkey, Iran and several African nations. NEST is committed to providing top-quality education and training to Arab, Armenian, other Middle Eastern, African and European church leaders. NEST prepares individuals for pastoral, academic and other church leadership positions throughout the region.
Watch a video of the installation of NEST President- Dr. George Sabra
VIDEO: The Near East School of Theology (NEST) serves a vital role educating leaders for churches in the Middle East.
Lebanese American University (LAU), Beirut
Founded by American Presbyterian mission personnel in 1835, this school was the first girls’ school in the Ottoman Empire. In the 1970s it became a coeducational university. LAU is now accredited as a full-scale American university on three campuses: Beirut, Byblos and Sidon. The university continues to pride itself on being church-related even though it serves the total mix of religious and ethnic populations of the entire Middle East. The PC(USA) and its partner, the NESSL, hold four seats on LAU’s Board of Trustees and two more on the Board of International Affairs. Through the PC(USA)’s and the NESSL’s partnership with LAU, the university remains committed to enabling Christian values to impact and inform higher education.
Syria-Lebanon Partnership Network
The Syria-Lebanon Partnership Network is one among more than 40 networks that connect Presbyterians who share a common mission interest. Most participants are involved in mission partnerships through congregations, presbyteries or synods. Network members come together to coordinate efforts, share best practices and develop strategies.
The way to the watering hole: Syria-Lebanon Mission Network keynote —The Presbyterian Outlook
- For information, contact Pauline Coffman
2015 meeting date; September 17-19
Learn more about Lebanon
Until the early 1970s, Christians comprised the majority of the Lebanese population. At present Christians constitute around 30% of the population, and that percentage continues to decrease.
Lebanon is the only country in the Middle East in which religious freedom is constitutionally protected.