A letter from Nuhad Tomeh in Lebanon
Christians in the Middle East greet one another by saying, “Almaseh Kam”—The Christ is risen”—from Easter Sunday until Advent, and I greet all of you, dear brothers and sisters, with this same resurrection assurance! In the week that follows Easter I normally read (and preach) the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), and I would encourage all of you to look again at this familiar passage. I think of this event as “the restoration of resurrection hope.”
This year, especially, with what is happening in the region of the Middle East—and in Syria, particularly—I find this story so appropriate to share with the Christians of Syria, as a reminder that Christ “shows up” to us and with us and for us even in the darkest and saddest of times in Syria. And I would like to think that it might be equally appropriate to share it with you, my friends, as so many of you carry a burden of concern for Christian presence and witness in Syria and beyond. You are part of the effort to restore hope to the church in Syria, through your intercessory prayers and your emails, which are full of loving concern, as well as your contributions that support families displaced by the violence.
Christians in Syria have great anxiety about the future because they see what has happened in other parts of the Middle East, where in the aftermath of upheavals that have brought about new governments the church has not necessarily found itself to be in a good situation: half a million Christians displaced from Iraq, and in Egypt the rise of more radical forms of Islam that now have political power. So we must all be much in prayer that a peaceful solution can be found and that a vibrant national dialogue begins that can give freedom to all and protection for fragile minorities. If that were to happen, the very real experience of Christ’s passion can, indeed, lead to “the restoration of resurrection hope”!
I would like to share one story of young Presbyterian pastor serving a small church in a troubled area in Syria—he was so scared and fearful for his life that he decided to leave the small town and the church he is pastoring and seek a safer place. But not long after reaching that place of safety, he discovered that he could not live with his decision and decided to go back to his church just before Holy Week to be with his congregation and give witness to the Hope of the resurrection.
The Presbyterian Church of Syria and Lebanon (known as the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon—NESSL) appealed to its partners around the world to help them as they come alongside families who were affected by the violence in Syria, having had to leave their homes and jobs and schools. The Synod, from its own budget, designated a large amount for an immediate response to help those families with rent, food, medicine, school fees and other relief items.
The PC(USA), through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, made an immediate grant to the Synod and is also appealing to congregations to give through the One Great Hour of Sharing—this will benefit the Synod as well as other ecumenical partners. The Outreach Foundation, a strategic mission partner of the PC(USA), has provided a large gift (over $32,000) to the Synod and continues to seek contributions. Local congregations have been generous, as have partners in Europe. The Synod estimates that about 150 families have been affected by the violence, most of them from the Homs area, and some from Edlib and Hama. May we, along with them, experience the “Emmaus Encounter” as our resurrected Christ restores hope—He alone is Lord of the future and we can be assured that He awaits us at the end of whatever road we are compelled to walk.
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 298