A letter from Nuhad Tomeh in Lebanon
Visit to the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations (UN)
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Psalm 23 — "A psalm of David":
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Last May Sara Lisherness, Director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Compassion, Peace & Justice ministry unit, visited Lebanon. During a discussion with the Synod (the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon), the possibility arose of a visit to the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations. The Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations was developed “to inspire, equip and connect Presbyterians in ministry as faithful disciples of Jesus in the global community and witness to the nations of the world, based on General Assembly policy, that 'God sends the church in the power of the Holy Spirit to share with Christ in establishing God's just, peaceable, and loving rule in the world'" (Book of Order, G-3.0300).
Synod of Lebanon and Syria representatives were scheduled to attend the Lebanese American University (LAU) board meeting in New York City in September. (LAU, formerly Beirut University College, traces its roots in Beirut back to American Presbyterian missionaries in 1835 and was the first school for girls in the region.)
Plans began for this great opportunity to have Synod representatives maximize their U.S. visit. The Synod delegation was headed by the General Secretary, Rev. Fadi Dagher; LAU board representatives, Rev. Joseph Kassab and Elder Charles Muller; and accompanied by myself, the PC(USA) representative and Regional Liaison.
The delegation started their visit on Wednesday September 12, with a visit to the Presbyterian Ministry at the UN to meet the staff. This included Rev. Mark Koenig, Director; and Ryan Smith, Presbyterian Representative to the UN.
At 10:00 a.m. we visited the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the UN. Another meeting was to take place with the U.S.A. Mission to the UN; however, this was canceled due to the attack on the U.S.A. embassy in Libya. At 3:00 p.m. the delegation met with the Permanent Mission of Germany. At 4:00 p.m. another meeting took place with the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the UN.
In all three meetings with the above mentioned mission representatives, the discussion was about the crisis in the Syria and Lebanon and the Middle East in general. Emphasis was on the challenges facing the Christian presence and the role that the churches are taking in being peacemakers and helping the victims of the violence taking place in the region, especially in Syria. The Synod delegation emphasized the role of the international community in bringing peace and not more violence. Our delegation stated defiantly that no military intervention, like what happen in Libya, is needed.
It is important to note that the Russian representative was very generous in his time and very supportive of any peaceful solution. Other representatives have shared their concern that the Christian voices are not heard internationally and that there is a need for these voices, especially when it comes to the exodus of the Christians from the region.
It is also worth mentioning that the Synod delegation and the PC(USA) Regional Liaison made it very clear that our historical ties with the PC(USA) and other Reformed churches goes back to the early 1800s and our partnership in ministry is a very essential one to peacemaking worldwide.
On Sunday, September 16, both Rev. Fadi Dagher and I (Rev. Joseph Kassab and Elder Charles Muller both had to return to Lebanon) were invited to speak at two different Presbyterian churches: Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City and Old Bergen Presbyterian Church in Jersey City, New Jersey. Over and above the discussion on the general situation, the role of the Synod and actions being taken to help the displaced and the refugees in Syria and Lebanon were shared.
On Monday, September 17, a meeting of the Presbyterian Ministry at the UN was held at the Episcopal Center in New York. Many church and NGO representatives were invited and there were about 25 people in attendance. A short presentation by Rev. Fadi Dagher about the history of the Presbyterian and other missions to the Middle East was given. Rev. Dagher shared the connection of the Synod with these missions. I talked about the concerns of the Christians in the region regarding what is called the Arab Spring, and its negative impact on the Christian presence and witness. I highlighted the waves of violence that are leading many Christians to leave, similar to the Christian exodus in Iraq, Egypt and other places in the Middle East. A video of these presentations can be seen at the following link: http://youtu.be/eXK_lGa4B9o.
A good discussion took place that showed the interest of the group in finding ways to support the role of the churches in supporting their people in the region. Unfortunately, that week when this delegation was carrying a message of peacemaking and calling the international community to find a peaceful solution to what is happening in Syria, the fighting intensified in the city of Aleppo and other places.
This time many churches and Christian neighborhoods, including the Presbyterian church of Aleppo, were targeted by the militant groups who were fighting the security forces. Some of these militant groups even took shelter in some of these churches. Also a bus transporting civilian Armenians from the airport, who were returning to Syria from Armenia, were attacked by the militant group. Four were killed and 14 were badly wounded. Five of the wounded later died. One week earlier a pastor was kidnapped and kept as a hostage for 10 hours. Thanks be to God, he finally was released.
This is the message we also were trying to communicate as Christians—the concerns we have that this violence, the killing and fighting, will push Christians out of Syria like what happened in Iraq. This land is the land of the Christians as well as others. All Christians, Muslims and Jews should find a way to live in peace with one another—and no one group force another out.
In general we believe that the visit was a good visit and brought a lot of awareness about what is happening in Syria and Lebanon. Much of this awareness is neglected and missed in the Western media.
A word of thanks should be recorded to the Presbyterian Ministry at the UN staff headed by Rev. Mark Koenig (Mark.Koenig@pcusa.org) for their invaluable efforts and hard work in planning and implementing this visit.
Pray with and for us! We ask you all to continue lifting up Syria and its people in front of Our Almighty God. May He bring back his peace and restore the stability, so all people, including Christians, live together in peace and experience His Love, Peace, and Reconciliation of the Cross. Our hope continues to be fearing no evil for He is with us.
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 298