Syrian Fellowship Finds a Home in Los Ranchos Presbytery
When Saousan Jarjour came to Costa Mesa, California, Tim McCalmont had no idea the impact she would have on him. A young woman from the Syrian city of Homs, Jarjour came to study music at a college across the street from Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, where McCalmont serves as pastor. Raised Presbyterian, Jarjour showed up in church one Sunday in 2004 and soon after started singing in the choir.
“She has the most beautiful voice,” says McCalmont. “Both she and her parents, who joined Saousan four years later, were embraced by our congregation.”
As violence rocked Syria, McCalmont reached out to Saousan’s father, Arfan Jarjour, who had been involved in the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon.
“I asked Arfan to help me develop a relationship with a pastor in Homs,” says McCalmont. “I wanted to know someone on the ground, so that we could begin praying for each other.”
McCalmont began an email relationship with pastor Mofid Karajilly at the National Evangelical (Presbyterian) Church of Homs. He said heavy shelling in 2012 had caused extensive damage at the church.
By 2014 McCalmont was involved in the Syria Lebanon Partnership Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). After traveling with the group in the spring of 2015, he became the network’s second moderator, which deepened his “pastoral partnership” with Karajilly. The two continue to pray for one other and for their congregations—including the Syrian refugees in McCalmont’s congregation.
“They are amazing saints—wise, resourceful and deeply spiritual,” says McCalmont. “I’ve learned about the central importance of prayer that ties us together. The political, social and spiritual complications drive you to your knees, to bathe it in prayer, so that you don’t give up.”
Some 12 years after Saousan Jarjour showed up to sing in the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant choir, McCalmont helped begin an Arabic-speaking Syrian fellowship. At the first service, led by Adel Malek—who pastors an Egyptian worshiping community—more than 25 people came. Attendance more than doubled in less than six months.
“Arfan and others had extended family members; they wanted re-create worship like they had in Syria,” says McCalmont. “To worship in Arabic, the language of their heart, you can see how meaningful that is to those who are coming. We’re grateful to Adel for jumping in to help us.”
Originally from Egypt, Malek has been in the United States for more than 30 years. An engineer turned theology teacher and now pastor, Malek became philosophical when asked why he was willing to take on a second worshiping community.
“How can we as Christians call the Syrians who are here terrorists?” he asked. “These are our brother and sisters. After graduating from Fuller [Theological Seminary] I found myself teaching—I didn’t really want to pastor—but now how can I say no?”
As Malek, McCalmont, the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant and the Syrian members lived into their sense of call to be together in prayer, they experienced a resurrection moment. During Holy Week they tried something new. On Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter the Syrians participated in the Church of the Covenant’s worship services, as a way for McCalmont’s congregation to connect more deeply with the fellowship. There was great energy—and even humor. “We made a stab at singing ‘Christ the Lord Is Risen Today’ in English and invited the Syrians to sing one verse in Arabic,” says McCalmont, laughing gently. “We’ll work on that some before trying it again.”
But at the end service they got it right. As they all sang “Hallelujah” together, it was “absolutely life-giving.”
“We’ve discovered together that one of the Syrians’ greatest needs is to find a community that gathers around them emotionally and spiritually,” says McCalmont. “We want to be prepared for a time when more are here. It’s been so organic. We’re grateful God dropped what has become a life of its own into our laps.”
Paul Seebeck, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Let us join in prayer for:
Presbyterian Mission Agency Board Members
Marilyn Gamm (Chair)
Neal D. Presa (ex officio member)
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray
O Christ, keep us aware and responsive to the ways you are calling us to be creative in our lives and in the sharing of your good news. Amen.