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A Season of Sacred Space

A Letter from Elmarie and Scott Parker, serving in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria

Spring 2021

Write to Elmarie Parker
Write to Scott Parker

Individuals: Give online to E200504 for Scott and Elmarie Parker’s sending and support

Congregations: Give to D507569 for Scott and Elmarie Parker’s sending and support

Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery)

 


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Dear friends,

April dawned, ushering us into Holy Week for the Western Church. Mid-April heralded the beginning of Ramadan. May arrived, inviting us into Holy Week for the Eastern Church. Mid-May bowed to the end of Ramadan with celebratory Eid al-Fitr meals.

It’s not every year that these three holy seasons weave a dance of solemn remembrance, prayer, communal gatherings, and celebration in such proximity to one another. It’s not every year that these sacred spaces are threaded with existential and literal questions of survival. Nor every year that they are burdened by the weight of economic collapse and the shame of not being able to provide the feasts that have been normal in any other year. But this is the reality in Lebanon this year. In Syria and Iraq as well.

The Saint George Maronite Cathedral and Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque sit side-by-side in downtown Beirut, Lebanon.

From our Muslim friends, as we wished them a meaningful Ramadan, we could hear their sense of burden as they replied, “We pray that the blessings of Ramadan rest in our country and the whole world.” Among our Christian friends, we heard the familiar Easter greeting—”Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”—said with yearning by a people of hope living in a perpetual state of Good Friday.

Scott and I are living alongside of and accompanying our friends, neighbors, and partners as they navigate multiple, simultaneous crises—economic collapse (starting fall 2019), the COVID-19 pandemic (since February 2020), and the aftermath of the Beirut port explosion (since August 2020). In the context of ongoing political stalemates, the future feels bleak to many people. In Lebanon, life savings have been lost as bank accounts are frozen to preserve capital in the country. Due to inflation, spending power has radically decreased. A person who earned a salary of $1000 a month in 2019 now earns the equivalent of $200 a month (if they are fortunate enough to still have a job). Consumer prices have increased by 151.5 percent between January 2020 and January 2021. We see the impact when we go grocery shopping. Middle-class families, who normally would have filled their cart, now wander the aisles selecting the two or three items most necessary to their survival and that they can afford. Meat or chicken has dropped out of most families’ meal plans. Families who were already economically vulnerable now often only have one meal a day; parents often go without so that their children have something. The situation is even more severe in Syria and for many in Iraq. And, on top of the harsh economic conditions, families have been faced with the brutal consequences of isolation during extended COVID-19 lockdowns.

I could not bring myself to say “Happy Easter” this year. There has not been anything happy about the past 18+ months for the vast majority of people around us. I found myself longing for something more substantial than what “happy” connotates for me. “Happy” doesn’t seem a solid enough word to convey the great sustaining hope we receive through Christ’s experience of tremendous suffering and death prior to his resurrection. What is the substance of the hope we receive through our Lord’s resurrection? How does the hope of Resurrection Sunday nourish and sustain a community, a family, a person when the realities of Good Friday continue without any end in sight? How is hope nourished and sustained in my spirit and in the spirits of the beloved community around me?

I can only bear witness to what I have seen and experienced even as I live with these questions. One friend serves as the Abbott in a Greek Orthodox monastery near our home. He and his community are doing everything they can to help 350 or more families from towns across Lebanon live with dignity—providing food and other necessities. They continue in this work even though they don’t know from where the resources will come. The Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), one of our PC(USA) partners, asked my friend to contact them for additional funding so they can keep on keeping on. Another friend invites others to band together to help provide diapers, clothing, food, medications, and medical treatment to more than 400 of the most vulnerable families in communities around the greater Beirut area and beyond. They offer funds from their radically reduced salaries and invite friends from the United States and Europe to join them. The funds keep coming in, and supply boxes keep getting shared.

I was talking with another friend and partner of the PC(USA) a few days ago. I asked her: “What do you think nourishes hope among the people here in Lebanon today?” She had been talking about how hope is seen in the actions of choosing to build again, especially when the future is hidden in the fog of uncertainty. But I wondered what nourishes that hope to choose to act in such a way? She replied: “It’s knowing we are not alone. We are a community together who are building again—investing in others, investing in our places. Our partners are with us. The risen Lord is with us.”

You are among those partners through whom the Risen Lord continues to nourish hope. Thank you for your prayers, encouraging emails, being part of sharing the story of our partners’ contexts and work, and for your financial support. May the gift of hope also be nourished and sustained in you.

Elmarie and Scott


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