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About the Meaning of our Presence in the Middle East

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

August 2020

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Dear Friends,

On August 4, 2020, Beirut, our beloved city of service, suffered a mass-casualty, horrifically destructive explosion. It rocked not only the city, but the very soul of Beirut and Lebanon’s inhabitants—citizens, foreign domestic workers, residents, and refuges alike.

Immediately check-ins with one another filled WhatsApp inboxes across the country and around the world: “Are you OK?” How does one respond to this question? We’re grateful to be physically safe. Scott, who is in Lebanon still, suffered no physical harm, and our home was not damaged. None of our partners were killed, thanks be to God. Some suffered minor injuries; many have suffered moderate to severe damage to their homes and work places. But what of the emotional and spiritual and mental impact of this explosion? Buildings can be repaired, but what of the intangible damage that comes on top of months of severe economic challenges, the strain of dealing with the COVID-19 Pandemic, and years of being abused by the greed and corruption of the political class?

Days after the Beirut explosion, several World Mission colleagues gathered to study Matthew’s Gospel. One shared the Contemporary English Version (CEV) of the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5:3-12. The opening verse in particular caught my attention. I am most familiar with hearing these words of verse 3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (NIV). But the CEV says it this way: “God blesses those people who depend only on him.” The CEV understands the poor in spirit to be those who have only God to rely upon.

As I received message after message from my friends and colleagues in Lebanon, the theme became clear—It is only on God we can rely. Our politicians have failed us. They have conspired through their greed and neglect to kill us. Only God can give us hope for a new future.

Repeatedly our friends and colleagues shared the image of the phoenix rising from the ashes, the phoenix being one of the ancient symbols for this part of the Mediterranean coast. It’s an image that breathes of hope in the midst of the ashes of despair. And I have found myself replying to their messages: “I seek to journey with you on this Via Dolorosa, praying for the hope of Beirut and her people’s resurrection.”

Before this massive explosion, Scott and I had interviewed several of our partners in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. The impact of COVID19 has been devasting at an economic level for all three countries, let alone the public health impact that increases as stay-at-home orders begin to relax. We were inviting our partners to share their sense of call, the church’s sense of call, at such a time as this. Their passion and insights are even more profound and encouraging this side of the catastrophe in Beirut. We’ll share one of those interviews here, with others to follow in our next letter.

Dr. Souraya Bechealany, General Secretary for the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), based in Beirut reflected poignantly:

“For some, we [Christians] are a minority to protect.
For some, we are seen as people persecuted and pressured to leave.

Why are we here?
It is true: we are a minority.

There is another way to understand.
We Christians have always been minorities here.
If we are still here,
It means there is another meaning for our Presence,
And that meaning is found in our Faith and in the Bible.

When teaching us the meaning of our Presence,
Jesus used the image of SALT.
Salt is nothing, but we know its ABSENCE.

When we Christians remain in the place we were born,
When we give the little we have to those who have less,
When we pray for others, even the ones who hate us,
We are SALT.

WE must remain here to pray for those who do not know…

Why did God the Father choose THIS land as the place for Redemption?

All the Civilizations start here.
All the Wars are here.
So the Redemption is here.

Jesus offers us the Victory of Life,
But we face sufferings.
We Christians in the region must be WITNESSES to this Victory,
In spite of the suffering.
In this way we are part of His Redemption.

We need to remain in the land
Because we have a mission toward Others.

So, we don’t have to be afraid.

We have to be a witness to the Gospel.”

We thank you for your outpouring of love, compassion, concern, and collaboration in accompanying us and your siblings in Christ in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon during this tremendously challenging season. Your constant prayers, messages of encouragement and care, and financial gifts make real to us the wondrous gift of being part of Christ’s body—the church. You all remain in our hearts and prayers as well, knowing that many communities across the USA are grappling with the combined impacts of long-time racial structural injustice and the public health and economic ramifications of COVID-19. May our Lord also fill each of you and all of you together with his daily graces of persevering hope, abundant love, and vital faith as you seek to be representatives of Christ’s way of justice, kindness, and humility in your circles of influence.

Continuing with you in the way of Christ,

Elmarie & Scott

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