A letter from Elmarie and Scott Parker, serving in the Middle East, based in Lebanon
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)
Noura comes from a small town nestled in the mountains of Syria that hug the eastern border of Lebanon. At 1400 meters (4593 feet) above sea level, Bloudan was surrounded by apple and apricot orchards. Eager to escape the summer heat of lower elevations, many vacationed in this cool mountain resort destination.
But all of that was before violence descended upon Syria. Now the once verdant orchards lay butchered or burnt from the more than five attacks from ISIS—repelled each time by defenders of the town. Liberation came in the guise of fighters from a Lebanese militia who finally drove ISIS away in July 2015. Noura’s father grieves the loss of his orchards and has no hope of replanting and seeing fruit in his lifetime. Now he works for another farmer in a neighboring town.
Noura’s call to ministry began to emerge in the midst of all this upheaval. As a 15 year old, she began to teach Sunday School in her Presbyterian church. The next year, she added serving at camps held in Lebanon for children and youth. Slowly, these experiences nourished in her the desire to study theology in order to better serve the church. Initially, her family really gave no response to her stated interest. Instead, they encouraged her to finish high school, and then the matter would be discussed. Those she met while serving at the camps in Lebanon also encouraged her to finish high school. They promised their support should theology still be her interest.
Noura completed her secondary studies with flying colors. This qualified her to study whatever she wanted to at a university in Syria for free. But still, she felt pulled toward theology.
Now the pushback came from her family. “What would her future hold as a woman who studied theology?” they wondered. In the midst of this initial lack of support from her family, Noura stepped back from all of her Christian service for three months in order to be quiet and prayerfully listen for the still voice of God. She didn’t want to be influenced by those around her—only Christ’s Spirit. Deep within her, she sensed Jesus saying, “I want you to serve the churches in Syria in my name.” Still she prayed and listened … waiting for confirmation.
And then it came! After six months of stalemate with her family, they finally relented. They didn’t want to stand in the way of her happiness. They even moved to the place of actively supporting her call. She was accepted to study at the Near East School of Theology (NEST) in Beirut! And, most encouraging of all, she received a scholarship for her study from the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL)! During the 1950’s, church leadership was being passed from American and other Western Presbyterian missionaries to local church leaders. This is when the Synod was born.
Noura’s scholarship meant a lot to her because even though she comes from a Presbyterian Church, it is one of the handful of Presbyterian churches who chose a congregational polity rather than joining the Synod and its Presbyterian form of governance.
Noura’s first year of study focused on learning English, since the courses at NEST are all taught in English. By the spring of 2017, she had completed her first year of theological studies and loved it! She especially enjoyed studying the scriptures from a more “scientific perspective.” She shared, “My faith is growing more and more. My studies are building on what I learned in church, but from a different way. I really enjoyed … Biblical Hebrew, but also Introduction to the New Testament and Old Testament and Church History.”
In the spring of 2017, the first women were ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament by the NESSL. One of Noura’s classmates who graduated from the NEST in spring 2016 is serving in Syria now, preparing for her ordination in the next year or two. This encourages Noura that as she continues with her studies at the NEST, the Lord will continue to guide her in the next steps of her active service to and with the church in Syria.
Noura isn’t afraid of hard questions. The courage she shows in her studies will only serve to aid her in the future as she serves in communities that will be recovering from years of war. She will be a part of the generation of leaders who will not only be guiding congregations, but will be working in the larger community to foster reconciliation and justice that will lead to sustainable peace.
There will be six Presbyterian students from Syria studying at the NEST in 2017-2018. All of them are able to do so because of generous scholarship assistance from the Synod that covers their room and board and books with a small stipend for miscellaneous expenses. The NEST gives a 15% scholarship that covers the cost of the course credits. The Synod is inviting the PC(USA) to partner with them in providing these scholarships over the next three years. Already a partner church in Germany has pledged 20-25,000 euros per year for the next 3 years. Rev. Joseph Kassab, General Secretary for the NESSL, has invited the PC(USA) to match that with $25,000 a year for the next 3 years.
Would you consider being a part of contributing to the future leadership of the church in Syria?
This is leadership for local congregations, yes, but also for the broader communities in which these churches minister. This will be especially important as Syria recovers from the war. It will be a key encouragement to pastors who have been on the frontlines of serving in their communities during the war, and will need some respite and recovery time if they are to serve until their respective retirements—still many years in the future.
You may give to this scholarship fund through the ECO of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon—with “NEST Scholarships” written in as the designation. Please contact Elmarie at elmarie.Parker@pcusa.org for further information.
As always, we remain so very grateful for your partnership with us as well. It has been a very special four months of traveling and speaking with so many interested congregations and presbyteries. We’re so very, very grateful to everyone who welcomed, hosted, and received us in late June, July, August, September, and early October! We are completely humbled by your prayers, interest, love, support, hospitality, and partnership. It was a JOY to see and hear of the many ways you all are partnering in our Lord’s mission work locally, nationally, and globally. And, your many creative ways of partnering with us and your sisters and brothers in the Middle East have deeply encouraged us. Thank you!
Take a look at Scott’s FaceBook page and/or findaworld.org for stories from our months of traveling and speaking across the USA. We had the privilege of being with fellow Presbyterians—partners, friends and colleagues—in Kentucky, Nebraska, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Wyoming, California, Washington, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Delaware, Tennessee and Oregon.
We are so very grateful to continue in this work with you all as we are now entering into this second four-year term of service alongside sisters and brothers in the Middle East!
As you know from our face-to-face conversations, it really truly is through your financial partnership with us that we are able to continue serving as your ambassadors, so to speak, to your sisters and brothers in the Middle East. We invite you to continue on with us as financial partners in this second 4-year term of service and to consider joining us in this type of partnership if you’ve not yet taken this step. We are so very grateful for each of you.
Please read this important message from Jose Luis Casal, Director, Presbyterian World Mission
Dear Friend of Presbyterian Mission,
What a joy to send this letter! As Presbyterian World Mission’s new director, I thank God for your faithful support of our mission co-workers. The enclosed newsletter celebrates the work you made possible by your prayers, engagement, and generous financial gifts. We can’t thank you enough.
After I began in April, I met with mission co-workers and global partners and was blessed to see firsthand the mighty ways God is working through them! Our global partners are asking us to help them move forward with life-changing ministries. Because of your support, we can say “yes” to these creative and exciting initiatives.
I write to invite you to make an even deeper commitment to this work. First, would you make a year-end gift for the sending and support of our mission co-workers? We need your gifts to end the year strong. With your help, we filled two new mission co-worker positions and plan to recruit for others. The needs in the world are great, and World Mission is poised to answer the call to serve.
Second, would you ask your session to add our mission co-workers to your congregation’s mission budget for 2018 and beyond? Our mission co-workers serve three-year or four-year terms. Your multi-year commitment will encourage them greatly.
Our mission co-workers are funded entirely from the special gifts of individuals and congregations like yours. Now more than ever, we need your financial support.
In faith, our mission co-workers accepted a call to mission service. In faith, World Mission sent them to work with our global partners. In faith, will you also commit to support this work with your prayers and financial gifts?
Jose Luis Casal
P.S. Your gift will help meet critical needs of our global partners. Thank you!
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