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A Letter from Elmarie Parker, serving in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and the Gulf States

Winter 2023

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Dear Partners in Ministry,

I have tried writing this letter multiple times. My heart is weighed down with grief and my spirit is weary as I read the daily reports of shellings, death and destruction or talk with beloved partners in the region and hear their concerns. It is a season of deep lament. With the Psalmist (13:1-6) I pray and cry out, “How long, Lord?” 

The view from the Presbyterian Church in Deirmimas.

As complex as the 75-year-long history is between the modern State of Israel and Palestinians, so too is the history along the border between Israel and Lebanon. Since October 7, 2023, the daily exchange of fire between Hezbollah and the Israeli Army has pushed civilians on both sides of the border from their homes. On the Lebanese side, nearly 30,000 people have been displaced by the fighting from their towns to places further north in Lebanon. At least 42 towns on the Israeli side have been evacuated.

The National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL) has six Presbyterian congregations along the southern border of Lebanon. It is a stunningly beautiful area filled with ancient olive groves and pine forests along with grazing and farmlands, steep ravines, and small rivers. Now, the white phosphorous bombs used by the Israeli Army have burned more than 47,000 olive trees at the height of the harvest season along with hundreds of hectares of other agricultural land. It will take decades for the orchards and soil to recover.

Dr. Asaad Skoury, is an elder in the NESSL church of Deirmimas, a small Christian town of around 100 people on the southern border. In addition to serving as the shepherding elder of the congregation, he has also developed a medical clinic in the church. The clinic serves not only Deirmimas but also the citizens of the mostly Shi’a towns around them and the Syrian refugees living in the area. An average of 40 people come each day the clinic is open; a wide range of medical services are available.

Some of the many olive groves across southern Lebanon.

In a WhatsApp call with him, he shared, “At the beginning of this war, I opened the clinic one day only so people could come and get one month of medications. Forty-five people came. I haven’t wanted to keep the clinic open for its regular hours because I don’t want to endanger anyone. We don’t know when the bombs might come. Already some have shattered windows in my home and left fragments not only in my home but across the village. Most people have evacuated to other parts of Lebanon. I started harvesting my olives, but I could not finish due to the situation. This is the same for almost all the farmers in our area.”

Rev. Rabih Taleb serves the NESSL congregation in Alma al-Shaab, another border town. Multiple shellings have resulted in damaged homes and burned orchards. Those that aren’t burned will die for lack of someone to water them. Children are again out of school, losing yet more educational time on top of what was lost during the pandemic and power outages from the economic collapse of Lebanon. Most of Rev. Taleb’s congregation has left for other parts of Lebanon, including his own wife and three young children. He now spends his day driving around Lebanon to visit his displaced congregation members. Through him, the NESSL is offering assistance where they can. In a November 2023 Christianity Today article, Rev. Taleb concludes, “This is living what we believe—a working faith. It is to show people that God loves them, through us, for his glory.” The NESSL is also preparing its conference center in Zachle to receive families from the south who don’t have any other place of refuge. So far three families are staying there.

Dr. Asaad Skoury (middle) standing at the southern Lebanese border overlooking northern Israel. Two friends, Pauline Coffman (right) from the Syria Lebanon Partnership Network (SLPN) and Noura Eid (Left), Near East School of Theology (NEST) student participated in this 2018 Solidarity Visit.

Yet another partner, Adyan, an interfaith organization whose name in Arabic means “Religions,” is working to aid the thousands of families who have come from the far south to Tyre to find refuge. They are providing mattresses, food, water, clothing, blankets, and whatever else is needed that they can help with. Rev. Linda Macktaby, the former director of Blessed School, is co-coordinating this effort with a Shi’aa colleague.

Through our partners, I see flickers of light and life in the midst of relentless destruction—a counterpoint to the lament I feel. A space of grace opens in my spirit to join the Psalmist in that profound declaration of faith: “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me (Psalm 13:5-6).”

We, as members of the PC(USA) are participating in these flickers of light and life through grants sent by both World Mission’s Middle East/Europe Office and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. Please let me know if you would like to further contribute to these efforts.

Thank you for your ongoing prayers, collaboration in advocacy work, and financial partnership. You too are a counterpoint to the lament that marks my days. I am grateful.

Continuing in Christ’s Service together,

Elmarie Parker
(Currently working from Oregon)

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