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Phases of Development

A Letter from Elmarie and Scott Parker, with Elmarie serving as Regional Liaison for Syria, Lebanon and Iraq

October 2018

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As we are preparing for Phase 3 of Strong Kids/ Strong Emotions this fall, I (Scott) am reminded that things in the Middle East grow and develop at their own unique pace.

I learned this early on, when I started noticing the many “Opening Soon!” signs throughout Beirut. New buildings and new businesses are constantly springing up (this is a very entrepreneurial part of the world).

But, I realized that virtually none of these signs ever gives a DATE.

In the US, we are able to provide projected completion dates. Here, not so much. Availability of materials, changing plans, circumstances beyond our control, a more fluid culture — all of these things factor into any project, so it is necessary to keep an open mind about when or how something here will happen. There is a reason it is customary for someone who is stating something they plan on doing to quickly add the word “Inshallah” — God willing.

As we have shared in previous letters, Strong Kids is a play-based emotional resiliency program for Syrian and Iraqi refugee children (ages 7-12) living in Beirut. It is a project of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) and is financially supported by gifts given through Presbyterian World Mission by our US church partners and friends.

Phase 1 began in Spring 2017 with a two-month course in developing emotional awareness and skills. We used crafts, storytelling and group interaction to create a safe space for children to explore the difficult emotions resulting from their refugee experience.
Phase 2 saw the introduction of a licensed psychologist, Raana, who conducts pre- and post-program trauma assessments for our group of fifteen Iraqi and Syrian kids, both Muslim and Christian, over a period of twelve weeks.

Although it was not surprising to learn that most of our kids displayed significant signs of trauma and difficulties in their home lives, we learned a great deal about the power of creating a space that allows kids to heal and explore their emotions at the unique pace that they need. As our students share about family stress, cramped living conditions (several families sharing one apartment), and increased demands on older children to care for siblings and even provide income, we have noticed marked changes in their demeanor and social skills as they progress through the program.

Phase 3, to begin this fall, will introduce a curriculum developed by Raana and me that encourages children to tell their stories creatively and to actively explore ways to express and act upon their emotions, especially the more difficult ones.

Our hope is that we will launch Strong Kids as a continuous trauma-resiliency program, along with a weekly Kids Club for program graduates, by this spring. This new addition would help students continue to develop resiliency skills largely through interaction with peers and adult mentors. I wish this process could go more quickly, but that is simply the reality of building things. The biggest obstacles, of course, are the extended chunks of time that often keep me away with travel (Elmarie and I will be on Itineration in the US January–March 2019).

The extended time it has taken to develop Strong Kids has allowed us to build some solid foundations for our work. Since February, I have been immersed in extensive Arabic language study. While I have colleagues who are able to translate for me, being able to communicate with our kids in their own language is important for effective ministry. In addition to my Arabic studies, I have been gathering quality child educational tools and working with colleagues to translate them into Arabic.

One of the exciting things we will be doing for Phase 3 is making professional-quality puppets for each participant. Refugee women from the Presbyterian Sewing Ministry in Tyre are at this moment making the puppets for this project, which will help provide them with an income and means to improve their lives. Yes, the Strong Kids students will also make puppet creations themselves, but these professionally-made puppets will have human faces in order to best facilitate role play and their own emotional exploration.

So, Phase 3 will be launching in a few weeks, Inshallah (as God wills). One of the jobs I have NOT had to do is purchase craft supplies. Over the summer, we received several suitcases jammed with craft supplies from our various PC(USA) church partners in the States. These are not only much-needed gifts that facilitate the safe space for creative expression that our kids need, but they are also a tangible expression of your care and commitment to our Iraqi and Syrian refugee kids. Thank you!

Elmarie and I remain so very grateful for your partnership with us in this shared work of making visible the love of God through Jesus Christ. Your gifts of prayer, correspondence, creative collaboration ideas, visits, and financial support fill us with encouragement every day. We look forward to visiting with as many of you as possible during our itineration time from January to March of 2019. We will mainly be in the Southeastern United States on this visit. Please do let us know if you would like to arrange a time for us to spend with your church or presbytery in order to share in more detail the ways in which we are witnessing our Lord at work through his Church in the Middle East.

In Christ’s Service Together,
Scott (for Elmarie too)

Please read this important message from José Luis Casal, Director, Presbyterian World Mission

Dear partners in God’s mission,

We near the close of 2018 inspired by the hope of Christ. God is transforming the world, and you are helping to make it happen.

Thank you very much for your support of our mission co-workers. The prayers and financial gifts of people like you enable them to work alongside global partners to address poverty, hopelessness, violence and other pressing problems in the name of Jesus Christ.

Every day, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-workers are blessed to be able to walk alongside their brothers and sisters across the globe. Listening to each other in faith and in friendship, they learn from each other how to work towards a world in which everyone flourishes. Acting upon what they discover together, PC(USA) mission co-workers and our global partners strengthen the body of Christ.

Because you are an integral part of God’s mission, I invite you to become more deeply committed to Presbyterian World Mission. First, would you make a year-end gift for the sending and support of our mission co-workers? The needs in the world are great, and World Mission is poised to answer God’s call to serve others.

I also invite you to ask your session to add our mission co-workers to your congregation’s prayer list and mission budget for 2019 and beyond. Your multi-year commitment will make a great difference in our involvement with our partners. The majority of our mission co-workers’ funding comes from the special gifts of individuals and congregations like yours, for God’s mission is a responsibility of the whole church, not a particular area of the church. Now more than ever, we need your financial support!

In faith, our mission co-workers accept a call to mission service. In faith, World Mission, representing the whole church and you, sends them to work with our global partners. In faith, will you also commit to support this work with your prayers and financial gifts? With hope and faith, I await your positive response!

At God’s service and at your service!

José Luis Casal

P.S. Your gift will help meet critical needs of our global partners. Thank you!

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