A letter from Scott Parker serving in the Middle East, based in Lebanon
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This morning I returned to my Hamra/Beirut office after a week of working at home, and I am aware of how much I was longing to resume some of the routines I’ve developed over the months. After an hour of deskwork, I found an excuse to run an errand down the street so I could check on Boo Boo, the street cat I’ve been feeding. On the way I stop at my friend Joseph’s video stand so we could have coffee and catch up on the time we haven’t seen each other (he can always recall the exact number of days I’ve been away). As usual I get a nod from the Syrian-Beggar-Girl-Who-I-Wish-Was-In-School and give her a few bills. I decide against the carbs I would be required to consume if I visit my baker friend who makes the best breakfast pizza in Hamra, so I returned to the office while the rest of the staff is arriving. Now there is time that needs to be given in catching up with each one, especially Gerard, the only Lebanese person I know with no extended family in the country, whose wife has just given birth to their second baby girl.
As I think about my morning “routine,” I am aware that those small practices of relationship and community are as essential as the other—more “important-y”—parts of my work. Being engaged with the everyday life around me opens me up to a world that I am convinced our Lord cares deeply about. When I write, it’s about a world I’m becoming invested in, a world that I’m starting to understand. I hope what I do is “incarnational” in that I try to live out Jesus’ presence in the midst of the people I write about, then with my words convey a glimpse of Christ’s heart for them.
Since the beginning of the year I have been working as a Communications Specialist (writer) with the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), which serves as the voice of Christ’s Church in the Middle East representing the Catholic, Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Protestant/Evangelical Churches. In addition to representing the Church’s broad spectrum of Christian faith in this region, the MECC is actively involved in peacemaking and humanitarian efforts on behalf of Christ’s body.
A portion of my work involves editing and polishing articles, speeches, and presentations by MECC staff whose first language isn’t English (keep in mind, most of these folks know at least three languages and still could outscore most Americans on a grammar test). As a “Word Geek” it is fun to tinker with someone’s draft and work with the words to increase their effectiveness.
Some days it’s an article on relief efforts for displaced Syrians. Last week I edited a report on a project that provides job training to vulnerable Christian and Muslim women. Today I helped a colleague polish a presentation she will be making to address human trafficking in the Middle East. I love being able to provide a small, but essential, service that assists my colleagues who are making such a difference in the world.The bulk of my weekly work, however, consists of visiting, then writing about, the various MECC humanitarian and capacity-building programs. The nine-week Cosmetology Training Course, for example, gives Iraqi and Syrian refugees a viable skill with which to support their family. In the Health and Hygiene Course Syrian refugee women spend two weeks studying health, hygiene, diet and first aid. The skills learned here will be a vital stepping-stone to better personal health, family care and opportunities for employment.
Not only do these participants make important progress in the development of their personal lives, but they also help to move vital societal concerns forward. Their initiative in improving their family’s quality of life often stretches the gender expectations of more patriarchal cultures and creates a new willingness to embrace the empowerment of women.
A second move forward can be seen in the relationships forged by the class participants. Refugees from the wide spectrum of Middle East dividing lines—Christian and Muslim, Iraqi and Syrian, to name a few—find common ground and common support in each other. In their ability to build bridges across sectarian lines, these women demonstrate a necessary strength.
The women taking part in such courses sometimes face resistance and pressure from their husbands and community. Sometimes a woman with a new source of income or independence is viewed as a threat. Sometimes the demands of daily survival push personal development to the bottom of the list. Persevering requires strength, not only the kind from within, but also the kind that is shared.
By offering such opportunities as the Health and Hygiene class and Cosmetology Training, MECC brings women together to become for each other a source of shared strength and support. During one of the cosmetology classes I attended the instructor pointed out to me each pair of women who had partnered up to practice make-up with each other: “Christian and Muslim—reconciled; Syrian and Lebanese—reconciled; Armenian and Turkish—reconciled.” Women who had been taught to harbor prejudice against one another were leading the way in reconciliation as they helped each other make a better life. The road is difficult for refugee women, but they do not travel it alone. I am very glad that my work can help support and inform people around the world of this kind of ministry that is happening through MECC.
I do intend to continue the ministry of traveling and blogging on Findaworld and FaceBook as things settle in with MECC. This fall I am hoping to do extensive visits to both Syria and Iraq to visit with congregations that are doing vital ministry under great pressure. I am very grateful for your support and encouragement of this ministry, especially through your engagement with me online.
Elmarie and I remain so very thankful to be sharing in this work through the prayer, relational, and financial support of you all—our dear friends and partners across the PC(USA). Thank you. Your prayers, emails, commitment to finding creative ways of sharing in our work and the work of our partners in the Middle East, your willingness to visit and step into the world of our partners, and your financial support are all tremendous gifts of encouragement to us. Thank you for being a part of the work our Lord is doing through his Church in the Middle East—tangible work that makes real the much-needed practices of transformational peacemaking and reconciliation. Please begin considering now your continuing partnership with us in 2017—it is through you that we are able to stay and remain working alongside of Christ’s Church in the Middle East. Please also continue to keep the people of the Middle East and us in prayer.
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