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Together, Apart

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

April 2020

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Dear Friends,

In the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic and its many domino effects, Scott and I remain so very grateful for your steadfast partnership with us and with your sisters and brothers in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. This pandemic is severely impacting the entire global community. Every time I speak with our partners in the Middle East, in addition to sharing about their situation, they are always asking about all of you—knowing that communities across the United States are also suffering in a multitude of ways. Truly this is a time where Christ’s universal body is weeping together and seeking to support one another (and our respective local communities around us) through prayer, virtual and physical presence, and tangible assistance.

In this letter, I’d like to share a brief update about Scott’s and my situation. In early May, you will also be receiving from us an update about each of our partners in the countries we are privileged to be serving alongside, along with our prayer requests.

Scott and I are also very interested to know how you all are doing? How is the situation in your area? What ways of being Christ’s presence are you discovering? How are your families and church families navigating this time? Scott and I continue to remember you all and your local community in our daily prayers. May you find sufficient for the day our Lord’s provisions of faith, hope, love, creativity, and persevering energy as you seek to serve and care for your families, congregation, and the local community. And we thank you for your continuing interest in and holistic support for your sisters and brothers in Christ, who are geographically distant, and yet one with you through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Let me tell you about Scott’s and my situation and the context of Lebanon. I am marooned in the U.S. I had traveled to the States at the end of February for several different meetings over three weeks. As the situation with COVID-19 rapidly developed during that time, my flight back to Beirut was canceled, plus PC(USA) halted all travel for staff and volunteers.  So, thankfully, I was near to my parents’ home in Oregon when my “return to Lebanon” options started shutting down. That is definitely one upside in all of this, the unexpected gift of extended time with my parents.  I’m glad I can be here to assist them through this challenging coronavirus situation. I’ve even been able to be with my parents to celebrate my mom’s birthday in person! And, who knows, perhaps I’ll still be here in May for my dad’s birthday? And, thus far, we are all healthy, thanks be to God!

Of course, that means I am not able to be with Scott, who is still in Lebanon.  He is following the Lebanese government’s guidelines for navigating this pandemic. This includes sheltering in place—since the beginning of March, wearing a mask when in public, a nightly curfew, and limiting local vehicle travel to every other day depending on whether one’s license plate is even or odd and none on Sunday.  For the most part, only grocery stores and pharmacies are open, while banks continue their services in limited ways. The businesses check the temperature of all customers before they are allowed to enter, wash customers’ hands, and give them gloves to wear. They also sanitize shopping carts and limit the number of customers allowed to enter the business in order to maintain physical distancing. New measures continue to be added. Until now, thanks be to God, Scott is healthy!

Schools and universities were closed down in Lebanon at the end of February. Businesses that are social gathering areas (like restaurants) began closing at the beginning of March to help contain the virus. Public and private hospitals are cooperating to make the best use of limited supplies and to provide the best care for those who have the worst COVID-19 symptoms. Testing is expanding. On March 18, the land borders with Syria were closed, as was the Beirut airport for most outgoing and incoming commercial flights. Exceptions were granted, since April 9, to flights that brought home Lebanese ex-patriots who preferred to ride out this pandemic in Lebanon. There have been a few outgoing flights since April 5 for citizens of other countries wishing to return home. As Scott and I, with our colleagues in Louisville, evaluated the situation, we came to the conclusion that it made more sense for Scott to remain in Lebanon, given the effective measures being taken there, rather than risk viral exposure by traveling to the U.S.

On April 25, we learned that the Lebanese government is now working to begin opening things back up. Small shops, hotels, delivery services, and some factories will open on April 27, followed by universities and secondary schools on May 25, and if all goes well, primary schools on June 8. They are also hoping to open the airport again to regular flights starting on June 8.

For right now, we are not sure when I will be able to return to Lebanon. At first, I had hoped to return by the end of April. Now it appears that June is more likely. But Scott and I remain in touch with each other daily through WhatsApp, and we are seeking to continue our work with partners the best that we can in a situation where we are all limited in what we can do. It is certainly a time for creativity!

For Lebanon, the COVID-19 pandemic comes on the heels of what had already been a very challenging economic and political time here since October 2019. This means that families of all economic levels who were already feeling pressured are now stressed even more. A society that had already dealt with months of school, business, and bank closures, is now pressed even more.  None of us knows what this will mean for Lebanon on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we do know that even now, there are families facing hunger who, less than a year ago, were comfortably middle-class. Thankfully, the cases of COVID-19 among the various refugee communities in Lebanon have remained very low. As of 4-20-20, there are a total of 677 registered COVID-19 cases in Lebanon, with 102 recoveries so far, and 21 deaths.  Ninety-four percent of active cases are among Lebanese nationals. At the same time, refugee communities have less access to the hygiene items needed to protect their health, and the migrant worker community has also been negatively impacted by the virus. The Lebanese government posts a very helpful update every day at http://drm.pcm.gov.lb.  You can click on the graphic for the day and then scroll down for the English version of the report.  I did hear that on April 21, Lebanon had its first day with no new COVID-19 cases!  A great step!  Let’s pray this trend continues.

Again, thank you for your continuing partnership with us and your sisters and brothers in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. While I am in the United States, I would be very happy to meet with any of you by Zoom or Skype. You all remain in our prayers and the prayers of our partners in the Middle East. In another week or so, our update about the work of our partners, as well as specific prayers requests, will be posted. Please stay tuned!

Continuing with you all by the grace of Jesus Christ into this new reality before us all,

Elmarie and Scott


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