Celebrating women in the Middle East

Leaders recognized for their continuing commitment to women’s ministries in the region

by Elmarie Parker | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Najla Kassab. (Photo by Elmarie Parker)

LOUISVILLE — It stood out to me. Spread across the front row of the guests of honor to the General Assembly of the National Evangelical (Presbyterian) Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL) sat three amazing women holding key leadership roles in the larger church community.

I’ll start with my friend and colleague, the Rev. Najla Kassab. Ordained in March 2017 by the NESSL, and in July 2017 elected to serve as President of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), which networks more than 225 churches in over 110 countries, Najla passionately serves Christ’s church. Her vision, especially for the ministries and gifts of women to be unleashed for the benefit of Christ’s body, is contagious. She has been tirelessly working for this since she finished her Master of Divinity at Princeton Seminary in the early 1990s. Today, in her work through the NESSL and also through WCRC, Najla continues to raise the challenge to fellow followers of Christ, encouraging us to be about the work of reconciliation entrusted to us by our Lord—whether that reconciliation work needs to happen at a personal, community, or societal level. Her spiritual courage embodied in practical work for the sake of the church and larger society inspires me.

Rosangela Jarjour. (Photo by Elmarie Parker)

Mrs. Rosangela Jarjour, a life-long Middle Eastern Presbyterian who has long served as the General Secretary for the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches (FMEEC), encourages and supports the work of the larger Protestant Community in the Middle East with a quiet, gentle-but-fierce perseverance that leaves me regularly humbled. Through her leadership, FMEEC has hosted Sunday School Teacher and Leadership Training for regional churches, with special support given to churches located in countries under the specter of war and conflict (especially Iran, Syria, and Iraq). As well Rosangela has worked to raise funds through FMEEC that support the relief work carried out by the broader Protestant Church community in Syria. In addition, FMEEC has long served under Rosangela’s leadership as a gathering place for regional inter-faith dialogue and cooperation to engage the challenges of military extremism masked in the garb of religious language. Through Rosangela, FMEEC regularly invites Western partners to sit at this table of mutual learning and cooperative courageous action. I am grateful for her influence in my life and on my character.

Souraya Bechealany. (Photo by Elmarie Parker)

A new friend and colleague, Dr. Souraya Bechealany was recently appointed by the Executive Committee representing the four Christian families making up the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) to serve as this Council’s Acting Secretary General. She began her work in this role in February 2018. In my first meeting with her, I was struck by her active reliance on the Holy Spirit—she deeply listens to the people around her and to Christ’s Spirit. In her new role, she will be working with the following Middle Eastern Church families in all of their diversity: Catholic, Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Protestant. To quote from MECC’s letter of introduction, as a member of the Maronite Catholic family, Dr. Souraya “…comes to MECC from the Jesuit Saint Joseph University of Beirut, where she headed the Faculty for Religious Sciences as well as the Higher Institute for Religious Studies, the Institute for Islamic-Christian Studies, and the Center for Research and Publications on Eastern Christianity. Dr. Bechealany holds two PhDs, one in Theology from the Jesuit University in Paris (Centre Sèvres) and the other in Religious Studies from Saint Joseph University of Beirut. Dr. Bechealany is also active on many boards and committees covering the topics of theology, ecumenism, and religion.” I am looking forward to working with her and learning from her in my capacity as PC(USA) Regional Liaison.

These three women are among the many absolutely amazing Middle Eastern women I’ve had the privilege of getting to know and work within Lebanon, Iraq and Syria through my current role. I give thanks for their humble and courageous leadership every day, for their passionate commitment to their respective calls from our Lord to serve not only their particular church family, but also the larger Christian family and their larger societies. In every single one of PC(USA)’s partner relationships in these three countries, women hold influential positions of leadership and they lead with grace, strength, vision, collaboration and energy that moves things forward in positive directions in the midst of immense challenges and pressures that come from both within their respective societies and from beyond the region. Please celebrate them with me! Please pray for them, for their work, for their male colleagues, for their various churches and institutions through which they work, for their respective societies and countries, and for their work with Western-based partners.

Here are the churches and institutions with whom we, PC(USA), partner and relate to in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. The women I have come to know and love serve in these churches and institutions in a variety of leadership roles:

  • The National Evangelical (Presbyterian) Synod of Syria and Lebanon
  • The Assembly of Evangelical (Presbyterian) Churches in Iraq
  • The Union of Armenian Evangelical (Protestant) Churches in the Near East
  • The Near East School of Theology
  • The Lebanese American University (including the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World)
  • Blessed School for students with disabilities
  • The Middle East Council of Churches (including Our Lady Dispensary working with the vulnerable from Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq in an impoverished Beirut community—up to 1,000 families from each community every month)
  • The Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical (Protestant) Churches
  • The Jinishian Memorial Program (working with the vulnerable in the Armenian Community)
  • The Joint Christian Committee (providing education and vocational training for Palestinians in Lebanon—and those displaced to Lebanon from Syria)
  • Forum for Development, Culture, and Dialogue (capacity building among young adults for reconciled inter-faith relations and community development work)

Most of these groups have either excellent websites or FaceBook pages or both (in English). As part of celebrating women in the Middle East, take a look at what they are doing and saying on-line about their work and share their stories with your family members, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. In this way, you can be an active part of supporting their call and faithful work in the Middle East.


The Rev. Elmarie Parker is PC(USA) Regional Liaison to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

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