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God provides hope in Syria — and the United States

While 6 million people have been uprooted or displaced by 11 years of war, Christians are doing their best to assist and comfort their communities

by Billie Sutter | Mission Crossroads

The Rev. Mathilde Sabbagh

Al-Hassakeh is a major town in northeast Syria that has existed for almost 1,000 years as part of the historic Silk Road. This part of the world has been Christian from around the time Paul encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. The Rev. Mathilde Sabbagh ministers there with her congregation, the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Al-Hassakeh, to support her community without regard to religious affiliation. She says there are “pressing circumstances that our nation and our Christian community are trying to survive.” For the past 11 years, Syrians have lived through a complete upheaval of their lives, their communities and their nation. The majority of the people of Syria have endured these years without reliable supplies of water, food, electricity or medicine, and in some cases no safe home, church or school. There is limited available employment, and the nation’s financial structure is in ruins. But Christians do their best to assist, heal and comfort their communities.

Over 6 million Syrians have been uprooted and displaced within their own country. On a recent Sunday in February, the Al-Hassakeh congregation gathered a donation for a woman who has pressing health problems and no financial resources. Sabbagh describes her as “a faithful woman, [from] maybe one of the most faithful and kind families I have ever met. … [Her] faith helped her walk through this sickness with hope in God’s saving plan.” This woman is one of those who have immigrated into their community. The congregation itself is not wealthy, but clearly heard God’s call to help their neighbor and shared a financial gift without a thought for themselves. “This is the time for the church to revive faith and hope through love and mercy actions,” Sabbagh says.

The congregation lives out that statement daily. One of the most important concerns for Syrians is the education of their children. The Al-Hassakeh congregation provides a private school for students of all faiths. It is licensed with certified teachers and operates for the benefit of the community. The church also offers Sunday school (on Saturdays) where children through college age are nurtured in the Word, and with love. A university in the city has been destroyed and causes Sabbagh to wonder, “What can the church do for all these students who became like the disciples amid the storm?” [referencing Matthew’s story in chapter 8] “Where to find HOPE? Of course, we lament, and we cry for our children whom God almighty promised abundant life. … We are called not [just] to speak about hope, but to live it and above all to be it for others.”

Arab Renaissance School (contributed photo)

Sabbagh is the living embodiment of a statement in the document “We Choose Abundant Life.” That statement reads: “Our Christian presence must be founded on service (diakonia) to every human being, dedicated love and genuine forgiveness, in obedience to the will of God.”

“Love God, love neighbor” has been lived out not only in Syria, but also in the United States. Over the past more than two years, COVID-19 has uprooted our communities, and many have sought comfort, support and hope from their immediate and extended families, their friends and their church families. Others have found strength in meditation, quiet walks, reading Scripture and praying. Yet there are those who, like our Christian siblings in Syria, have turned to caring for their neighbors as a way of healing themselves in body, mind and spirit.

Across the breadth of the PC(USA), congregations have reached out to those in their neighborhoods and communities as needs became greater. People who had lost their jobs needed food for their families, and congregations have met that challenge by focusing on the mission of providing boxes of food to those in need. Young children continue to need a place to learn in safety, so church preschools continue to ensure that children of all faiths and ethnicities can learn together. Still other congregations provide space for Covid vaccines and testing to be done in the community.

U.S. issues are not as dire as those in Syria, yet as Christians we all receive hope from our common faith in Jesus Christ. Our deep love for humanity allows us to pray for one another and to share what we can. “Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

The Syria Lebanon Partnership Network, a mission network of the PC(USA), identifies within its mission statement these principles: “Pray with and for the people of Syria and Lebanon; listen to the concerns of all parties in the region; and partner with our brothers and sisters in Syria and Lebanon as they strive to live out their witness to Jesus Christ.” We invite you to consider walking with our partners in Syria and Lebanon and learning more here.

Dr. Scott Brunger and Billie P. Sutter, members of the Education Team of SLPN, and the Rev. Mathilde Sabbagh of the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Al-Hassakeh contributed to this article.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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