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Syrian Presbyterian Fellowship receives welcome in California congregation

Member says ‘we are still one family’ with far away loved ones

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

COSTA MESA, Calif. – Like many good things, the Syrian Presbyterian Fellowship began with a relationship. A family from Homs, Syria, and a Californian Presbyterian pastor formed bonds that would bridge cultures and unite hearts.

The Jarjour family moved here from Syria, before the crisis in their country unfolded. Several dozen members of the family, all cousins, were living in a dozen homes around the community. All are Presbyterian.

Some family members attended the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant and when the violence in Syria—which began in 2011—unraveled into a brutal proxy war, the Rev. Tim McCalmont reached out to Arfan Jarjour.

Together they decided there were enough Syrian Presbyterians here, and enough more coming, to start an Arabic speaking fellowship in hopes that one day it would become a 1001 new worshiping community.

Jarjour and McCalmont contacted the Rev. Adel Malek, an Egyptian-born engineer turned theology teacher and pastor who has been in the U.S. for 30 years and started the Arabic Presbyterian Fellowship for Egyptian immigrants in Huntington Beach, California.

“Because we were friends,” McCalmont said, “we decided to see what we could do together.”

One of the first symbolic things they did was give Jarjour a key to the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, so that he could get the building ready for worship, as Malek lived about an hour away.

“They trusted and loved us, they give us everything,” Jarjour said. “This is now a real Presbyterian experience. We love that.”

As the Syrian Presbyterian Fellowship grew they began doing memorial services for loved ones who had died in Syria. McCalmont remembers one of the first ones.

“A man— a son—came to me with a request,” he said. “He couldn’t get [to Syria] for his mom’s services at the church in Homs and he was wondering if we could have services for her here.”

As many as 250 people have come to these memorial services to share feelings of sadness, mourning these losses with family and relatives in Syria.

“It’s a message that we are still one family,” Jarjour said, “although 15,000 miles separate us.”

McCalmont and Malek know that Syrians live in a time of uneasiness and high anxiety, as they receive news and wonder what might come next.

“They have relatives and friends who are there, or would like to come here,” says McCalmont. “I want them to know we stand with them and with their concerns.”

“Our people here need to need us to stand by them, and celebrate their lives,” adds Malek. “I want to help them as much as I can, with what I know about this wonderful country.”

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