As I flew home on Monday, May 22, I reflected on my 10-day journey to take part in The National Evangelical (Presbyterian) Synod of Syria and Lebanon Partners' Consultation, held at Dhour Chweir Evangelical Center in Lebanon. In recent years, the people of Lebanon and Syria have experienced overwhelming challenges, one crisis on top of another.
In Lebanon, the problems include economic collapse (sky-high inflation, 40% unemployment, depressed wages, 85% of people living below the poverty line); migration (many educated Lebanese have left the country); an influx of eight million refugees from Syria; a corrupt political class; a government that does not function well; and the Beirut Port explosion. In Syria, the problems include years of war; life under a harsh, autocratic president; economic collapse (sky-high inflation, depressed wages and economic sanctions); mass migration; and the earthquakes in February of this year. And of course, on top of all the other challenges, people in both nations have had to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
To say that life is challenging for the people of these two nations would be an understatement. Yet, the churches of the Synod are responding to these challenges with faith, resilience, and compassion. In the words of Rev. Joseph Kassab, the General Secretary of the Synod: "God is calling us to take our tragic situations to bring sweetness out of bitterness. The church of Christ is an oasis planted by God in the desert of this world to irrigate the desert with peace and justice." Ways in which the church irrigates the desert include providing schools for children; leadership development of women; maintaining three active, affordable health clinics and two elderly houses; by providing funds to repair homes damaged by the earthquakes; and of course, by ministering to the spiritual needs of the people, offering hope in the face of despair.
Following the conclusion of the conference, I, along with several other attendees, spent two days going out to see what the Body of Christ is doing in Lebanon, visiting a number of schools, clinics and churches. If you haven't done so already, I invite you go on the Ridgewood First Presbyterian Church Members and Friends Facebook page to see pics and brief descriptions of some of these visits, as well as some pics from Sunday worship, the conference itself, and a day of touring the beautiful country of Lebanon.
I believe all the ministries of The National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon are doing amazing work! However, one ministry stands apart. In 2018, the Synod created a separate NGO called The Compassion Protestant Society (CPS) for the purpose of supporting humanitarian work. And a significant part of that work is accomplished through four CPS Refugee Centers in Lebanon where young children of Syrian refugees, who otherwise would spend their days in the streets, can come to receive an education. Presently, there are 600,000 school-age Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon, and only 52% are in school. In the CPS schools, first and foremost, the children are learning to read and write. On Thursday, May 18, conference attendees visited the CPS Refugee Center in Tripoli.
If you haven't already done so, I invite you to take a look at the Facebook post for that day to see what this ministry looks like. Thanks to Sami Eliya for the daily Facebook posts from my time in Lebanon. Thanks to you for taking the time to read this email and learn a little bit about some of our neighbors in this global village we all call home.
Grace and peace,