Syria Day 7: Not Much of Anything
by Pastor Bruce Ballantine
Thursday, October 20, 2022
The previous day had been a long one. The Outreach Foundation Team which is traveling in Syria had put in a 15-hour day, touring the site of the partially constructed Aleppo Christian Center, climbing the Citadel of Aleppo in the center of the city, meeting with two bishops, touring the Children of the Word Health Center, and meeting with a member of the Syrian Parliament. The day concluded late in the evening with an amazing feast in an Albanian restaurant, hosted by our friends from the Presbyterian Church of Aleppo.
So, I was relieved when our team leader said that today we would be doing “not much of anything.” Translation: compared to yesterday’s busy schedule, today’s schedule would be much lighter. With the exception of a meeting with the pastor and members of a small Presbyterian congregation in Nebek, our day would be spent traveling from Aleppo to Damascus. It would be for me a much needed respite – that is, a day of rest and renewal, an opportunity to catch my breath, a time to take in the passing scenery and reflect on my first week in Syria. It would be for me much needed sabbath time, for which I was feeling grateful.
As we left Aleppo, our two-vehicle caravan passed mile after mile of what we had witnessed three days earlier during our approach to the ancient city. In many areas, where once there had been thriving businesses, homes surrounded by gardens, and yards filled with the carefree laughter of children at play, now there were bombed-out buildings, the result of years of war. What remained were empty shells. No signs of commerce. No signs of life. Once thriving villages now were filled with the sounds of silence.
And I wondered about the people who had once lived and worked and played in these places. Had they been killed? Had they been injured? Had they been able to get out before their homes came under mortar fire? Were some of the children now orphans? Where did they go? What are their lives like now? Now that the war is over.
But war hasn’t been the only problem facing the people of Syria in recent years. Economic sanctions have crippled the Syrian economy. Hyperinflation has caused the cost of consumer goods to go through the roof. The average income is now $30-$50 per month. And it is estimated that 90% of the Syrian population now lives below the poverty level. To say that life is hard here would be an understatement. Countless young people have told us that they hope to finish their education, then leave, because their opportunities to build a life in Syria are extremely limited.
As a person whose initial response to every problem is to try to fix it, my frustration is that there are no easy answers. And there is little I can do to impact the problems facing the people of Syria. The problems are so numerous and so big, my efforts to help would be like spitting into the wind.
Such were the questions and thoughts running through my mind when I saw something I hadn’t noticed before. In a side window of our driver Bashar’s van is a round decal with a picture of Jesus in the center, surrounded by the words King of the Kings and Jesus’ Friends. I’m not sure why I hadn’t noticed the decal before – perhaps because I had never sat in this particular seat until this morning. In any case, I noticed it today.
As I looked through that window at the bombed out buildings and thought about the problems facing the Syrian people, I saw in the same pane of glass the reminder that as Christians, we are invited into a friendship with Jesus.
In fact, on the night before he died, Jesus said to his disciples, and he now says to us: You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. [John 15:14-17]
Thanks to a decal on the window of a Hyundai van, I’ve been reminded that Jesus came to introduce a new kingdom – a kingdom in which love and friendship are the currency of the realm. As friends of Jesus, we are commanded to love one another. And it stands to reason that when we become friends with Jesus, we become friends with his other friends as well.
My call in this situation is not to take on the problems of Syria, but to love and offer friendship to the Syrians I meet. How that love and that friendship will be expressed will vary according to the particular situation. At times, it will be to provide a gift. At other times, it may be to invite others to provide a gift. Sometimes the call to friendship will be a call to listen and offer words of support. Or simply listen. Sometimes it will mean sharing a meal. Always, the call to friendship will be a call to pray with and for my Christian sisters and brothers in Syria.
Love them, I must. Offer my friendship, I must.
In the mutuality which characterizes true friendship, it is possible that I will receive more than I give. But among friends, there is no score-keeping. Just friendship.
It turns out that this day offered a whole lot more than not much of anything.
Thanks be to God!