Praying for the enemy

Peace hands worldThere are many words fighting in my head right now to get out and I’m not sure my fingers can translate, but it seems they want to try, so here goes.

I used a line to describe this blog when I started it last January that goes like this: trying to love the world one person at a time. And I have tried to use the words that I put down to tell stories of people I have loved and who have loved me. People who have made love real in my life. In my own dictionary, their faces would be illustrations for what love looks like and feels like. They are people I have met in travels, in school, at church and in my family. Receiving that kind of love makes me want to return it as the gift it is.

I spent this last weekend with some of those very special people, two sisters and a brother: Susan, Sally and Mike. We made a journey to speak with the district attorney who is handling the murder case that will one day be tried in Riverside County, California, for the rape and murder of our baby sister Cathy. We have walked this journey as a family for the last twenty-two months and we will walk it every day for the rest of our lives, because it won’t end when the trial is over. Cathy has been taken from our family in the most heinous way and her loss is unbearable.

But we have walked this journey together as a family with love for Cathy and love for each other. It is the kind of love that is forged like hardened steel in a fiery forge. It’s unbreakable. Unbendable. And I know that not every family experiences that kind of love. The six of us siblings who survive Cathy have this deep, deep love. And I am grateful for that.

But the scripture that I base my faith on, the one that gives witness to Jesus, says that I am to love my enemies. As someone who avoids conflict and seeks peace, I don’t consider anyone my enemy. I know there is hatred and violence in the world, there is oppression and suppression and just downright evil manifested in this place we call home. I have prayed for the enemies of my friends in Iraq and Syria; prayed that they will see the light of what they have done, recognize the wrong in the slaughter they have committed, and repent. I have prayed that same thing when our government commits those same kinds of acts in what they say is a defense of our country.

I have prayed for reconciliation on many fronts. That is what I am called to do, compelled even, because of who commands me to.

This is the hard part for me now. I have an enemy: a man has killed my sister and I have been introduced to him in California. I met him in the photos the DA showed us. I met him in the video they made of him on the night he was arrested. I met him in his words transcribed in the report of a psychologist.

I have seen his face. I have heard his voice. His words describing what he did are things no one should ever have to hear. And this is the only way I know him and it causes conflict in my heart and my head to think of him as my enemy, but he must be. He killed my sister.

But I have also learned something about him. He is the son of a mother who went through the same nine months of carrying him in his womb that my mother and Cathy’s mother went through. She felt the same pains of labor as she delivered this beloved child. He has a mother who has surely lost a son in a way that no mother plans for.

He has two sisters and a brother who are caught in the same life sentence that me and my sisters and brothers are, for we cannot escape the consequences or the loss that we experience on this side of heaven. (There will surely be consequences for his actions. This I do believe!)

I haven’t gotten to the level of loving this man who is my enemy and only with God’s grace will I, but I have been praying for him since his path crossed paths with my family. And now I am praying for his mother and his brother and his two sisters, as surely as I pray for my own.

I have just finished reading Walter Wink’s The Powers That Be. And the thing that sticks with me is his exposition on Jesus’ command to love my enemies. Not loving them – not seeing their humanity – will eventually dehumanize me, and I will become what I hate. Becoming what I hate will only feed the powers and continue a cycle of violence. And yes, I believe hate is violence.

I am tired of hate. I am tired of violence. I am tired.

And so I pray. I pray that God will redeem this story, as surely as he will redeem everything in his time.

And I love. And I am loved. And I feel it from every side and it gets me through each day: yesterday, today and all the tomorrows to come.

And finally in this week (I am so thankful for the timing!) our church staff got to the part of the book of Revelation that I have been waiting for:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:3-5)

No more death.

No more mourning.

No more crying.

No more pain.

Everything made new.

For God so loved the world.




That's me, sandwiched between Huda and Rev. Michel Boughos of Yazdieh, Syria, in their home.

That’s me, sandwiched between Huda and Rev. Michel Boughos of Yazdieh, Syria, in their home.

Steve and I returned to Beirut from our six days in Syria on Thanksgiving Day, November 27. He was sick so he missed having a marvelous dinner that was prepared for us by Dr. Mary Mikhael, the former president of the Near East School of Theology (the NEST), the seminary in Beirut. He missed the meal, but he did not forgo being thankful for all we had seen and done and especially for the people we had met and shared life with for those six precious days.

Two of those nights in Syria we spent in the company of Rev. Michel Boughos and his wife Huda. Steve and I spent those nights in their home, a home they had shared for 37 years. Michel graduated from the NEST in 1977, married Huda (who was from Lattakia,) and was assigned to be the pastor of the National Evangelical Church of Yazdieh, the Presbyterian church.

The church bell in its tower at the National Evangelical Church of Yazdieh, Syria.

The church bell in its tower at the National Evangelical Church of Yazdieh, Syria.

When they moved into this home, it was very tiny and I as understand it, the house was just a tiny appendage of the tiny church. The two are still attached, but both parts are much larger now with 37 years of ministerial work by Michel and Huda.

Our first experience of both of them was when we arrived in Amar Hosan on the day of the two-lane trip which you can read about here:

Michel reminded me of a little elf, with a quick smile and twinkle in his eye. Huda was his counterpart in smiles, and it was obvious she was a real worker bee; everyone flocked to be with her and share their needs. She listened to every person and every story. These two were just meant to be together, ministering together. Two gifted saints, who would serve amazingly as individuals, but when the two were joined, synergy was created. God sure had a plan there!

Steve preparing to read Psalm 46 as Rev. Michel introduces him.

Steve preparing to read Psalm 46 as Rev. Michel introduces him.

After the visit to Amar Hosan, we went back down the road to Yazdieh to prepare for another worship service there. We spent some time at Michel and Huda’s home having coffee and tea and planning the service. Steve was volunteered to read from the Psalms (46 actually, “God is our refuge and strength, a present help in times of trouble…”) and there would be a Power Point by Huda of the families they serve in the area and the ways they serve.

Bassam tells part of his story as Rev. Nuhad Tomeh translates for us. (Nuhad has been a part of each trip I have been on with The Outreach Foundation. Yazdieh is his home.)

Bassam tells part of his story as Rev. Nuhad Tomeh translates for us. (Nuhad has been a part of each trip I have been on with The Outreach Foundation. Yazdieh is his home.)

Here we met Bassam, a veterinarian by profession. He was a refugee from Qusayr, near the Lebanon border, a place that had experienced tremendous loss at the hands of ISIS. Bassam and his family were now an integral part of this congregation at Yazdieh, serving in many capacities. Where Huda lacked the technical know-how to get the pictures up for the presentation, Bassam stepped in to load the photos and run the computer.

I need to tell you about Bassam.

You can Google Qusayr and find lots of stories about the fighting there. When I am at home I just devour news about Syria because of my relationships there. I had read these stories about Qusayr, so when I heard that Bassam came from there I had to ask.

“Did you lose family members?”


Twenty-two men in his extended family had been murdered by ISIS! He told us the story of one uncle who was missing for several days. When one of the family asked where there uncle was, his thumb was returned.

His thumb.

This beloved uncle was returned over several days in 200 separate pieces. Butchered.

Bassam, the veterinarian from Qusayr, helps unload the truck for the food parcels.

Bassam, the veterinarian from Qusayr, helps unload the truck for the food parcels.

And here was Bassam, calmly telling us the story, bringing up pictures of his now dead relatives on his phone to share them with us.

And here was Bassam, loading the pictures up for Huda to share at the worship service. A man who heals animals for a living, now a refugee in a place not his own, but serving his neighbors in the ways that he can.

And so we went to service and saw the pictures as one by one, Bassam changed them for Huda on the screen.

Here was how they put the food baskets together.

Here was how they did crafts and games with the children at Christmastime.

Here were the blankets they could obtain and share with families for the winter.

Here were refugees needing desperate medical help and this is what we could do to help them.

On and on. Picture after picture of families in need who had left their own homes to find life in another place.

Comic relief was provided for us by a black cat who wandered into the church during this service. (Huda feeds eight cats every day at her back porch.) His name was Simony and he just kept rubbing up against her legs, Michel’s legs, the podium, my legs, Steve’s legs; anyplace he could find his comfort. Priceless!

Steve helped unload the truck as it delivered the last three parts of the food parcels.

Steve helped unload the truck as it delivered the last three parts of the food parcels.

And after the service was over, we went down to the fellowship hall to see the items gathered for the next food parcel delivery. Huda works very hard to collect it, organize it and store it until it is ready for delivery. It was enough food for 300 families, but it would be made into parcels to serve 600 families, so more would receive. (There are 1700 refugee families in their area that this small church reaches out to and tries to serve. The need is overwhelming, but they do not stop serving.) They were still waiting for three items before they started delivering: canned vegetables, zatar (a spice) and tea. (The day before we left Yazdieh, these other things arrived. Steve helped load them down in the hall and Huda began deliveries the day we left.)

Many of the families came down from the worship service with us, and we heard more stories of pain and loss and death. Picturing all this in your head is one thing, and it completely crushed my heart. I had had a meltdown earlier in the day upon arriving at Yazdieh after listening to the stories at Amar Hosan.

But then another family wanted to show us and pulled out their phone to load up a video…

I simply could not do it, but there was my Steve, offering the strength of his heart to share in their pain.

He watched the whole video on the phone and I watched his face as he watched it. There was a language barrier but he knew that one of those poor souls whose head was being cut off was the family member of that family, that was very obvious. I don’t know how he keeps that image out of his head when he sleeps, but this was the gift of being with people that he had come to give.

And so I tell you the story. When you see the news and hear stories of what is happening in Syria I want you to pause and think of this. These are real people – veterinarians, engineers, teachers, pastors, students – who look and live lives just like we do. They laugh, they cry, they learn, they love, they worship, they work. And an unspeakable evil is in their midst pushing them out of their homes and cities and countries and committing crimes against humanity that are unfathomable.

Think of them. Pray for them. And if you can, please help them. You can give to the Syrian Relief effort of The Outreach Foundation by donating at their website:

Thank you.

Great is thy faithfulness

photo-greatisthyfaithfulnessI had to write the departmental narrative for my church’s 2014 annual report this week. When you work with numbers all day and try to make sure they are accurate, exercising my fingers on the keyboard in a word narrative always feels great!

Writing this blog over the past six months has also felt great, and I am grateful that people are actually reading it, even if they are just my supportive family. Thank you Aunt Carolyn, Sally, Susan, Alex and the rest!

In looking back at 2014 from my perspective as a church member and as a member of the church staff, one thought kept running through my head and it was a song. Any other time when a song gets stuck in my head I call it an earworm. It usually happens at night and keeps me up as it endlessly replays, like when the needle used to get stuck on an old 33 or 45 rpm record.

This one wasn’t like that. It was a prayer in thanksgiving to a God who has shown up over and over again in my life, whether lived in the day-to-day in Omaha, or on my travels to Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see. Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not. As thou hast been, thou forever wilt be.

Gosh, that’s a great hymn! I even used it once in a devotional in Basrah, Iraq.

The hymn was written by Thomas Obediah Chisholm in 1923 and the music was composed by his friend William Marion Runyon. And like many hymns, this one was inspired in the life of this dear brother in Christ by words from scripture.

As the words came back to me over and over again while I was writing my annual report, the thought that struck me was that these words come out of the book of Lamentations. It’s almost in the very center of the book, at chapter 3 and verses 22-23:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

This short book of scripture, only five chapters long, is attributed to the prophet Jeremiah, who proclaimed the word of the Lord to the people of Judah. There was certainly a lot to lament if you read through the entire fifty-two chapters of the book of Jeremiah! God’s people suffering due to their own lack of faithfulness to the one who brought them out of captivity. We did that book once in staff Bible study and it was one of the most depressing seasons we have ever experienced in studying the word. There was great joy when it ended!

And that is why these two little verses in a five-chapter book stand out to me. In a book called Lamentations, where the writer is grieving over such loss, he stills calls out to God with a word of acknowledgement that he has been faithful, he is faithful, and in fact, his faithfulness will be seen in the mercies of each new morning.

And that is the cry of my heart in this new year, a year of 365 new mornings, each filled with the mercies of a God who loves me.

My family is still grieving over the violent loss of our dear baby sister Cathy and seeking justice for her, and we walk those days together.

Great is thy faithfulness!

My family of faith in Syria and Iraq are experiencing the darkness of night of ongoing wars, yet still shining the light of God as they serve those in need.

Great is thy faithfulness!

Transitions in staff at church are hard, long-time friends I have served with and are now gone. The loss of George in 2012. Saying good-bye to Terri and Andy and Allison just this past year. Wondering who is to come and serve alongside me in ministry at West Hills Church.

Great is thy faithfulness!

Watching Jana’s slow decline but seeing her get out of bed every morning and step into each new day.

Great is thy faithfulness!

Verse 24 of chapter 3 of Lamentations says this: “I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.'”

I say to myself: Julie you believe. Keep believing this Lord who walks with you. Wait for him, as he waits with you.

Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

Thank you.