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