Jars of Clay

The eight Presbyterian pastors serving in Syria (back row left to right) Jacoub Sabbaagh, Fairouzeh; Mofid Karajieli, Homs; Salam Hanna, Latakia; Elias Jabour, Aleppo; (front row left to right) Firas Ferah, Hasakeh, Kamishli and Malkieh; Ma'an Bitar, Mahardeh and Hama; Butros Zaour, Damascus; and Ibrahim Nsier.

The eight Presbyterian pastors serving in Syria (back row left to right) Jacoub Sabbaagh, Fairouzeh; Mofid Karajieli, Homs; Salam Hanna, Latakia; Elias Jabour, Aleppo; (front row left to right) Firas Ferah, Hasakeh, Kamishli and Malkieh; Ma’an Bitar, Mahardeh and Hama; Butros Zaour, Damascus; and Ibrahim Nsier.

“But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.” 2 Cor. 4:7-10

Marilyn led us in worship Tuesday morning around this passage of scripture which is incarnated for us here by the serving Syrian pastors who have been among us and are the reason we came: to sit with and listen to them tell the stories of affliction, persecution and perplexity of their home places, but also the resurrection stories that come from those same places. This is the church of Lebanon and Syria, and why we need each other. The global church models perseverance for us, and that is Paul’s theme. The church remains hopeful, constant. This text refers to the faithfulness of the church over the long time through difficult circumstances.

This is what the stories of the church in Lebanon and Syria do for us in the west: they become a living epistle. We lift up these stories of faith and faithfulness in Aleppo: Walking up five flights for worship because the building has been destroyed, and then building a new building because they may be struck down, but they are not destroyed as a body. Starting a water ministry for the community to love their neighbors. Or the stories from Homs: Nurturing a community in diaspora. The evangelical school that never closed despite mortar shells and bullets. The elderly home, not only providing loving care to this vulnerable population, but providing a place for worship when the church was bombed. A confirmation class that was conducted from home to home that took two years, but on Easter, 2015, the whole class was brought together. In Kamishli, the church found a way to be present to the Yazidi refugees by providing a source of fresh water and sunk a well. It seems that in these times the church could just hunker down and take care of itself. But the church is not called to survive, but to thrive. In Damascus, the church women devised a project for the refugee women to regain their dignity with the needlework project. In Mahardeh, the continuing education of young children by the kindergarten keeps faithful life incarnated. Mathilde Sabbaagh, a fourth-year student at the Near East School of Theology, who chooses not to flee to Canada because “God has not given me a word for Canada, but he has given me a word for Syria.”

Story upon story, picture upon picture, video footage that brought smiles one moment as smiling Sunday school children in the northeast of Syria showed their Christmas projects, and then sadness the next when a series of coffins was displayed, victims of a series of cruel bombings in the same city.

But as we hear the sadness and overwhelming circumstances of life in this war-ravaged clay pot of a country, we experience the resurrection as well. In Homs, a city under siege for almost three years, churches are being rebuilt and homes are being repaired and families are moving back in.

This is the church we have come to be with. This is the church we are a part of. This is the body of Christ and its life of faith and hope and love and endurance is the witness to the glory of God. May it ever be so.

Heartburn

That's my trip journal for four trips to the Middle East. The spine is busted from stuffing it full of inserts of hymns, printed prayers, photos and bios of my teammates, devotionals I've led and other memories on paper too important to discard.

That’s my trip journal for four trips to the Middle East. The spine is busted from stuffing it full of inserts of hymns, printed prayers, photos and bios of my teammates, devotionals I’ve led and other memories on paper too important to discard.

I was looking through my dog-eared, spine-busted journal tonight for an email address. There are so many inserts into this broken-backed book! And while I found the email, I also found this. On this night, before I begin my journey into a master of arts study of ministry at Creighton University, it reminds me of one of the big reasons I am stepping out.

I wrote this article in May, 2013, shortly before my second trip to Lebanon. I am so happy to share it tonight.

 

 

Wading Into Deeper Waters

There is a difference between heartburn and a heart that burns. The former is felt usually around some poor eating habits or gastrointestinal issues. It’s very uncomfortable if you’ve ever experienced it, but you can take a pill. The latter can also be uncomfortable, but I would describe it more as comfort-afflicting. If your heart has ever burned for something or someone, your only response is action. If you don’t do something about it, it just gets worse. There is no magic pill.

My heart has burned for the situation across the Middle East since I was in high school and my step-brother Charlie worked for NBC News in Lebanon, covering their civil war which raged for fifteen years. Every night we would watch the news and see pictures of the atrocities that Charlie had stood in the midst of to get the story to us in the U.S. It was hard to watch and understand why these things went on, but more than anything, we hoped Charlie would be safe.

My heart kept burning through the years and then I met Maya in a women’s bible study here at West Hills. A native of Lebanon, she returned there to visit family in 2006 and was stuck in the middle of another war. When she came back thoroughly shaken, heartbroken and angry, reliving her childhood, she shared with us her story. This woman of faith simply asked, “Why do they hate us?”

Then I met Marilyn Borst of The Outreach Foundation and she was taking a group of faithful women to visit the churches of the Synod of Syria and Lebanon. We would travel to Beirut and visit the churches founded by missionaries in the 1800s. We would travel to Damascus and Aleppo in Syria, doing the same. We shared worship. We shared time at a women’s conference. We were welcomed into their homes. We shared coffee and tea and sweets. We met with Iraqi refugee families who were being cared for by the church. We heard stories of courage and of love and of faith, a faith lived out for over 2,000 years.

And I came home with new friends and new connections in this global gathering we call the Body of Christ. And my heart burned to return, to be back in the company of those women and those churches, to share life together again. And we would have returned the following year, 2011, but once again, war broke out.

This time the war was in Syria – first an uprising in a small town, now a two-year old war – and we couldn’t go back because it wasn’t safe…for us. It’s not safe for them either, but they live there. Or they did.

The Presbyterian Church in Aleppo, Syria, where we sang Amazing Grace and shared with the families who were caring for Iraqi refugees was completely destroyed in November, 2012. We got this news from synod officials who had traveled to be with us in a large gathering in Erbil, Iraq. Those of us in that room who had worshipped at the church in Aleppo were grieving: grieving for the ministry that would no longer be done in that neighborhood, grieving for the plans of the renovation of a Christian high school that would have served all faiths, grieving for the work that Assis Ibrahim and his congregation had done together as incarnational witnesses. Their church home was destroyed, many of their own homes were destroyed, their jobs were gone. Those who cared for refugees were now refugees themselves as they fled to safe parts of their country or to Lebanon.

In some of Paul’s epistles he refers to a collection for the church in Jerusalem. The churches created from his and other missionary journeys were collecting money for the benefit of the persecuted church there. The Outreach Foundation and other churches in our denomination are doing the same thing for the present day persecuted churches in Syria. They are collecting money to send to the Synod of Syria and Lebanon to aid these now displaced brothers and sisters in the small but important ways they can. And the people of our church have responded to that plea in the form of a $10,000 gift granted by our Mission Team. And my heart burns with gratitude at this response. We are not called to suffer as they have been. But we are called to stand with them: to show up when we can, to release the resources that God has provided us to be used in their time of need.

This burning heart of mine will return to Lebanon in May. My prayer is that these people of God will know his peace that passes all understanding. That they will be comforted by his gracious Holy Spirit. That they would have abundant life restored to them. That they would continue to shine the light of Christ wherever they are. And that they will be strengthened in this time of trial.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18

And now in January, 2016, I am happy to reflect back on this. The church building in Aleppo has been rebuilt in a safer place and the saints worshipped there for the first time on Christmas. The church body never stopped meeting, climbing five flights of stairs to meet in an apartment together for the last three years.

The Aleppo College for Boys, that Christian high school, has never closed its doors during the continuing conflict, now approaching its fifth anniversary. It continues to be a place where Christian and Muslim learn side by side.

My church, West Hills Presbyterian, has given other gifts to the Syria Appeal of The Outreach Foundation totaling some $25,000. (You can give too! http://www.theoutreachfoundation.org)

I have traveled back to Lebanon three times and to Syria twice. Steve and I will be returning to both again this spring.

And the inspiration of the church in persecution has put a vision of ministry in front of me, and the fulfillment of that vision begins tomorrow night when I take my first class at Creighton University.

May God continue to cause my heart to burn, and may he inflict you with that as well.

Dona nobis pacem.

Welcomed to the table

I learned a Greek word last week in Bible study: prosdechomai.

Now that I am not working but anticipating heading back to school in January, I started attending this wonderful gathering of women on Thursdays at church with my sister Jana, who has been going for over twenty years. There is always a delicious spread of food to feed our bodies even as our souls are fed on the word. This is an experienced group of Bible students and they are being led by three gifted teachers this year who are all friends of mine. Lou and Jackie and Jessica have taken us through 2 Peter, 1 and 2 John, and this past week, 3 John.

Lou took us through this short but meaty epistle where we met three men known by John and actually named: Gaius, Diotrephes and Demetrius.

The word – prosdechomai – was associated with something Diotrephes was not doing. He was not welcoming, not receiving, early missionaries into his home as they traveled with the good news. Indeed, he was even putting people out of the church who did open their homes. We had a good discussion about hospitality in the church, especially as it pertained to those who come to our church from other places to tell the stories of how God is working in this world. In a large church of 750, we have a hard time getting 25 to come to a lunch to hear what they have to say. We chewed on that a bit. And John says in verse 11: “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good.” Don’t be like Diotrephes!

And then on Sunday, just three days later, we dove back into Luke 15 and the story of the prodigal son as our pastor Derek continued his two-part sermon about “the gospel within the gospel.”

Luke 15 starts out this way:

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow [Jesus] welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2 NRSV)

As I first heard from Lou, and was reiterated through Derek who was using a Ken Bailey book (The Cross & The Prodigal) to guide his sermon, the Greek word dechomai means to receive. With the prefix pros- added to it, the meaning becomes deeper: to welcome into fellowship.

So here is what causes the grumbling from the righteous: that Jesus would not only welcome the unrighteous (me and all the rest) for conversation, but that he would go even further and eat with them. He would fellowship with them.

And, of course, we know this from coming to the Lord’s table for the Lord’s supper in communion. This group of unrighteous, undeserving sinners – we the people – are invited to sup with the Lord God almighty.

It is an amazing thing. God invites to his table in fellowship those whose sins have nailed him to the tree. His enemies. Us. Grace at the table of the Lord.

This word came to me in an interesting time. There have been ISIS bombings in Baghdad, in Beirut, in the air over Egypt as a Russian airliner was taken down, and in Paris. And the big message that I have heard is that our country is now wary of Syrian refugees. Somehow the work of a very small group of radicalized terrorists has caused governors in our country (mine included) to say, “No. There is no prosdechomai for the fleeing victims of terror in our state. They might be our enemies.”

And as I walked yesterday and the day before thinking about this word – prosdechomai – a picture from 2010 came to my head and my heart.

August, 2010, Aleppo, Syria (before the war) – Nine women had traveled to Lebanon and Syria on a trip to meet and learn about our brothers and sisters in the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon. We worshiped with Middle Eastern Christians. We laughed with them. We baked in the sun with them. We had our minds and our hearts and our world expanded by this family connection we now had experienced.

While in Aleppo for three days with the church there, we had the humbling opportunity to visit in the homes of Iraqi refugees who were being cared for by the Aleppo church as they waited for new homes in other parts of the world.

Why were there Iraqi refugees in Syria? Because the U.S. government had invaded their homeland in 2003. Faulty intelligence that said Iraq was responsible for harboring Osama bin Laden, a friend of Saddam after all, right? Faulty intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. Faulty, faulty, faulty. And Iraqi families paid a heavy price.

They were in Syria, chased out of their homes in Iraq because we had unleashed Armageddon on them. And so they sought refuge, and they found it in Syria.

And so it came to pass that nine American women were invited into the homes of three Iraqi families. Three families with nothing. Scare furnishings in their homes, donated by Aleppo church families. They were surviving on what was left of the savings they ran from Iraq with, much like what is happening today in Syria and Iraq.

The Aziz family, refugees from Iraq living in Aleppo, Syria, August, 2010.

The Aziz family, refugees from Iraq living in Aleppo, Syria, August, 2010.

My group of Betty and Sue and me was prosdechomai-d by the Aziz family. And there we sat – sumptuous meal in front of us, tea and coffee and sweets – with people driven out of their homes by the actions of our government, the actions of we the people.

Grace at the table. Prosdechomai.

In his book The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, Shane Claiborne says this in a footnote about a story of being in Baghdad during the U.S. invasion:

That night in Baghdad, I read Psalm 23. It’s the one folks usually read at funerals: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” And I felt like I was. But I noticed something I have never noticed before. The psalm says that a table is prepared “in the presence of my enemies.” I remember thinking, why are our enemies there? What if after we die, God brings our enemies to the table and asks how we treated them? What if Jesus asks them, “Shane here claims to follow me. Did he love you? Did he feed you and pray for you like I taught him to?” What would our enemies say?

The story of the two sons and the loving father told in Luke 15 ends in an open manner. The father has killed the fattened calf for his younger son who earlier in the parable wished his father dead. And now he calls the older son, who in his righteousness also wishes his father dead, to come to the table. Is this not a setting of table in the presence of his enemies? Two brothers, both sinners, both wanting their father dead. But there is the father desiring to prosdechomai with both.

And so in a week of learning about prosdechomai from the word of the God I love, I believe, I humbly and haltingly try to follow, I thought of the Aziz family. I thought of how they welcomed enemies to the table and ate with us.

And I pray that we will do the same.

 

 

Prayer of solidarity in a string of beads

Bowl of glass stones

Sisters and brothers in Christ, today we gather around the baptismal font, remembering both God’s gracious promises to us and our sisters and brothers in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon (and Egypt). We are united by a common faith in Jesus Christ and a family bond that reaches from east to west, and north to south around this globe; one that covers all time.

This was the start of a prayer of solidarity for our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. Mission co-workers with our denomination, the PCUSA – and friends of mine – came to our pulpit to share stories of their first year living in Beirut and working with the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon. Powerful stories. I have shared a few on this blog myself, that I have experienced personally. I recognized the places, the faces and the loss and grief as Scott and Elmarie spoke.

And since we are God’s children, we are God’s heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share Christ’s glory, we must also share his suffering.

On this day we shared by praying together in solidarity with them. And to remind ourselves to keep praying, we each came forward to the baptismal font and took a polished stone to hold in our hands.

Glass stoneMine is green glass. Polished. Smooth. Easy to hold and to admire. And when it is cupped in my hands, clasped in a gesture of prayer, it is a tactile reminder of those who are heirs to God’s glory and even now sharing in his suffering.

As I look at that picture of the collection of glass stones, I can easily assign names to them; each representing a real person, people I know and love.

There’s Lamis from Lattakia who gave me lovely earrings in 2010 in a quieter time and place.

There is Toeh, a young woman from Homs, now a refugee with her family in Amr Hasn, who doesn’t even have any photos to remind her of life before the war.

There is Huda in Yazdieh, the pastor’s wife who collects food and blankets and distributes with love and prayer to some 1700 families, like Toeh’s.

There are the eight pastors still serving fifteen Presbyterian congregations in Syria: Salam, Ibrahim, Yacoub, Ma’an, Michel, Boutrous, Firas and Mofid.

There are the synod leaders: Fadi and Josef and Adeeb and George, along with Assis Salim, the head of the organization of evangelical churches.

There are the pastors in Lebanon as well, serving their own congregations plus those who have fled there: Mikhael and Rola and Fouad and Hadi.

Educators bringing the word of God and the values of Christ to new generations: Najla and Dr. Mary and Nellie and Hala and Izdihar and Riad.

Pastors and elders and priests who are doing the same work of provision and reconciliation in Iraq: Haitham and Farook and Magdy, Patriarch Louis Sako, Fr. Aram and Fr. Turkum and Msgr. Emad and Zuhair and all the teachers in the kindergartens.

One polished stone for each of them, and I hold this green one in my hands and pray.

Saving God, hear this day the cries of those in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon (and Egypt) who have been over-run by violence. For those who are able to flee, guide them to safe havens. For those who stay, whether by choice or lack of means to leave, grant them courage, perseverance, hope and what they need to survive. May your church embody and freely share these gifts with those around them.

RosaryI always carry a rosary with me, a habit from my Roman Catholic upbringing. It’s a tool for prayer: 59 beads strung together with a crucifix on the end. My Aunt Carolyn, a Franciscan nun, gave this one to me on a trip earlier this year. She received it on a trip to Rome in 1998 and it has been blessed by Pope John Paul II. It’s a lovely remembrance of her trip, her vocation, and my connection to her and to the faith I was raised in.

Adeeb's prayer beadsI also have a set of beautiful amberwood prayer beads that I purchased in Lebanon this past November from a street vendor named Mohammed. Many of the pastors I know in the Middle East carry these same 33-bead strands with them everywhere, constantly moving the beads through their fingers, not out of habit, but in prayer. It was one of the first things I noticed about Assis Adeeb when I met him in 2010.

And this green polished glass stone that is now in front of me while I work, is a visual and tactile connector for me to these strings of beads used in prayer by people like me who follow Jesus. It may be a solitary stone, but it binds me in solidarity with each of those other stones as we pray together.

So let us pray.

God of peace, empower and guide those who are working to make visible your kingdom ways of justice, peace, and transforming love in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon (and Egypt). Bring your transforming peace to these lands. For Christian schools and teachers working with both Muslim and Christian students we pray – grant them wisdom, creativity, and enduring love. For Muslim and Christian students studying side-by-side – grant them the courage to live into a new kind of future together in the Middle East where there is respect and opportunity for all, regardless of religious creed, ethnicity, or gender. For those working with children orphaned and traumatized by war – grant them daily hope and joy-filled love. For children, women and men maimed in spirit, mind, or body by violence – grant them healing and a new future. For government officials – grant them the will to seek the good of their people and courage to turn away from personal or outside agendas that seek gain from war and instability. For those caught up in violent political and religious radicalism – wake them up to true life. Grant that we, disciples of Jesus from east and west, north and south, bound together by baptism and the Holy Spirit, may live each day with Christ’s kind of self-giving love: doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly with you. Amen.

And amen.

(A special thank you to Revs. Scott and Elmarie Parker for this prayer, which is adapted from The Worship Sourcebook, pp. 286-304; Job 19:7; Habakkuk 1:2; Romans 8:17; I Thess. 5:16-18, 23-24; Micah 6-8.)

Assis Ibrahim from Aleppo

(Back) Wendy Moore, Sue Jacobsen, Kate Kotfila, Emily Brink; (standing in middle) Mary Caroline Lindsay, Assis Ibrahim Nsier, Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, Rev. Nuhad Tomei, Marilyn Borst, Betty Saye; (kneeling) me and Barbara Exley

(Back) Wendy Moore, Sue Jacobsen, Kate Kotfila, Emily Brink; (standing in middle) Mary Caroline Lindsay, Assis Ibrahim Nsier, Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, Rev. Nuhad Tomei, Marilyn Borst, Betty Saye; (kneeling) me and Barbara Exley

I first met this man of God in the summer of 2010. I remember coming home and telling my pastor George about him. His church in Aleppo was doing the kind of relational, incarnational ministry in their neighborhood that our church in Omaha was doing. Their neighborhood in Aleppo was a bit different than ours, to say the least.

But this was before the war that came to them just seven months later. We were privileged to worship with them in their lovely building, and to hear how they were caring for Iraqi refugee families in their midst. These displaced families were, of course, refugees from the war our country had brought to Iraq in 2003. Like other refugees from other wars who could not go home, they were waiting to be resettled in still other countries, unknown to them.

But this small Presbyterian congregation in Aleppo, led by this young energetic cleric was making a difference to those families, and to the kingdom of God.

I still keep a picture on Facebook as my cover photo to remind me of those precious days in August, 2010. It’s the one on the top of this post. Assis Ibrahim is in the back row standing next to another Ibrahim, Syrian Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, who was kidnapped in April, 2013, and still has not been heard from. I pray for them both when I see this picture, and I hope others do as well when they visit my Facebook page. I wrote about them here:

https://jpburgess.me/2014/07/16/abraham-father-of-many/

Assis Ibrahim is a man I admire, to say the least, and I will never forget him.

I had the chance to hear him on phone calls twice in the last two years as I returned to Lebanon to hear about what was happening to the Syrian churches in the midst of the war. Other Syrian pastors had been able to make it to Beirut, Lebanon, to tell us firsthand of the difficulties they were facing, but Assis Ibrahim could not come from Aleppo. I listened to his voice as he told us what had happened, and what was happening. I closed my eyes and remembered the worship we had participated in back in that hot glorious August in a building that was now rubble.

And I could see the face of that young, energetic, man of God, holding onto faith and hope and love.

IMG_0936This past November, for only the second time in four years I got to spend some precious time with him as he came to Beirut to meet with our group. He may not have remembered me, but oh! how I remembered him. His face unchanged. His voice strong as ever. His vision for the future was God-sent. Who else could see a Presbyterian boys’ high school reimagined as the National Evangelical University of Aleppo, even while a war still raged?

Assis Ibrahim.

And I wanted to tell you about him so you could pray for him.

Before I could come up with my own words, I received this extraordinary email from him telling the story of the church in Aleppo. And I think in the reading you will know what I have come to know about him:

This morning I woke up early at 4:30 to the sound of a mortar exploding. I said to myself, “A new day is started.” This is something normal in Aleppo.

I went to the kitchen, hoping to get some tea or Nescafe, but I had an urgent call from one of our members who was injured by the shelling. He needed someone to take him to the hospital. I got my shoes and got to the car quickly.

Thanks to God, they dealt with his wounds very quickly, and he was in church for our service.

Today, I preached that we should use what God has given us. No one can say, “I don’t have,” because if God has given us even a tiny thing, we can do a lot with this tiny thing in this situation in this community.

The church where we worshipped before the war was bombed, so now we meet in an apartment building. It’s up five floors, almost 120 stairs. We have had mortars hit the building, but God saved us and as many as 150 of us continue to worship there.

Being a pastor in this crisis is not as much about preaching as it is being with the people in their difficult time. Even if we cannot give money or fulfill their physical needs, we can at least pray with them, at least try to comfort them.

After the service, I received another call — two older women who had not one ounce of water and had run out of money to purchase water after paying for their rent and medicine. I got my family and went looking for someone in order to get them water, which I am sorry to say costs a lot of money. We need $300 a month for a family of five for drinking and washing water.

After that I received more calls asking me to go quickly to look for a home for two people whose houses were damaged from the mortar attacks that morning. We called a family from church that was out of town. They agreed to lend their house for a week until we can make repairs.

This day I described is like every day. Even what I have said doesn’t describe fully what is going on.

I am thankful to my wife and my family who remain with me in Aleppo during this crisis. Without my wife, I could be failing. She is my supporter.

We have three children, ages 6 to 12. This situation has forced itself over their lives. My children, when they hear a lot of bombing, they come to our room to feel a little bit secure. When we send our children to school, believe me, we say goodbye to each other because we don’t know if we’ll have the opportunity to see each other once again.

Always we teach the children that although it is difficult in this time, our security is in God. We try to teach them that we suffer as Jesus suffered and that the day of resurrection will come someday.

We believe we have a lot left to do in this community. As I walk around the neighborhood, I see the despair on the faces of the people. I see children on the streets begging for money. I can see people walking in the streets without shoes.

In 2013, through the church, we distributed food baskets to 100 families for two months. Last summer we were able to help 118 families with monthly cash allowances, which helps families pay for things like medical treatment, food, tuition. From August to December 2014, 65 of the most vulnerable families got monthly allowances. (MCC supported these efforts through its partner, the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches.)

We are not only supporting Christians, we are supporting the whole community to teach them that being a human means having a responsibility to the others. Believe me, we never think in ways that this is Muslim or this is Christian. We think differently. We think we are here for a message and this message should be clear for everybody — that God loves all the people and I insist on the word “all.”

We are called to live in hope. We trust God and we do our job — praying, taking care of each other, reading the Bible and being an instrument of love and peace in this community. This is what we do, and this is the hope we live in.

Please don’t forget us in your prayers.

Please don’t forget them in your prayers. And if you can do even more than pray, please consider sending a donation for the work of the church in Syria to The Outreach Foundation, 381 Riverside Drive, Suite 110, Franklin, TN 37064.

“This is what we do, and this is the hope we live in.”

Amen.