Dorothy Nickel Friesen is former pastor of Manhattan (Kansas) Mennonite Church and First Mennonite Church, Bluffton, Ohio; former assistant dean at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, […]
Photo: The Rev. Ibrahim Nseir. Photo provided by Ron Byler.
Ron Byler is executive director of Mennonite Central Committee U.S.
A delegation from Mennonite Central Committee recently returned from Syria, the first visit of its kind since the start of the civil war there in 2011. MCC’s $34.6 million humanitarian response in Syria and Iraq is the organization’s largest since World War II. Ron Byler has written a series about his time in Syria. The other two posts in the series are available here and here.
“Faith makes you act crazy.”
The Rev. Ibrahim Nseir is pastor of the National Presbyterian Church in Aleppo, Syria. In the quotation above he is speaking about the apparent foolishness of staying in Aleppo and believing he can make a difference in his community during the war.
We Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) people who are visiting our partners in Syria are meeting with a roomful of people who are displaced because of the war and are part of the church’s ministry.
Fatima tells us about her son who was kidnapped by the gangs four years ago. She and her family had to flee their house in order to pay the gangs to release her son, and now her family is homeless. It was only this church, she says, who would help them with cash payments supported by MCC.
Hussein and his family were also displaced when gangs targeted his home. The church has helped his family with food boxes, blankets and some cash. “Without you, we could not live day to day,” he tells us.
Maryam was recently divorced and she and her children had no place to go. “When I had no one to help me, the church was here for me,” she says. Today, she sings in the church choir and teaches Sunday school.
The people in the room know their support is coming to them from MCC through the Presbyterian church. Maryam tells us, “I always thank God for you and pray for you and ask God to bless all of you.”
The next day, Sunday, we worship with both a Syrian Orthodox church and with this Presbyterian congregation. Outside the Syrian Orthodox Church building, we are taken to a well that we are told MCC helped fund several years ago when water was scarce during fighting in the city.
We visit with leaders of the Presbyterian church before worship and then are led into their new sanctuary. The old one was completely demolished during the war.
“Rebuilding this church is a sign of hope that Christians can remain in this land,” Nseir tells us. “By faith, we believe tomorrow will be better than today.”
Later that afternoon, we walk in the old city and see where the old Presbyterian church once stood. “You have suffered with us and rejoiced with us,” Nseir says. “And your presence with us today is a sign of hope that God is not far from us.”
I thank God through Jesus Christ for all of you. –Romans 1:8
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