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Last month I went to Lebanon for 10 days with The Outreach Foundation and had the honor of listening to stories of Lebanese, Syrian and Iraqi Christians. It was apparent our sheer presence was all that was needed, just a pair of listening ears, open and compassionate hearts, and to respond to one request, “Go back and tell the truth.”
The truth is, most Syrian cities have 0-12 hours of electricity a day, the World Food Program voucher relief was recently cancelled due to lack of funding, fuel prices have skyrocketed to unaffordable rates, our family of faith is deprived of the basic needs of water, electricity, gas and means for cooking and warmth and…winter is coming. The truth is Christians are being persecuted severely for their faith with death threats and killings by extremists.
And the truth is, all the while, people have not given up on God. They remain so faithful. In fact, church attendance has increased since the war in Syria began in 2011. For, they know the power of community and prayer, and what it is to need to believe God is our refuge, strength, provider, and hope, and they are experiencing God be so.
On my second to last day in Beirut I attended a Bible study with Christian Iraqi refugees. We studied Psalm 57 (see below), a psalm of supplication, hope, grief and praise. Previously, I had always had to approach this scripture abstractly. I have never experienced violent enemies or utter devastation. However, that morning I sat in the presence of women who were all too familiar with brutality and disaster. Through their faces, energy, and prayers I, too, connected with it all. You can imagine how wondrous a feeling it was to experience scripture truly alive and relevant. Yet, it was also horrifying and tragic to realize these awful words are my sisters’ story. Simultaneously, it was all the more remarkable to witness their genuine praise. I encourage you to read the psalm and offer it for reflection and a window into their lives.
Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
for in you I take refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
until the disaster has passed.
2 I cry out to God Most High,
to God, who vindicates me.
3 God sends from heaven and saves me,
rebuking those who hotly pursue me—
God sends forth love and faithfulness.
4 I am in the midst of lions;
I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts—
people whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords.
5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.
6 They spread a net for my feet—
I was bowed down in distress.
They dug a pit in my path—
but they have fallen into it themselves.
7 My heart, O God, is steadfast,
my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and make music.
8 Awake, my soul!
Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.
9 I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing of you among the peoples.
10 For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.
The truth is, our family of faith in Lebanon and Syria exemplify the affect scripture and faith have if we open ourselves to them. As they modeled with the psalms, if we unleash our cries to God, lament our fears, rest in hope, and choose to still sing praises, our faith will be enlivened. If we begin to love all our neighbors as ourselves and ‘care for each other as humans than according to religious tradition,’ as one Syrian pastor attested to, we will see the Kingdom arise in our midst. We will watch our enemies become our neighbors when we pray for them instead of fearing them. When we ask God to wrap our enemies in mercy and love and keep them from harming others and themselves, and ask God to grow us in compassion, grace and love, we will all become neighbors and our world will be transformed.
The truth is, our sisters and brothers in Lebanon and Syria have witnessed to us we have great reason to hope and also great need to pray. Will you join me in hope and prayer.