In a few days, a small group of BMPC members and I will travel to Beirut, Lebanon, to spend 10 days together with our partners at the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL). This trip will include visits with denominational leaders, congregations, schools, education programs for refugee children, and even some para-church organizations who are working to fight one of the greatest humanitarian crises the world has ever known.
You may recall that in the fall of 2015 we began conversations at BMPC about how we as a church and individuals might respond to the Syrian refugee crisis. From those church-wide conversations has grown our project to sponsor a local refugee family in our community. Those efforts remain in full force in these days, even in the face of potential limitations on refugees.
But those conversations also led to our Session and Worldwide Ministries Committee leading our congregation to partner more intentionally with NESSL through a grant of $75,000. Those funds were designated for two purposes:
- to fund education programs run by congregations in Lebanon to provide schools for Syrian and Iraqi refugee children who have been unable to attend school of any kind for the past eight years due to the conflicts.
- to fund the direct relief work being done by Presbyterian congregations in Syria to support the thousands of internally displaced Syrians who have been forced to flee their homes.
In the Gospel of Matthew we read of Jesus’ description of the final judgment. In this lesson Jesus talks about all the acts of compassion and service that those who will enter the kingdom of heaven will have practiced in their lifetime – caring for the sick, welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, visiting those in prison, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked.
I think that many of us in these days have been hearing this iconic piece of scripture rattling around in our heads and our hearts – especially as we think about welcoming the stranger in our midst.
But it is another admonition that birthed this particular trip to Lebanon.
In our conversations with staff within the Presbyterian Church USA on how we could best make a significant financial gift to our sisters and brothers on the front lines of this issue, we were especially encouraged to also make plans to visit and see firsthand the work the churches are doing there.
“Why spend money on a trip when more people could be helped?” was our collective response.
Amagd Beblawi, then the director of the Middle East office at Presbyterian World Mission, reminded us of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: “I was in prison and you visited me.”
He continued to share his personal experiences of visiting over the past several years. He said the Presbyterians in Lebanon and Syria who are faced with such tragic circumstances each day, who feel trapped in a situation not of their own making, and who feel like they are imprisoned in this moment – they need us to visit.
Our trip will not be about sharing our expertise on mission or ministry. Our trip will be to visit with them and to tell them they are not alone in this work. We may live half a world away, but making the trip to be with them, especially in these days, is a way to not just tell them but show them they are not alone.
We will return at the end of February full of stories to share of their commitment and their struggles, but in the meantime we will be planning to tell them the story of our community and our shared commitment to the teachings and the compassion of Jesus Christ. That is the work to which we have been called, and we have been called to be engaged in it together, not just as a diverse congregation, but as a global church.