A church that faces only threats
Representatives of several church aid agencies from Europe and America met this week in the mountains of Lebanon with the NGO Compassion Protestant Society (CPS). This NGO, founded two years ago by the National Evangelical Synod in Syria and Lebanon (NESSL), and the aid agencies exchanged views on the strategy and priorities of CPS, with the aim of coordinating their activities together. On the program were presentations on what is planned or already being implemented, as well as visits and discussions on the economic, church, security policy and social situation in the two countries. The most difficult debate concerned exchange rate fluctuations and how to deal with them. In both countries, the exchange rate has collapsed or fluctuates so much that any agreement to finance a project can be rendered void the next day by a further devaluation, or by the need to use the ‘grey’ market to avoid losing the entire value of the western foreign currency received. This in turn creates immediate problems for the internal and external control systems and authorities of aid agencies.
What role can a church play in view of such economic and social catastrophe, for example in Syria, where 90% of the population lives below the poverty line? ‘We need to make people sense once again that the foundation of being human lies in the Christian faith,’ said one participant. ‘We have learned through the incarnation of Jesus Christ that humanity, that a person’s life, no matter who that person is, is the most precious good in the whole world.’ Following this, a young pastor living in an area of armed conflict said, ‘Where I live, Christians have no support or hope. Therefore, discussing “values” with them is unthinkable. They only need help to survive.’ The children do not dare to leave the house after 4 pm. The only safe place left is the church building. She has just been ordained, but every day she has to listen to acrid and mocking remarks behind her back, even from Christians of other denominations. They accuse her church of being ‘foreigners’ and wanting to introduce LGBTQ+ principles, or not being able to provide her with a church car. Traditional Protestant Christians are doubly punished because they are both of Arab descent and Protestant. Addressing the HEKS representative, she said in a somewhat brittle voice: ‘Your support for the children of our community has helped us. When I see a mother bring her beaming and impatient daughter to our gatherings on Wednesdays, I know that I am doing something good, no matter what the cost. We feel their friendship.’
Having these three pastors from Latakia, Aleppo and Hassake in front of you and with you for an entire day is a privilege, and is one of those moments when all the work suddenly makes sense.