I asked a dear friend to write of her experience. I have watched her grow from a student to a graduate, to now pastoring her home church in a place of great conflict and violence. Women have not been ordained to pastoral service, however, the displacement and emigration of so many people have left the Synod of Syria/Lebanon with many churches needing pastoral care.) Mathilde and I spent several afternoons on the portico of the Dour Chouir Retreat Center in northern Lebanon. We were folding peace cranes with the names of the villages and people in danger written on them. A fellow traveler, Julie Burgess, brought the paper and was working toward 1000 cranes. A group of us laughed and cried as this simple activity broke through language, culture, and age differences. Mathilde is one of the up and coming leaders of the Syrian Church. She is an example of the strength and compassion of the Gospel lived out under extreme conditions. She also has a wicked sense of humor – Kate Kotfila.
I am Mathilde Sabbagh from the National Evangelical Church of Al-Hassakeh, Syria.(Al-Hassakeh is in the northwest corner of Syria, east of Mosul and Erbil Iraq. After conflict between the Kurds and Bashir’s forces in August, the Kurds are presently in control – mostly – kk) I am 27 years old and I am a new graduate from Near East School of Theology (Beirut-Lebanon) with a degree in Master of Divinity. I also finished my B.A. in English Literature from the University of Aleppo before I decided to dedicate my life for the church as a pastor and not only as a Sunday school and women’s meeting leader during this lifetime of war.
Just three months after I graduated, the Synod that I belong to, i.e. the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, made the decision to send me back to my mother-church in Al-Hassekeh, Syria to serve there as the pastor of the church. I am doing the duties of the pastor because this church has no pastor for the last two and half years after the senior pastor has emigrated. Therefore, the elders of the church used to prepare for the Sunday Service, however, they were not trained to do the other services, and adding to this their jobs that made everything else so hard to serve. Therefore, I started last July and now I do the Sunday Service, the women’s meeting, and the youth meeting. And we hope that the situation will be fine so we can start Sunday School in November.
This church is not huge in number, it is a small church; however, its witness is huge because of the school that this church operates, and even though that the number of the members is small and is getting less because of emigration; nevertheless, it is considered as a very hard working community in society.
The area of this church is a very hot line nowadays, that in three months of serving this church, I have had to face three horrible attacks and battles which lasted for one week each.
My mother who lives with me and I had to stay in the bathroom which is on a safe side of the house for 5 days. Then I ran to another area while taking with me many Christian families from our neighborhood after I negotiated with the sniper that was not allowing anyone to move.
Serving in this area of the world is a challenge and a blessing at the same time. It is a challenge because of the hard situation on all levels.
And it is a blessing because I can see the needs, and I can see our Lord’s grace overflowing in these needs, and we pray for the day that our Savior will wipe away all of the tears of those widows, orphans, heart-broken fathers and mothers who say goodbye every single day to their emigrating children, and to all who stood still and will continue standing still for the sake of the Christian presence in Syria.
At the end, I greet you all, and may our Lord keep you in His Love and Grace.
(Mahilde can be followed on facebook at @mathild.sabbagh)