How long, O God? Will you forget me forever? (Psalm 13:1)
A month ago, I arrived in Lebanon from where MCC staff work with a dozen partner groups in Lebanon and Syria. It has been several years since staff has been able to work from Syria or even travel there, but we continue to support relief and peace building work in communities in both countries through partner organizations.
Lebanon has a total population of only 4.5 million people but hosts about 2 million refugees, primarily from Syria. You can imagine the enormous strain this has put on the infrastructure of this small country.
The director of our partner, Permanent Peace Movement (PPM), tells us that MCC was the first outside organization that understood what they were doing and supported them in building peace in Lebanon. Another partner, Popular Aid for Relief and Development (PARD), works in refugee settlements with women, children and families.
We visit a Syrian family in the Daouk settlement, a Palestinian gathering/neighborhood outside of the Palestinian refugee camp, who has been in Lebanon for three years. The father says he has four daughters and four sons and a number of these families are with them in this small three-room apartment. He tells me that, though he owned a large restaurant in Syria, the family left everything behind because he was only concerned about the safely of his children. He says “the future of his children has been lost because of the war in Syria.”
We met in Beirut with three bishops of the Syrian Orthodox Church, one of our main partners in Syria in Damascus and in the region of Homs, about 100 miles north of Damascus. Bishop Selwanos offers us thanks on behalf of the families of Homs who have been assisted by MCC after their town was mostly destroyed by the bombing. He tells us that MCC’s help over many years has made him view himself as partly Mennonite! Recent help from MCC has included heaters for use during the winter season, cash supplements and hygiene kits.
Bishop Matta tells us about the situation in Damascus and about the thousands of families who have moved into his community because of the bombing in other parts of the country. He says, every day, the church has to process more than 150 baptismal certificates which are needed before people can migrate out of the country. He tells us that he wants his people to stay in Syria: “We love our country and if you want to help us, please help our people stay in Syria.”
I asked the Bishops whether, in the midst of the destruction and killing, they feel God has left them. Bishop Matta tells me that they have just one thing left – the mercy of God. He wonders whether maybe God hasn’t left them but whether the people have left God. He says that they have lost churches and schools and hospitals, and many people have been killed, but no one can take away the faith in their hearts.
Later, I am reading Psalm 13, I am challenged by the faith of these Bishops, holding fast to their faith in God, even through adversity.
Ron Byler is executive director of MCC U.S. and is in Sarajevo for two months, and visiting from there MCC’s programs in Lebanon, Iraq, Ukraine, Jordan and Palestine.