Last week I stood by giants.
I was invited some time ago, to go on a trip to Lebanon and Syria, to visit pastors and speak life to them. I kept the week open in April and went with 2 other brothers from local area. Due to all current circumstances, we were asked to not put unapproved messages on social media for the duration of the trip, and we were not allowed into Syria. We are also not to share photos, especially not ones with identifiable faces on them. There is too much risk of families and enemies of these folks, seeing their picture in relation to Christianity, and trying to harm them.
Pastors came out from Syria for a small Pastors conference. We were not involved in the conference, but could sit in and listen. During breaks, we asked many questions concerning the conditions of the church in Syria, living conditions, fears, attacks, and especially, testimonies of the power of God there. The stories were astounding; quiet men and women of God told of visions, dreams, healings, conversions, and tragedy as if it were ancient history. The forgiveness in them was automatic. I never once detected a desire for revenge from the enemies who flattened their churches, destroyed their businesses, wrecked million dollar enterprises, or even persecuted them. Only once did a former millionaire choke up, just a little, when he told me the last two months they had not been able to help the 40+ widows under their church care, because the money simply had run out. A woman told of being in a room with a very senior official, directed to him by a dream. He ended up praying to receive Christ right there that day. Another man shared about driving to church, to another neighboring town, through gunfire. His car was literally being used as target practice by snipers in the hills along the road. This wasn’t a one time event..... it went on for an entire year; yet every Sunday, after careful prayer with his wife, he went again. And again. And again.
I wept. What drives these men? What have they found, that we have lost? There was no vain-glory, no bid for “best story”. Often we had to prompt the stories from them. His answer was simple....”They need someone to disciple them”. That’s all. The need was there, so he went. I suppose it is small wonder, then, that conversions are a large scale reality there. One man told of a new area they went to, to tell of Jesus. In about 5 months, there were over 300 families who believed. (FMB, Former Muslim Believers) They became a public threat to all the local religious establishments, and were persecuted. Many walk out into the day realizing they are considered public enemies... and yet, they rejoice. One man has a clear shot to live out his retirement days in the safety of the US, yet he stays, with open threat on his life, because “the people need.”
Another man carries on his work in a too-small building. To accommodate the folks, there are 2 services Sunday, and 7 more during the week. Plus, he works with the extremely poor and hands out food parcels for survival. These are often given even to muslim families, and thru it they come to church; after all, their own religion is doing nothing for them. In church, they begin to “feel comfortable” they said.... their adjectives to describe the notion of the “love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” They tell others, which tell others. Certain women in his group cannot allow their children to go to school, for fear of them being kidnapped by angry relatives. Families exist on $700 per month, with a room rental of $500, yet when we sit on the floor in their bare room, they insist on bringing the very best, coffee, tea, whatever. How do you drink that kind of offering, when you are weeping?
There are no easy answers to the conflicts there. It may be awhile yet until everything settles down. But in the midst of it, they suffer quietly, many of the teenagers hardly remembering anything in their life, ever, but guns, war, bombing, fear, and hunger. One youth group of 10, had 3 in it that had attempted suicide. There seems like no hope and no end, to many of them. But the scene of ISIS and it’s ugly brutality, has paved the way for literally thousands of former muslims to come to Christ. They see Islam, and they see ISIS.... and suddenly they realize that the muslim religion is all very much connected to violence. Looking for an answer, they have someone point them to Jesus, and BAM..... they get it. There is tons to learn, and perhaps even more to un-learn, but they see and experience Christ in a simplistic way. Women are freed from second-class status. Men are filled with forgiveness and peace.
I do not know how long this particular window will be open, but it is open now.. and what God is doing there is astounding. These men.... who are they? They walk slowly among the hurting, praying, reaching out, loving, caring, giving. The next day they do it all again. They ask nothing, and seek nothing, but the Kingdom. They bleed, they bury their brothers, then they go out ministering again. They devour their Bibles, and are careful with doctrine, but careless with their lives. And who are these women who stand beside them, enduring the mocking in the market, and smiling at their oppressors? And asked to speak one night to a room full of these believers, each with a personal story of hardship.... what do you say? To the couple dedicating their years to refugees in camps, lamenting because there is not enough hours in a day to reach around, how do you support? Multiple schools they are running, and multiple discipleship classes EVERY day. . . only to see the most capable suddenly get a visa to Canada or Australia, and disappear. How do we encourage those giants? “Pray” they said, just pray. Tell the church in the west to pray for us.
Something jumped in me, over there, last week. Something woke up. Something cried. Some vision revived again, some yearning within. Something of the Cross, of self-less-ness, of purpose, of abandonment, of fearlessness, of power, of Life. Something of reality, of Truth, of dependence. Something of Eternity. “And they overcame him by the Blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”
-Steve Stutzman, written in 2018/photos from April 2022