It's not happening here but it is happening now...
Dec 5, 2013
Haghartsin Monastery (Armenia) (AFP) - Standing next to a newly refurbished bell tower, priest Aristakes Aivazyan says it needed divine intervention to save Armenia's medieval Haghartsin monastery.
But it also took a lot of money from a very unlikely benefactor —- the Muslim ruler of the resource-rich Arab emirate of Sharjah, Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed al-Qasimi.
"I cannot recall anything similar to this happening in our history that some Arab sheikh, a Muslim, helped to restore and rescue an Armenian Christian church," Aivazyan told AFP.
"Without doubt it was God who brought the sheikh to Haghartsin," the priest, dressed in long black robes, said.
Perched spectacularly amid thickly forested mountains about 100 kilometres northeast of Yerevan, Haghartsin monastery is a masterpiece of medieval Armenian ecclesiastical architecture.
Founded in the tenth century, the monastery -- which includes three churches and once housed some 250 monks -- survived attacks from Arab and Ottoman invaders and anti-religious campaigns under Soviet rule during its turbulent history.
But after weathering those storms, decades of neglect in recent years meant the complex looked headed for collapse as plants twisted through walls and cracks threatened to send buildings tumbling.
"The monastery was in need of serious reconstruction but the repairs were always delayed by the lack of finances," father Aivazyan said.
That was until a fortuitous visit from al-Qasimi, who had been invited to Armenia by former president Robert Kocharian on a trip set up by the Armenian business community in the emirate.
"In 2005 his royal highness visited Armenia and generously offered to renovate the complex during a tour of various Armenian regions," says Varouj Nerguizian, a Sharjah-based Armenian businessman who has advised the sheikh.
Nerguizian refused to say how much the sheikh had given for the refurbishment but local media reported that it could be around $1.7 million.
Now, after years of building work including a new road up to the monastery to help boost visitor numbers, the refurbished structure was finally opened last month.
"It falls within the natural context of his royal highness' philanthrophy as well respect for other religions," Nerguizian.
Perched on the Persian Gulf, after Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Sharjah is the third largest of the seven emirates that make up the UAE.
Al-Qasimi, 74, -- who came to power in 1972 after his brother, then king, was killed in a failed coup -- has sought to boost the emirate as a tourist and cultural hub in the region.
Despite a thriving community of Armenian businessmen that now boasts its own church in the emirate of some 900,000 inhabitants that now boasts its own church -- there have been few links between Yerevan and Sharjah.
For those working at the monastery, the surprise of seeing an Arab leader visiting the holy Christian site remains a vivid memory.
"He came with his entourage of about 10 people and looked around for quite a while at all the churches and stone crosses before asking to go into the main Church of Our Lady," recalled Artak Sahakyan, who sells candles to visiting worshippers.
"When he came out he said that he believed that the word of God was really heard here," Sahakyan said.
Armenia is considered to be the oldest Christian country in the world and its Apostolic Church belongs to the ancient Oriental Orthodox branch.
The church is hugely influential in Armenia and two monasteries and its main cathedral are already listed on UNESCO's list of world heritage site.
After a history of conflict between Armenia and its Muslim neighbours of Turkey and Azerbaijan, those working at the Harghartsin monastery say they hope the support they have received from a Muslim ruler shows that the two faiths can get along.
"The sheikh is a deeply religious man so seeing a monastery is such a bad state it is not surprising that he felt touched," says father Aivazyan.
"It is as if the with this generous gesture the sheikh is saying that we need to be tolerant of other religions as in the end we all serve one God," Aivazyan said.
Dec 4, 2013
Nov 25, 2013
For Christmas this year, consider the gift of heat to a Syrian family. E-mail me if you are interested in making a donation...
Dear friends and partners in the ministry of Christ,
Personally and on behalf of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon I greet you in the precious name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior.
Thank you for your faithfulness, praying with us, and supporting our ministry among the Syrian displaced and refugees.
I also hope you all had a very blessed Thanksgiving..
As today the NESSL crises committee had its regular meeting the following information was shared:
The committee received a letter from the pastor in Aleppo expressing a great need to help families be able to purchase heating oil as the weather is becoming cold and many are unable to
buy the needed heating oil. Then other members voiced concern that this is a great need for all, especially that people have rented places in areas considered summer areas where the cold is already severe and will get more severe by the day. In Homs, for example, the temperature currently is 8cg. After discussion, the committee made the following decision:
Indeed the winter cold is threatening all people who lack the warmth of their own homes in particular, but also even those who remain in villages and towns or cities where to buy heating oil, when available, has become unaffordable.
We need to respond to this need. Cold is surely threatening children and old people in particular, and heating oil is as needed as food. Thus we need to provide for at least (1000) families in different parts in Syria.
Those will be helped to buy ( 200) liters by mid December or as soon as funds are available. In Aleppo the price of one liter is between 100-150 Syrian pound. Other places vary from 65-80 Syrian pounds. Thus, NESSL will provide the amount of $100 for each of the one thousand as one payment. The local pastors with local relief committees will make the needed plans.
Concerns were voiced as this is a large amount, taking into consideration the fact that our budget for our relief program is $ 1,300.000. for one year. So we need to appeal to our partners to help in providing warmth in a cold winter to one thousand families.
However, we have to trust God who cares for the needy. To Him we turn in all our needs. God will provide!
In his report, the director of the relief program has also stressed the fact that so many families have been appealing for help with the rent. Thus, the committee requested more information before making any decisions, taking into consideration that already more than 488 families have been helped with rent for almost two years.
It is a fact that all the collections on Thanksgiving in the Presbyterian churches both in Syria and Lebanon have been assigned this year for the families that have lost homes and are unable to rebuild in the circumstances.
We in all our churches have launched a winter project which we call: " A sweater and a scarf !" In the hope that we can help those in refugee camps face the cold.
SO OUR GOOD FRIENDS! WE appeal to your compassionate spirit to help us in this very needed ministry. Be people who provide loving warmth in a hating cold! Indeed the project to help providing $100 for one thousand families is a big amount, and surely we are in great need of your help. Maybe we could assign one Sunday when each one coming to church would pay $1-5. This could make like a blanket coming from heaven and providing the needed warmth in this cruel winter. WOULD IT NOT BE A MIRACLE!
We appeal to all our friends and partners to stretch a helping hand to the NESSL as soon as possible to be able to provide the heating oil.
Our God who is a God of miracles may guide you all and move your hearts to do His will. To Him all the glory now and for ever.
**, On behalf of the NESSL
Nov 13, 2013
Although we're getting hopeful news internationally and good news about the army's control on some dangerous areas, and having more safe roads and places. Today the situation was very bad, several mortar shells and bomb blasts caused damage in many houses in <<Azizieh>> which is a Christian area with many schools and churches. In addition to this we still didn't get back the electricity nor water.
But the most painful news is the targeting of the Armenian Orthodox church and school in Damascus with mortar shells (which is in the same yard of our office), this caused the death of six elementary students. I managed to call [our Damascus staff], they told me how they witnessed everything and did their best to help the children and the parents. They were in a very bad mood, I tried as much as I can to calm them down with few nice words.
We're praying and sure that God will give us enough patience and courage to bare all these things.
I'm feeling bad that I'm always giving you sad news.... The happy side is that JMP is there to assist these people.
Nov 12, 2013
|November 13, 2013 12:20 AM|
|By Brooke Anderson|
TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Rola Sleiman never planned on running a church. But when the opportunity came along five years ago, she embraced the chance to serve a small Presbyterian congregation in Lebanon’s second city. “It’s a huge responsibility. As the first woman, I either succeed or it won’t be discussed for years,” Sleiman says at her office, whose door still reads “pastor” (rai) without the feminine ending, shortly before starting her Sunday sermon at the sanctuary next door at the Tripoli Evangelical Church. “As the first female, you need to be successful to pave the way for others.”
Growing up in Tripoli – born to a Presbyterian father from Syria and a Syriac Catholic mother from Lebanon – and attending school with mainly Muslim classmates and friends in the relatively conservative northern city, Sleiman says she knew early on that she wanted to serve God. After high school, she enrolled at the Near East Theology School in Beirut and shortly after graduation began teaching at three churches and two schools in the Zahle area of the Bekaa Valley. From there, she spent two years serving at a church in the village of Minyara in Akkar.
Then in 2008, she was asked to serve as a substitute to the pastor of her church, who had left to the United States for what at first was temporary move. When it became clear that he wasn’t returning – and with the encouragement of Rev. Hadi Ghantous from the Minyara church who was presiding over the Tripoli church at the time of an absent pastor – she applied for the position that she was already working hard at by then. Since that time, she has continued with the sermons and lessons she had already been doing, but perhaps with more passion and determination.
Every Sunday, the 38-year-old pastor arrives at the simple beige church in Tripoli’s Rahbat neighborhood and warmly greets the neighbors and parishioners, who typically number between 20 and 30 and up to 80 on holidays. After shaking the hands of everyone in the pews, she begins her sermon, interlaced with hymns and prayers. On this day, the theme is “thankfulness.”
“It is important to be thankful and think of others’ happiness,” she says as she begins her sermon. “Happiness is a state of mind, to see the good in others.”
Referring to the city’s poverty and sporadic political violence, she says, “If you ask people in Tripoli, they will likely say they’re unhappy.”
But she believes that helping others and giving thanks can help bring about happiness – even in hard times.
Pointing out that winter has almost arrived, she then announces a campaign to gather clothes for Syrian children living in makeshift refugee camps in Lebanon, organized in collaboration with several other churches in the area.
As the service wraps up, the members – around 15 on this Sunday – eagerly greet their pastor as they go downstairs for a quick snack and coffee.
While the membership of the church is small at around 33 families, many of whom have emigrated, and as Sleiman notes are a minority within Tripoli’s already small Christian minority, their dedication appears to run deep. The church’s elders, all five of them men, are among the most enthusiastic to greet Sleiman before and after the service.
The pastor says no one has ever questioned her qualifications based on her gender, and in fact the elders often praise her sermons, which she says she puts much work into every week.
“I’m always prepared,” she says, explaining an equally important key to her success: “love and having a good relationship with everyone.”
She stresses, “I don’t want anyone to judge me for my gender. It’s what God made me. Maybe it would be easier to be a man.”
She notes that she has developed a good relationship with neighbors and makes it a point to patronize local vendors. “When people feel love and respect, they give it back.”
She says, “The reputation of Tripoli is much worse than the reality. I lived and went to school here, where most of my friends were Muslim.”
During the week, she teaches ethics to local elementary school students at her alma mater, the Tripoli Evangelical School, founded by American Presbyterian missionaries in 1887. The nearby Tripoli Evangelical Church was built much later in the 1940s.
While she’s adamant in her belief that love is the best way to build bridges, Sleiman acknowledges that it can be difficult to live and work in a city where there are frequent outbreaks of violence. Some clashes have taken place near the church and school. And evening Bible study classes are usually done at the homes of church members so as to avoid the city center after dark. She credits the faithful parishioners for keeping the church alive during good and difficult times.
“I think the church has challenges since we’re in Tripoli and we’re a minority. It would probably be easier in Europe or the United States to serve where Christians are a majority,” Sleiman says. “Here we have a mission to say to Muslims that we’re their sisters and brothers and no one is better than the other.”
“We need to love everybody and we need to forgive everybody.”