On Wednesday night I had the opportunity to share about our trip with children at my friend's church. Melissa had told them about our trip and they prayed for us while we were gone. I find that very touching especially when I remember that I hadn't planned to tell Melissa about our trip until perhaps after the fact. Maybe it's just me, but I find it takes more explanation when you say, "Oh, by the way, we're going to Syria next week" than if we decided to visit the beach or mountains or even Florida. Understandable.Saydnaya Monastery in the mountains
So, anyway, I found it incredibly sweet that she would pray for us while we were those 6,000+ miles from home and have her church kids pray for us as well. Wow.
I had a great time talking with the dozen or so children! They ranged in age from 6-11, I think. Plus there were perhaps 6 to 8 adults in the room. Everyone was very attentive and asked great questions. I was excited I had the privilege of sharing with them.
I told them we had traveled to Chicago and then taken a huge plane to Turkey before leaving for Damascus. Thankfully some of them were familiar with Damascus because of the connection to the Bible. One girl told how Saul was converted by Jesus on the way to Damascus. Later the apostle Paul became one of the greatest missionaries. This church in Old Damascus is dedicated to his story told in the book of Acts and the Pauline epistles.
Here is a view from inside Bab Kissan. It has scenes from the life of Paul. Andrew and I had a good time looking at the pictures while remembering the words from Acts. We did this our first day.
We told the group some cultural things about Syria in particular how the greetings were different from how we do things in the States. I shared how young men would rarely shake my hand, preferring instead to place their hands on their hearts, nod their heads and greet me with some Arabic words of peace. They seemed interested when I told them how men would greet men with hugs and kisses and even walk arm in arm down the streets. My theory on that is the streets are too crowded so they don't want to lose their friends in the crowd!
Talking about Syria, one cannot leave out the influence of Islam. I dedicated much of my discussion to this belief system by comparing the similarities and differences to our own Christian beliefs. We shared pictures of mosques including the courtyard at the Umayyad.
I told what I knew concerning salat, the prayer/worship time, performed five times per day by devout Muslims. And I told how I even heard the azan (call to prayer) over the mall's loudspeaker the Sunday we were there.
Additionally I shared what Muslims believed about Jesus (Isa al-Massieh) and contrasted it with Jewish and Christian beliefs. Maybe some were surprised at how Muslims thought of Christ. Before I met Samer, I never knew Jesus was a virgin-born prophet in Islam or even considered by them as the Messiah for the children of Israel. I decided this audience would be told some basics of Islam so they would not be as ignorant as I!
I taught them insh'allah, alhamdulilah and ma'al salemeh. And also explained that Allah is simply the Arabic word for God used by both Christians and Muslims. Allah is in both the Arabic Bible and Quran. (By contrast Jesus' name is different. Isa or Yeshua maybe...I can't recall the latter. Yeshua looks more like the Hebrew name for Jesus, but I understand the Arabs DO have different names for Jesus depending on if you are Muslim or Christian.)
I shared how eating pork was unclean for Muslims and also how they prefer NOT having dogs as pets. Sooooo unlike most Americans we know for sure!
The kids seemed to especially enjoy photos of the Arabs we met, most especially the women and children.
I gave each of them a name of one Arab we met. I challenged them to pray each day for "their" Arab reminding them that we are to lay up treasure in heaven not on earth. My goal was to share some things about Muslims so that these young people would have tender and more understanding hearts towards these individuals often negatively portrayed in our media.
A lot of the girls were interested in praying for the gals we met at the market (Maha and Dania above) and also Rana's cute children (also shown above.)
The mountains near Damascus are so different from the ones we have here in North Carolina. For starters, ours have trees! I shared some of these photos with them so they could appreciate the beauty of another country. Here are two from Krac des Chevaliers, the old Crusader castle.
I'm not sure if the adults were surprised when I mentioned that in the minds of many Arabs much of the Middle Eastern conflicts - including the Iraq War - were just extensions of the Crusades which happened centuries ago. I know I was surprised when I learned this a while back! I often think I have a fairly good memory, but Crusader days ... um, no. So it was interesting to learn this fascinating thing!
So I shared some things about our trip. All in all, I think I was very positive and truthfully was able to share how wonderfully kind and hospitable the people were in Damascus! And, Lord willing, the group now knows some things about Muslims and Islam so they can go forward in understanding and love instead of ignorance and fear.
I was very thankful for the privilege of speaking with such a wonderful group of young people and adults! Andrew went with me and helped especially with sharing the pictures. Also he volunteered to show Nolan how the Syrian men greet each other, but Nolan declined. ;-)
Pictures from Damascus, Syria