Hope for Syria


Keeping hope alive in Syria

BLUFFTON, Ohio—When she last left Syria about two years ago, the hardest part for Sarah Adams was not knowing what the future held for a country already at civil war.

But the people she had met during her visits as a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) worker were hopeful, and they gave that hope to her, Adams said at Bluffton University’s weekly chapel service Nov. 21.

And despite the continuing conflict, she is keeping that faith, bolstered by stories of:

  • A church-run school, which Adams called “a center of hope,” that the church has refused to close in spite of large-scale destruction in the area and an enrollment drop from roughly 1,600 to 300 students.
  • A Christian church bishop in the city of Homs who has refused to “give up on his community,” she pointed out, in the face of a destroyed church, kidnapped and killed parishioners, destruction of his home and a recent attack on the village where he has been staying. “I don’t know how he did it,” she said.
  • Syrian-born students who, after receiving training in the United States, have returned to their country to undertake restorative justice and other, similar projects.
  • Help offered to Christians and Muslims by members of other faiths.
  • The wife of a priest who has committed herself to serving refugees. Coming across two displaced, wandering women, for example, she washed and cut their hair, Adams said.

“We can do small acts that impact people’s lives in big ways,” noted the 15-year MCC worker, who traveled into Syria from her base in Beirut, Lebanon, during her last four years with the organization.

One bishop told Adams that when she visited, “we feel like we’re still alive,” she said, adding that “I feel this is an important role of the global church.”

The Christian church in Syria is “a beautiful place to see the faith in action,” she maintained. But it’s in a difficult position now, in the midst of a conflict that is hard to understand, multilayered and has changed since its beginning in 2011, she explained.

When two bishops from the northwestern city of Aleppo were kidnapped, the church community felt like it was being targeted, Adams said. However, she continued, while that kind of incident generates fear, it also serves to increase faith in some ways—and to bring people, even from different faiths, closer together.

Among the biggest impacts of the fighting and destruction has been individuals’ loss of dignity, she said. Many have had to leave their homes and are ashamed to ask for support—with food and medicine, for example—that they need. They and other Syrians have seen “everything taken away in an instant,” she reminded her listeners.

One religious leader made the enormity of the situation easier to understand, however, when he said Syrians are a proud, educated people who have “stumbled (and) just need a hand now,” Adams said.

They have also received a dose of optimism from joint U.S.-Russian efforts to rid the country of chemical weapons, she added after the chapel service. “People are hopeful that dialogue is still possible,” she said.

Adams, from New Albany, Ohio, also spoke in classes during two days on the Bluffton campus. A graduate of Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, she served with MCC not only in the Middle East, but also in Africa and Asia, including two years of overseeing work in Afghanistan from her base in India. Her four-year service assignment as MCC representative for Lebanon and Syria ended in October.