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March 30th is the suggested date for the congregational offering. Additional stories, sermons, liturgies, music,
and other resources are available at www.ucc.org/oghs/resources.
It’s the beginning of a 4th year of war in Syria. The reports seem hopeless. Since the beginning of the conflict, around 1.2 million houses have been damaged, with 400,000 totally destroyed, contributing to the displacement of an estimated 6.5 million people inside Syria and 2.5 million people to other countries. Razek Syriani is among those who have left the country. He formerly served as the ecumenical and relief coordinator for the Iraqi refugees in Syria at the Orthodox Archiocese of Aleppo. Following the kidnapping of Archbishop Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim from Turkish borders in April, Razek Syriani became fearful for his own two young sons and family.
Those still within Syria are seriously affected by violence and an economic collapse of the country. People struggle to live with high inflation, immensely inflated prices, and devaluation of the monetary system. Many people who have fled the country without resources now reside in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, and other surrounding countries. Malnutrition, health concerns including the re-emergence of polio, lack of educational resources plague millions. NBC News recently highlighted the situation of Syrian refugee children following reports from the United Nations (OCHA) and UNICEF. The report notes that children have been killed, arrested, abducted, tortured, mutilated, sexually abused, recruited into fighting and used as human shields. Schools and hospitals have been attacked and used for other purposes. Humanitarian access has been blocked and impeded, deepening the suffering of children and civilians.
As I prepare this story, feelings of the depth of hopelessness loom. Like the Psalmist, I find myself crying out “How long, O God?” And yet, the refrain that I also find myself humming is that of pop music star, Rhianna’s 2011 hit, “We found love in a hopeless place.” The refrain in her song is repeated over and over again until it becomes part of the listener. Through One Great Hour of Sharing, I know that you and I are part of this refrain.
Where there is love – there is hope. Through OGHS we are part of loving relationships that have made life possible for displaced peoples within and as refugees from Syria. You and I are on the ground with the International Orthodox Christian Charities in refugee camps in Lebanon, providing health kits and vaccinating children against polio in the midst of the current outbreak. Love is present as young mothers, now orphans themselves, learn how to care for their own infant children-a role previously taught by their mothers and grandmothers. Love is present in Jordan as people have opened their homes and communities to refugees, straining their own limited resources. Through OGHS, we experience love by joining in the building of additional health facilities, water conservation programs, and sanitation infrastructure to accommodate the influx of millions of new people into these already-overcrowded communities. The Orthodox Initiative in Amman, Jordan reports that almost 40% of the Syrian refugees are school-aged children. “They have been uprooted in the middle of their education. If these students are left to idle we will be responsible for creating a lost generation of children.” Through OGHS, we assist this ministry in building schools and providing educational resources. Last week, love was found in a hopeless place within Syria itself as funds went to the Fellowship of Evangelical Churches of the Middle East to enable them to distribute food items and rent subsidies to displaced women, children and the elderly, restoring dignity of life for 500 Syrian families.
We have found love in a hopeless place. It is the love of Jesus Christ. It is the love that loves all and seeks the abundance of life for all God’s children. Razek Syriani has experienced this love of Christ through his people. He contends that the Syrian people must decide their own future without outside imposed agenda or intervention. “The use of force and violence,” he reflects, “do not necessarily lead to successful change that meets the aspiration of peoples’ lives.” We, from outside Syria, can offer the support that enables people to make these changes that meet their aspirations. Know that as you participate in One Great Hour of Sharing, you experience love and you make it possible over and over again for people to realize their aspirations.
OGHS is one of the All-Church Offerings of the United Church of Christ. Your congregation can be 5 for 5 by participating in the One Great Hour of Sharing, Strengthen the Church, Neighbors in Need, and Christmas Fund offerings and through generous support of Our Church’s Wider Mission (OCWM).
For more information on Syria, visit: the Middle East and Europe Office on the Global Ministries website.
Your place of employment may offer the opportunity for matching grants. Multiply your gift to One Great Hour of Sharing. Check out this list.
The OGHS Endowment is here. Provide long-term stability for the UCC’s systematic and relational participation in disaster recovery, sustainable development and refugee relief. Contact Phyllis Richards, firstname.lastname@example.org, in the Wider Church Ministries, OGHS office to get involved.
Sharing in God’s Love,
Rev. Dr. Mary Schaller Blaufuss
UCC Global Sharing of Resources Team Leader