At New Years Day we organized the first prayer in the old church of Bqerzala. Unfortunately our invitation did not reach as much people as planned. In the end there were the four of us, Friedrich and four boys from the village. The atmosphere was very nice and the acoustic of the church helped a lot to make the prayer beautiful.
During the next days we continued inviting people to the prayers which should become regularly. We are trying to integrate the local people as much as possible. We practiced some Taize Songs and the Our Father in Arabic. The Bible reading is read in Arabic by locals who participate in the prayer. The rest is read in French. We are looking forward to organize this prayer regularly and we are very grateful for the opportunity to use this unique church.
These last days we have met representatives of the different Christian Churches of the region. On Thursday 29th we went to the seat of one of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchs of Antioquia, the Metropolitan Basilios of Akkar. He had just came back from Syria, where he goes often. He welcomed us in his office and we talked about our countries, how he sees the situation in Syria and the Lebanese and European societies. He has already been to Taizé and was visited by two brothers this December. When we asked to the Metropolitan what could be told to the young people gathered in Riga, he said that “now more than never, the young people in Europe have to live the message of the Gospel and to keep the flame of Jesus Christ burning in their hearts”. We found in him an authentic man of faith, who says what he thinks and enjoys sharing his opinions with others. We also spent some time with him today, after joining the Greek orthodox community for their liturgy.
As we are interested in meeting young people from the Churches, Metropolitan Basilios recommended us to talk to Abuna (Father) Nectarius, the Greek orthodox priest responsible for the youth. On Friday 30th we visited him in his house, where we shared a tea with his wife and two of their three sons, 16 and 11 years old. We had a pleasant talk and we liked very much that Serge, the teenager of the family, shared with us his vision of the youth from here. We were especially happy about a project where he participated making Syrian and Lebanese children play and do some activities together. He seemed very aware of what surrounds him. We agreed with Abuna Nectarius that we will meet three groups of young orthodox in different villages around and do an activity for the children of the Church.
We also had contact with the Baptist Protestant Church yesterday, when a friend from Bqerzla invited us to the prayer they have in Miniara every Wednesday. We were very well welcomed by that small community –it was around 12 of us in the prayer. Most of them spoke English and/or French, so they translated some things of the prayer for us. Afterwards we were all invited to drink tea in the pastor’s house, where we could have a fluent conversation about their Church and our experiences here. Unfortunately they don’t have any group of young people, but we hope to keep in touch with them.
The meeting with Syrian children is still fulfilling in a beautiful way some hours of almost all our days. Beautiful moments, but very tiring, thought!
Last week -the last week of vacations of the children- we ran after a ball in a football game, we did yoga sessions, we played Uno and danced in the Tal Aabbas camp; we played and sung in the noisy, chaotic and alive playing time in the Peace Center, on Friday afternoon.
And we decided to finish the year with a big, beautiful challenge –a new year party for all the Syrian refugee families of Bqerzala. During the day, the distribution of invitations, cooking, cleaning the house, preparing everything… At 6 p.m., the welcome of about fifty people, with whom we could not share a common language. Between some trials to seat with the mothers and fathers, to speak as we could and share tea and snacks, between playing with the kids, and a shy sharing of some music from our countries, this party happened, somehow. And we finished 2016 with the feeling of having lived a 1h30 beautiful odyssey. We did our best, but still we feared that something could have failed in our welcome, to such a big number of people, and form such a different culture. But the invitations and welcoming smiles we received in the following days proved that people were happy touched by our good will.
School started yesterday. We try to discover now – both in Bqerzla and Tal Aabbas – how to help the children with the homework, mainly with French learning. A new challenge, which we just started to discover…
The visits to the Syrian refugee families in Bqerzla and Tal Aabbas are another meaningful part of our experience, both in receiving and sharing with them the little we can. Small tents, practically built to accommodate at times more than 10 people, with improvised facilities which are somehow meant to create a place of dignity and comfort, a home. Beyond simplicity and poverty, there is a warmth and a hospitality which goes further than our expectation and we always found ourselves overwhelmed by their kindness, generosity and joy.
Even though with a little broken Arabic vocabulary, we end up making contacts, getting to know each other, laughing and having a good time. It seems so natural to share time with them, surrendered by many curious eyes and beautiful children smiles. Despite the delicious tea tradition (tashy chai- sweet black tea) or coffee, the meals and little snacks they share with us, we talk, play with the children or sing.
It feels that the time has a different dimension here and we are still learning the importance of the presence in its simplest sense, in giving ourselves to the moment, without trying to follow the schedule and constantly looking at our watch. And even if we start shy, the visits are very precious moments to us, bringing us closer to the beauty of humans and the message of the gospel. We are still asking ourselves, what do we give to them and what does it mean to be there?!