On December 12, Chip Hardwick, Cynthia Hessemer, and Nina Strnad spoke with Pastor Jacoub about his Christmas season in Fairouzeh, Syria. Our recap:
- A Muslim majority country, Syria’s department of education has declared trimester final exams on Christmas Eve, wreaking havoc with the worship schedule as well as participation by all the children who sing and produce Christmas service events. There is not a uniform ecumenical calendar, so Christmas falls on different days than the 25th for various Christian traditions.
- Santa comes to their Church! When we said that would be unusual in the US, Jacoub explained: “We purposely put making children happy and palpably material aspects of the holiday ‘front and center’ because the priority is to bring joy, and assuage the suffering and losses from war in our village.”
- There are almost 250 refugee children going to their Sunday School. They have two pageants and parties (too many children to accommodate all at once, with their parents too). The church gives every child a gift from Jesus. (The gifts were paid for with funds from American friends!)
- Last year Jacoub started an anonymous gift exchange with 15 families from his church, as a sign of sharing from one’s heart. It was also a chance for fellowship as these families took the time to get together. It was well received and Jacoub would like to do it again, if time and resources allow for it.
- The religious meaning of Christmas more readily predominates for Fairouzeh Christians than, perhaps for us in the US. While we are surrounded by commercialism messages, a plethora of catalogues, and lists of gifts to buy, they simply don’t have the resources to head that direction. Jacoub says they are all inside the church praying while the pain outside goes unaddressed. It’s not just financial: He wished he could pay a Christmas visit to prisoners or orphans, but such outreach needs more programming behind it than being a “one off.” He doesn’t “have the needed programs in his pocket” and works hard to divert this lack of resources from being an entrenched attitude.
At the end of the conversation, Jacoub asked that we pray for resolutions to the conflicts in Syria, especially in Idlib, south of Aleppo, and in the Kurdish north, as well as for Syria as a whole. He also asked for prayers regarding the challenges of running a Sunday school for 250 children. He is grateful that his wife Grace, who runs the Sunday school, now has two women from their church assisting in the program and receiving training themselves. Please lift Jacoub and Grace in prayer as they minister to the people in Fairouzeh.