Christians attending a one-day festival in an area of Syria known as The Valley of Christians (Wadi al-Nasara) have been urged to be servants to all and agents of reconciliation.
Speaking at the event, broadcast by Christian TV network SAT-7, local Archbishop Iliya Tohme told hundreds gathered for The King’s Festival that they are called to be lights to all in their society:
“Jesus says we’re the light of the world. Without light there is no life on earth; light is the source of life for creation.”
Rather than serve or promote themselves, he said, their calling is to be servants to others:
“Light cannot be seen, but it makes things visible. That’s why Jesus said we are the light of the world because we don’t serve ourselves but others. If we want to be seen, we are not the light. Our light comes from Jesus [who] said we are salt to the world.”
Since the start of the Syrian civil war, the Valley of Christians – close to the north Lebanese border – has received some 200,000 refugee families from other parts of Syria. As Greek Orthodox bishop of the valley, Tohme has worked to mobilise the local community in accepting and serving them.
Evangelical pastor Nizar Shaheen, whose organisation, Light for all Nations, organised the festival with the valley’s local churches, challenged everyone attending to model a unique quality of love.
“Jesus says, ‘By this all will know that you are my disciples: if you have love for one another’. What makes Christians unique is love.”
Pastor Shaheen quoted 1 John 3:1 and explained that God’s love is “eternal, experienced, and sacrificial”.
He said, “This kind of love doesn’t change with circumstances. Love heals hatred and heals broken societies…. We are joined in our love for this place by love for our King Jesus at whose name every knee shall bow.”
Shaheen addressed feelings of bitterness or revenge by reminding his hearers of how Jesus’ disciples James and John discovered the true nature of God’s love when they asked Jesus to command fire to consume the Samaritans who had refused them entry to their village. Jesus told them, “The Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”
The message of servanthood was echoed by the testimony of Egyptian relief worker Aida Samir. Samir told how God spoke to her and called her to leave her secure life in Egypt and found the Take Heart Mission that has been serving Syria since 2016.
“My message today is that we cannot allow for one member of the Body of Christ to suffer while the rest are in luxury. I have been honoured to serve in Syria,” she said. “Rest assured that the people of God everywhere care about the Syrian people.”
Messages of challenge and encouragement at the festival were complemented by highly professional music. Some came from the 120-strong choir and orchestra of Our Lady of the Holy Valley Choir.
Then, as night fell, internationally known Jordanian hymn singer Zyad Shehada and his band led the crowd in joyful, Arabic-style worship.
SAT-7 Chief Executive Rita El-Mounayer said, “We are grateful for the partnerships we have with Christians and media ministries in many parts of the Middle East. These enable us to broadcast such valuable and inspirational events to millions in countries like Syria. There and elsewhere we want to support and equip the Christian community in bringing the true peace that the region urgently needs.”