August/September 2016 - Vol. 87

bombing in Christian section
                  of Aleppo - late Juy 2016
bombing raid in Christian section of Aleppo, Syria
The Lord is Our Refuge and Shelter: An Update on “Emmanuel” in Aleppo
“Every day we are seeing the miracles of God!”
24 July 2016

Report by André J. Codouni

 The woman with vivid eyes and with an enthusiasm that cannot but reveal deep courage and
confidence, exclaimed: “Every day we are seeing the miracles of God”. Her husband, a
successful business man and a community leader with a big shepherd’s heart nodded his head in

Stories of God's protection
They both went on to tell story after story of God’s protection to the members of Emmanuel and in their family: On three instances of bombing and despite the strong deflagrations around them, their two sons were completely covered with shattered glass and they had come out unharmed. Even the well-made fabric of a polo shirt had stopped the minute shrapnel that would have killed or permanently maimed in an instant.

Other members had experienced protection, here are a few examples.
  • An explosion happens nearby and the shrapnel goes to nest in one member’s cell phone attached to his belt, saving him from a near fatal injury.
  • Members sitting outside were surprised by a missile shell that caused heavy destruction and debris nearby. They came out unharmed thanking God for being saved.
  • A father having to “have a talk” with his young unhappy son takes him to a room next door. They both escape when the explosion goes off in the room they just left.
  • Four o’clock one morning a hand grenade is thrown near the young man who was away from home. The grenade lands burning like a hot coal near his feet, then extinguishes itself. He, at that moment, had felt completely immobilized. The hand grenade did not explode. A hundred miles away his mother is awakened at that very moment and sees him as in a dream and starts praying for him. She calls him a couple of hours later. He was fully surprised that she was calling to specifically ask if he was okay wondering how she knew. He told her then what had happened and that he was safe.
And on and on…

Only two days before I met my two friends I had run into another young community member. A
gifted and bright university student, his story completely amazed me. His eyes glistening, he
said: "I was crossing the street when something in me froze my step, so I stopped, at that
moment the bullet whizzed past my face. I was saved!" He went on to tell how he even felt the
heat of the bullet speeding down to the ground in front of his eyes. Now he wants to dedicate his
whole life to God.

The Lord is our refuge and shelter
As I was hearing these stories I kept recalling what I learned as a child about each of us
having a guardian angel and of the beautiful words of the Psalmist telling of the promise of
God's protection for those who seek His shelter.

Psalm 91

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, who abides in the shadow of the Almighty,
2 will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust."
. 3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence;
4 he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day,

nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand; but it will not come near you.

Going back to my two friends and concerning the situation in Aleppo in general, I inquire:
  • It seems like necessary material things are being provided - at least for the community members we are in contact with. During the frequent power outages, they have secured the extra services of a local neighborhood “generator” for at least turning on the refrigerator and the lights in their homes.
  • The local churches are providing financial and material help. One church is giving families a stipend that increases with the number of children in each home.
  • Melkite Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart tirelessly works for his people’s survival and encourages them to stay at any cost in war torn Aleppo. He is a well-known and frequent traveler to fund raise in the USA and backs his words into action in the greatest expressions of charitable giving, personal courage, generosity and sacrifice. He is making a big difference even beyond his own flock and for the members of Emmanuel.
  • Hospital clinics are working and many of them are providing free services. Within the community, members help each other freely and generously - for medical help, and others types of care, and especially for securing basic supplies for daily survival.
  • Water, electricity and gasoline are hard to come by and add to the increasing cost of living. The Syrian government has dug water wells some 18 months ago and then haul water in cisterns to homes.
  • Some churches are providing meals - similar to soup kitchens, and they are serving homemade cooking that beneficiaries describe as “very fine and nutritious to eat”. Many also express gratitude for rations provided by international aid organizations.
Other related afflictions and dangers
It was heart wrenching to hear that our brothers and sisters are at their ends’ wit concerning the
violence and danger that they are from time to time subjected to both day and night. Any kind of sudden loud noises, like the sound of  fireworks or doors slamming,  make people jump with great alarm. Parents are especially fearful for their young kids.

A lot of people in the city are suffering from mental health problems. Caring for people who want to join the community and grow closer to God can be challenging and difficult because of the stress and temptations they face.

The other problem that is clearly increasing is the spreading of prostitution caused by the poverty
that most people are under. It is one thing to receive rations and food packages and quite another
to undergo the humility of “begging” or paying for higher priced items. Note: there is a lot of
property (including cars paid by someone’s life savings) that have gone up in smoke in one
instant. How do you replace your home or apartment that has collapsed in a rubble? It is totally destroyed and beyond repair.

Daily challenges for young and old
It is a very difficult thing to discern and decide how to exercise faith and go about your day believing in God’s protection on the one hand, and on the other, not to be careless and negligent.
Leaving the city out of fear and despair is a daily temptation and is very challenging for people who want to maintain community life together, such as Emmanuel community. Let us continue to pray for them for strengthening in great faith, hope, and courage in this difficult time.
Thank you all for your support!

André J. Codouni is a member of the People of God community in Beirut, Lebanon.

photo source above: Vatican Radio News

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