February/March 2016 - Vol. 84
Spotlight on Emmanuel
recent retreat with members of Emmanuel Community from Aleppo and members of People of God from Beirut 

“I wrapped my arms around them and tears of joy filled my eyes!”
Spotlight on Emmanuel
A community sustained by love in the middle of a war torn city
Report by André J. Codouni

The man and his wife, both leaders in the community Emmanuel, had left Aleppo for a couple of weeks to be with their daughter as she delivered a baby far from the insecurity of the city. Now they felt compelled to hasten back because of the love they had for the Lord’s work and for the brothers and sisters they had left behind. As they met up with the others on their return, the man described the overwhelming joy he felt when he hugged and kissed the others; in his words: “As I wrapped my arms around my brothers and sisters, tears of joys filled my eyes”…

Emmanuel, a community made up of families, single people, young and old, currently consists of eighty five members. They give witness in the middle of a life or death struggle within an area close to the center of Aleppo; routinely the members are asked how they fare in their circumstances and they promptly answer in so many words: “Our fight is of a spiritual nature and what we are doing together has tremendous importance in the balance of things”. Another adds: “For us what is at stake is the future and the survival of the Christians in Aleppo, Syria and maybe all of the Middle East”.

This deep conviction goes hand in hand with reaching out to others with excitement and zeal. One hears them repeating “Now, we are seeing the fruits of reaching out to others, more than during times of peace. People are responding and committing themselves to Christ, sometimes instantly”. A couple of months ago they finished giving a life in the Spirit Seminar and they prayed with about thirty new members who want to continue with the group.

war torn
  war torn Aleppo is the largest city in Syria

The situation in the center of the city has increasingly become more difficult to bear. Real threats surround them. ISIS and other groups have encircled the middle of Aleppo threatening to kill all “Infidels”. The uncertainty they live under from one day to the next is naturally unbearable. Food and heating fuel are hard to find. Sometimes the population has to survive without any supply of fresh water for as long as two weeks. People live in constant alert; they relentlessly hear sounds of explosions in the background to ever remind them that things are not normal. There is the danger of snipers and sleep is regularly interrupted and parents worry about their children and their safety. Jobs continue to be extremely scarce. Prices have more than tripled and essential commodities are very hard to get.

great loss of
                                lives and traumatized survivors in
great loss of lives and traumatized survivors in Aleppo

The strategic importance of Aleppo cannot be exaggerated. It is the largest city in Syria and is situated right in the middle of many junctions and strategic areas. The situation there has become exceedingly challenging.

Yet Emmanuel members choose to stay. The Lord formed a people in the midst of what is looking more and more like a city in ruins. They have banded closely together around a common mission; they come together to pray and to be guided together daily by the Lord. Their faithfulness is an inspiration to many and their joy is contagious. They see themselves “as disciples on mission” and they are committed to remain together and in support of each other. They boldly encourage others to join with them.

                                churches and monasteries destroyed
many churches and monasteries in Aleppo have been destroyed in the conflict

Until about four years ago Aleppo had been a peaceful, relatively prosperous city known for its spice rich, flavorful cuisine as well as strong social and family bonds. The Muslim and Christian population had peacefully lived side by side for centuries. Aleppo had been a refuge where many of the Christians persecuted within the region of Asia Minor had previously converged. All too fast, however, everyone was caught by the whirlwind of events. Christians were labeled “infidel” by armed extremist groups; church groups were suspiciously censored if not persecuted.
In the middle of that situation and for the courage with which the members remain in the city, one is compelled to ask them “What are the things that inspire you to stay?” The simple answers one hears repeated with sincerity do reveal a striking unity of vision within the group. A couple tells “We came back for the mission”; another adds: “Here, I find meaning to life”; a young woman adds: “To experience joy and peace even in the middle of the war”; a young man volunteers, “To continue to share daily strength, consolation and support with the others”.

All will tell how mutual care keeps them going and many give witness to the “benefit that comes from God’s guidance”. “We want to follow Christ and bring others to him”, a woman leader says, she has taken as her daily motto Jesus’ call in Matthew 4:19: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”.

Jean gives
                                talk to UCO people
Jean Barbara gives teaching to University Christian Outreach group from Aleppo

Our brothers and sisters are putting their words into action. They are consistently enduring and heroically living the command to be salt, light and leaven. Here are some of the stories that they have shared about which illustrate their extraordinary level of commitment:
  • A young couple was asked by the husband’s employer to move for a few weeks to a new location within Syria where they found safety. There, the man was asked to stay long term, and was promised a pay raise and a secure job; even a year’s stipend and pay for his wife was put on the table. The man however decided not to take the offer even at the risk of completely losing his position. Why? Because he said: “We could not bear to not return to Aleppo. Our greatest fear was to miss out on helping with the mission God has called us to with the others”. This young couple continues to inspire many with their dedication, faith and generosity and they are determined to sell all in order to keep “the pearl of great price”.
  • This wholehearted dedication permeates the whole community; when the group was invited to attend a retreat given by the People of God (Lebanon) in the Syrian coastal city of Tartous on the Mediterranean, not too far from the border with Lebanon, the members had to travel under the threat of danger for about fifteen hours through a dozen or so checkpoints. At the end of that grueling trip, they arrived with cheerful spirits against all odds and when they met up with their Lebanese counterparts, everyone was overcome with admiration by their joyfulness and enthusiasm.
  • The group also perseveres in intercession for their own needs and they are supported by our prayers in the Sword of the Spirit. A senior woman leader excitedly tells about how the group interceded for a crucial access road into the city to open. “Just like in Joshua 6:20”, she said, “on the last and seventh day of our humbling ourselves before God, the access road was open for delivery of essential goods for survival, and the “walls of Jericho came tumbling down”. The exact same set of events happened again a few months later.
  • One young man recounted how after prayer and consultation, he decided not to travel abroad: “I felt the Lord leading me to postpone the opportunity to travel and take a secure position in the United States in order to spend another year of service and outreach with Emmanuel”. That young man is actively serving now in the community and his church.
Emmanuel is steadfast in their faithfulness to the Lord, please continue to pray for them and for those leading and ministering to them.

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

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