Come to me, all you that are weary . . . and I will give you rest. — Matt. 11:28
“I always pray, God, please protect us today.”
Rima Absi is speaking about the rocket fire in Damascus, Syria. She is telling those of us from Mennonite Central Committee who are visiting our partners about the participants and staff of the Al-Safina community for people with disabilities who have to navigate the shelling each day.
Al-Safina was founded 22 years ago in the old city of Damascus. A house provides a home for eight women and men with disabilities. And workshops in the morning and afternoon provide work and activity for 60 additional people with disabilities each day. MCC has been a partner with Al-Safina since it began.
The next morning, we visit His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem of the Syrian Orthodox Church. His Holiness tells us that the best way MCC can show its support is to come and be with people in their struggle during the war here in Syria, as we have done with this trip.
The Patriarch shares his vision for Christians and Muslims living in peace after the war. Living together again as sisters and brothers as they have done for centuries.
Later in the day, we visit with two dozen young people who are staff and volunteers for the Charity Society for Sustainable Development. CSSD is responding to the needs of displaced families and other vulnerable people.
Many of these young people were once displaced from their homes themselves.
“We could be in their place,” one young adult tells us, “And we can feel the agony and suffering of the people.”
“One day our children will ask us what we did when we saw people in need,” says another.
“The needs are great and we have so few resources,” responds another young adult. These volunteers note that their work is sometimes dangerous and they find themselves in risky circumstances.
They dream of one day doing development work, not just providing relief. They want to focus on making a better life for children and bringing out the gifts of young people.
As I talk with these young adults and see their enthusiasm, but also some apprehension, I remember Rima’s words the day before about the Al-Safina staff: “We wake up every day and we are tired. People are dying around us, even children.”
And then Rima says, “But we are also a symbol of life and we have people coming here each day and we will not stop because of the war.”
We cannot stop because of the war. None of us. God has promised to sustain us.
J Ron Byler is executive director of Mennonite Central Committee U.S. He blogs at Thinking Out Loud.