Twelve international peacemakers from around the world are visiting congregations, presbyteries and colleges of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Sept. 19-Oct. 12.
They are sharing their stories about church-based ministries in their countries that seek peace justice and pursue peace in the name of Jesus Christ. This year’s international peacemakers come from Colombia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Jamaica, Madagascar, Malawi, Mexico, Palestine, the Philippines, Russia, South Sudan and Syria.
Rev. Salam Hanna severs as pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Latakia in Syria and as Director of the Relief & Rehabilitation Program for the National Evangelical Synod of Syria & Lebanon (NESSL). Hanna holds a theology degree from the Near East School of Theology in Beirut, Lebanon, and is a member of the Christian Education Committee of the Fellowship of Evangelical Churches in the Middle East, and of the Syrian Youth Committee at (NESSL.)
What is the most important situation in your country that you will be addressing?
The violence in our country, the humanitarian crisis, and the Christian situation—we know that many of our sisters and brothers are leaving especially in the critical, more dangerous areas.
How are faith communities trying to address the situation?
We are trying to help people survive on various levels. We are trying to strengthen our churches, encouraging Christians to continue their witness, even at the time of displacement. We are trying the help Muslims who are also threatened by ISIL (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).
What peacemaking lessons from your situation are you trying to communicate to U.S. Presbyterians?
We are trying to tell you, your country that violence only leads to more violence, and tragedy— especially for the most vulnerable. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is now a threat to the entire region. The ideological message of an Islamic State, led by a Caliphate, and ruled by Sharia Law is an attractive, yet seductive, dangerous message to frustrated extremists—who primarily make their living as fighters.
What is the primary message you want to communicate to U.S. Presbyterians about your country?
Our country longs to make peace through peaceful means. These are critical times for us, with ISIL there is no negotiation, no peace talks, or debates.
But I’m talking about are the rest us— and our struggles. The violence of this war has destroyed our infrastructure. People are leaving for lack of any economic opportunity— except fighting. Often we go without electricity for more than 10-days.
Increasingly it is difficult to cross the border into Lebanon— Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Turkey are already closed. We are becoming like North Korea (note: morbid laughter). There are more than 3 million refugees in Lebanon— half of those are from Syria.
Ultimately we hope this human crisis will be solved through peaceful means, among all moderate people. So far we have not seen any Muslim movement towards reformation, in which they do critical theological reflection, and read their text in new ways.
There are a few individuals doing this— we encourage people to reach out to them when, and where, they can.
Rev. Salam Hanna will be visiting the presbyteries of Northwest Coast, Cincinnati, Homestead and Lake Erie.
Paul Seebeck is communications strategist for Evangelism and Church Growth ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency and a frequent contributor to Presbyterian News Service.