Update on “Emmanuel” in Aleppo.
– by Andre J Codouni
In March and April 2018, the prayerful rituals of the Lenten season, holy week and Easter definitely helped Aleppo’s Christians to start remembering what “normal” was like before their world was turned upside down during the six years of war.
Yet, deep down in their hearts people know and feel, that nothing can ever be the same. The last years have impacted everyone and everything. The children of the early years of the conflict, now are teens, and those who were teens have now matured (probably too early) and have gone on to face life self-reliantly.
Our brothers and sisters in Emmanuel from their part have been busy sharing the message of repentance and abundant new life to all who would hear, proclaiming that salvation comes only through Christ’s death and resurrection. As a result, many have heard the proclamation of the good news and turned their lives around in response. Yet, Emmanuel does not stop there. The community is seriously working on raising mature men and women who are trained to serve in Christ’s kingdom.
Below are a few testimonies shared with me by brothers and sisters of Emmanuel over this Easter season, I hope you are inspired by them as I was.
“Leave everything and come follow me”.
A young teen who came to Emmanuel’s meetings had a hard time at first hearing the call “Leave everything and come follow me”. For her, it meant changing how she imagined living out her youth in a fulfilled manner and becoming an adult.
Here is how she speaks about her experience. “With time, and with the help of the teachings I heard in Emmanuel, I understood that Christ is calling me and He will make sure that I live my life abundantly as promised in the gospel of St John”. She goes on to explain how she clearly perceived that her main role in her Christian journey was to make sure that she preserves and protects this “newborn” spiritual life growing in her. “I needed the support of those teachings and the help of my friends in order to be able to avoid the temptations that eventually, would undermine that life”.
“The community has become a family to me”
A member in Emmanuel who is in the process of preparing for marriage beams with excitement saying: “The community has become a family to us (meaning the young people)”. “With awesome love they have taught us so much. The leaders and the brothers and sisters embraced me and loved me as I was, and I have learned how to live as a radical disciple of Christ”.
Then goes on: “I have grown so much. I have taken on many good habits and given up old ones that usually led me to sin. Prayer, sacrificing for God, fasting, come easier to me now. A new approach to how I live my life helps my faith to grow”.
“As I prepare for our wedding day, I hope to bring into this new union all that I have learned!”
Enjoying Christian fellowship with members of other communities
A young student speaks of the relationships she has developed over the years not only within the community but also with members of the People of God community centered in neighboring Beirut, Lebanon. “With their help I have matured, I have grown in appreciation that as a young teen, I could trust Christ to lead me in the way of discipleship…
Those older and more experienced than me, helped me in a way I would not have been able to by myself. Since joining with others I have accepted to follow Christ, knowing that it would fulfill my life, even as a youth”. With a radiant smile she continues: “This was so liberating. I was free to see more clearly and have experienced fulfillment more than ever. After I tasted the sweetness of the Lord, many material things no longer mean the same to me.”
And, sounding sensible beyond her years: “We are His ambassadors, we proclaim His good news. We are leaven for our city, Aleppo. I personally feel responsible to tell everyone around me about God and His love. I usually start by telling others about the change that has occurred in my life and I also witness by the way I act and by example everywhere I go. I thank God and all those who have helped me become an active member within Emmanuel”.
“I kept hearing that from my sorrows, God was going to bring out joy!”
Another example of this Easter hope is lived out by a sister who is very active in reaching out socially through the NGO she works under. “I had a complete turnaround in my life, following a major personal tragedy, which left me a widow. God sovereignly visited me as I gave my life to Him”.
With resolute courage she continues: “I learned how to face life on my own without my late husband and how to take care of my family. I kept hearing that from my sorrows, God was going to bring out joy.”
She goes on: “Like the blind man of Jericho, my eyes were opened and I began to see. That spiritual light enabled me to bring solace to others. I started visiting the needy to find out from them what their needs are, and I found great fulfillment in that.”
“Through giving I was enriched; As I grew in my serving others, I was able to see beyond their immediate needs and started providing to them what was principally needed in terms of moral and psychological support.”
She explains that the NGO she worked for eventually sent her to nearby Lebanon for further training where, she says: “I learned from counseling professionals to understand the psychological aspects involved in my work helping others. I received the training and the tools I needed. I loved to get to know and to understand better how I can help”.
“As I brought solace to others, God’s hand carried me through the challenges of handling my responsibilities of taking care of my own family and the requirements of my work. I consider this a great delight and a privilege”.
This Easter, may we all experience the full and abundant blessings of the season, as our brothers and sisters in Emmanuel are doing despite the great challenges they encounter every day. “Just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance, …see that you abound in this gracious work”. (NAB 2 Corinthians 8:7); And may we all continue to support Emmanuel prayerfully.
Andre J Codouni is a member of the People of God Community in Beirut, Lebanon. Photo from the original article published on Facebook the 7th of May of 2018.