Recently, my wife and I went on a date to a local restaurant with a Mediterranean flavor. We chose this place because the theme was all Middle Eastern from the name, to the decor, to the menu, even to the wait staff’s dress. We weren’t disappointed.
Upon entering they asked us, “Is this your first time?” We said, “Yes.” Then they offered a traditional height booth with bench seats or a curtained booth with benches much closer to the floor with embroidered cushions. The curtains were draped to look like the entrance of a tent. The table was a large, circular brass platter. It was all very cool.
When our waitress came she knelt and offered to pour warm, scented water over our hands to wash before eating. We said, “Sure!” It seemed like part of the evening and we wanted to experience the full meal deal. We ordered the sambusa appetizers, lentil soup, mango juice, roasted lamb, rice, salad, bread, and Turkish coffee and Arabic tea with a pastry and ice cream for dessert. We had a great time enjoying ourselves.
About halfway through our meal our waitress came to check on us and I decided to greet her with a traditional Arabic greeting, “As-salaam alaikum.” Literally it means “peace to you” but generally is a polite hello. She asked me to repeat myself and I thought I’d messed it up. So I said again, “As-salaam alaikum.” She did not offer the expected response but declined and said instead, “I am a Christian.” Many Arabic-speaking Christians use the standard greeting but she didn’t. Here’s how the rest of the conversation went back and forth between us. We started, then she answers, and so on.
“Where are you from?”
“Syria.”
“Wow, Syria?”
“Yes, we have a beautiful country. We had a beautiful country.”
“We’re sorry.”
“When did you come to the States?”
“About three years ago, but I’ve been working here for a little over a year.”
“Do you still have family in Syria?”
“Yes, extended family. I came here with my mother and brothers.”
“What is the name of your village?”
“Why, do you know something about Syria?”
“Not really, I just think your village is special to you and I’d like to hear its name.”
[She told me the name but I can't remember.]
“It’s a Christian village in the western part of Syria. They are okay.”
“We’re glad to hear that.”
“Have you ever been to the Middle East–Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria?”
“No, we never have but we were Christian missionaries in Kenya in a Muslim village for over ten years.”
At that point she excused herself to take care of some other customers and we returned to finish our delicious dinner. After dinner, we ordered dessert.
When she brought it we asked her, “Is there anything we can pray for you about?” She hesitated, shook her head “Yes” but then choked up. She put a finger on her upper lip to stifle a tear and couldn’t continue talking. As she turned to go she said simply, “Everything.” Of course, everything in her world (and ours) needs prayer. But her ‘everything’ is the future of her country, the safety of her extended family, her village’s security, and the changing world attitude toward Syrians generally.

In the current discussions about refugee policy (which refugees are safe and which are not), I found it easy to have an opinion because I did not personally know a single Syrian, Christians or Muslim. But when policy becomes personal it changes my thinking and I choose my words more carefully. Most importantly, I begin praying.
When we got in the car on the way home, we prayed aloud for this lady. Our waitress is one specific person out of the tens of thousands who have fled the Syrian civil war that began four and a half years ago. But we met her. She served us. Her story touched us. And we prayed. I hope you pause and pray now too.

One Thought on “Pray for the Syrian People

  1. Sheri Bashor on November 26, 2015 at 6:21 am said:

    I am praying! Thank you so much for this post! Humanizing the Syrian people, praying for them, loving them, and not giving way to fear, is what we are called to do as believers!

    I recently read a blog from Adam Hamilton concerning Syrian refugees he said ” In some ways the fears parallel the fears people felt towards people of Asian descent after the attack on Pearl Harbor. At that time in history. America went so far as to develop internment camps for Japanese-Americans and Japanese immigrants-not one of America’s finest hours.”

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