As an admirer of the Iron Lady of Britain, Margaret Thatcher, I was thrilled to be introduced to the “Iron Lady” of the suffering church in Syria. Her name is Rosangela Jarjour and she is the General Secretary of the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches.
Despite being called the “Iron Lady” by Syrian church leaders due to her strength under fire, she marvels at how God has chosen to use, in her words, “a weak and untrained servant” as a leader in what is arguably some of the darkest days for the church in the Middle East.
To the outside world, the Middle Eastern Church might appear to be weak and under fire. However, after my recent trip to the Middle East with Food for the Hungry (FH) emergency response unit to meet Rosangela and other Christian leaders, I would agree it is under fire…but not weak. With its ancient roots going back to Saint Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, combined with a fresh outpouring of Christian compassion in the chaos of the conflict, I am reminded of the strength of church – especially as it is manifest in suffering.
Rosangela, the Iron Lady of the Syrian church, represents well how strength can become stronger through the fire and burden of trial. She shared with me the unimaginable suffering of “her people,”the Syrian and Iraqi church, whose communities are being systematically destroyed by extremists including the brutal raiding and destruction of her own Syrian family’s village.
Against these odds her job is to organize locally and mobilize globally support for the Middle Eastern Church in its struggle to both survive while turning the other cheek through compassion. She talks daily with a deep network of pastors and Christians under fire throughout Syria and Iraq. She tries to ensure they receive the food, medicines and other supplies they desperately need.
Sadly, the cry for help is louder than the offers of aid, and so the burden of leadership takes a toll and is not without personal cost to her and her family. Frustration and sadness are thus daily realities of her obedience. I naturally wondered how she and others like her keep going. Her answer is humbling as it points to clarity of purpose, which is no less than the survival of “her people,” the Christian Church in the Middle East.
It is not the paycheck; it is not the accolades from her Board or other leaders; but rather God’s call to abide with and fight for the “suffering church.” It is their cry for help as the nail pierced, yet hope filled, hands and feet of Christ that that gives her strength. And we know from Jesus’ words to Saint Peter, “on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it” that she is focused on a worthy and victory assured struggle.
What can I learn from the Iron Lady of the Syrian church and the suffering Christians she represents and serves? Even though I can’t fathom the corporate suffering our brothers and sisters are facing, two things keep marinating in my heart and mind:
The first is the importance of a transcendent, God-given call. Obviously Rosangela’s call is the survival of the Middle Eastern church…but I know God has calls for each of us. I want to ensure I am listening and responding to my call like she is to hers.
The second is service in the midst of suffering. Rosangela and the Christians I met have not stopped being the healing hands and feet of Jesus even as they struggle to survive…and so I hope that even as I carry my own personal burdens I will remain active in serving others like our friends in the suffering church are doing.
Please join us in following our calling to help these churches and our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Middle East.