Today has been my favorite day to date on this trip. And yet I embraced it having woken up on the wrong side of the bed! I have no fear with keeping it real on here – and I will be honest that I felt like a complete Debbie Downer this morning. You know those days when you are just not there?? That was me. And I sulked inside my head for about an hour as I got ready and headed down to meet the team. However we had a few minutes to spare, so I ventured to the back of the monastery where there was a rock onto which I climbed and got a good view of all that was surrounding me. And somehow against my sour spirit, I put my headphones in my ear and put on ‘Beautiful Exchange’ by Hillsong, knowing that I needed to become present in the day whether I wanted to or not. And something happened on that little rock behind the monastery in ancient Antioch – my spirit began to worship against all of my natural impulses. After that song, another Hillsong one began playing called ‘For All Who Are To Come’ that broke me. The lyrics are…
Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses – let us run, let us run with perseverance – the race not done. Let us make a way for those who are to come, those who are to come – every generation, every nation, every tribe, and every tongue – they will sing, they will cry – with one voice they’ll sing, ‘Hosanna, Hosanna.’
And it hit me that I was standing on ground upon which the early Christians had probably walked with much harder perils than figuratively waking up on the wrong side of the bed. They are the cloud of witnesses by which I am surrounded, and yet I can join with them in singing Hosanna, which can also make a way for those generations that are to come.
My spirit got it that morning.
Anyways, our first destination was Our Lady of Sednaya monastery, where we were privileged to observe mass. This is also the site of the painting of Mary, the mother of Jesus, believed to have been painted by Luke, of which we got to see a copy in this small and ornately decorated little room inside the monastery.
Afterwards, we climbed farther and farther up the mountain to the oldest monastery in Damascas, called Sepharim, which dates back to the 5th century – WOW.
Inside of the church, Kimberly met Father Michael, and was able to converse with him in ancient Greek! One of the moments that will be seared into my memory had to do with the little caves that were all over the grounds of the monastery.
Supposedly, ancient Christians would hide in these caves during times of persecution. After Kimberly and John recorded for a CBH broadcast, I stayed in this small little cave for a few minutes and began to sing ‘Be Thou My Vision.’ Although the church’s songs have obviously changed over the years, I wonder if the heartbeat of that song was not the same as ones those early Christians would have sung as they worshiped in those very caves. Lyrics, language, and melody different – but the same heart – and undoubtedly more depth to their songs as they were crying out to God in times of persecution. This was all a very sobering moment for me.
As we drove down the mountain, I tried to savor every bit of the sacred scene surrounding us.
After driving a ways, we came to such an interesting city carved into the stone walls surrounding it. And within the city was St. Thekla’s convent. Inside, we met the most hospitable and kind sisters who welcomed us warmly and were eager to share with us the history of Thekla. After getting to see all of the beautiful sites of the convent and hearing the stories, they prepared coffee (which was remarkably strong!!) and had some treats for us as we sat and talked together. (These are the moments when I wonder if foreigners visiting our churches in America feel as welcomed as we do in places like this – and sadly, I fear that they would not).
We also were able to experience the Lord’s Prayer prayed in Aramaic as Jesus would have prayed it, which was again a sobering experience.
Another cool moment for me was when Shant and I began to discuss our favorite lead-worshippers and worship songs with each other – and they were much the same – Kim Walker, Misty Edwards, Kari Jobe, etc. It is always life-giving to me to share my passion for worship with another whose passion burns just as strong. We (collectively, not just me and Shant) are not so different as we tend to think we may be.
After dinner (which was another feast, although again delicious), we got the incredible honor of attending the Church of God location in Syria. It was in a small room in the basement of someone’s house on a busy street. About 25 people gathered and again welcomed us warmly. But as to be expected, what struck me was their songs. Shant was the lead-worshipper with one guitar, his voice, and no mic – I had no idea what they were singing – but their heart rang louder than a song from any language – they sang those words from their souls – I did not have to understand the language to understand that they believed every word they cried out. The passion was infectious, and I found myself entering into worship humming the melody and allowing their words to carry me. It was beautiful and sacred, and I wonder what would happen to our churches if we imparted just a small part of their passion on our corporate gatherings. Shant had asked me to help lead, and we did How Great Is Our God – switching from singing in English and Arabic – and I couldn’t help but be overcome with emotion and allow tears to flow – from gratitude and humility at the expanse of The Church.
They held a small celebration afterwards for us with sweet treats, and we got to know the people a bit better. Again, as I got to speak with some of them, their passion is what struck me most. One young man, Peter, wanted so desperately to know about the young people in America and if they were on fire for Jesus. Another young woman, Vivienne, could not contain herself as she spoke about Jesus and the vision she had for the youth of Syria to change the world.
As I write all of this, I pray I don’t forget – don’t forget the church in Syria’s passion for God, don’t forget their songs, don’t forget the sacred moment singing in the ancient cave, don’t forget the life that is beginning to pump through my veins again…