Speaker shares message of becoming a neighbor

WARREN — A minister who spent much of her life helping displaced Syrian refugees has asked for Trumbull County residents to assist by ”becoming a neighbor.”

The Rev. Mary Mikhael, National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon at UCP, spoke recently at Warren First Presbyterian Church about the crisis in Syria and the Refugee School Project.

Mikhael is a professor of Christian education at Near East School of Theology, Beirut, Lebanon. From 1994 to 2011, Mikhael was president of NEST, the first woman seminary president in the Middle East.

A Presbyterian born in Syria to Greek Orthodox parents, Mikhael is active in ecumenical and interfaith initiatives. She is a noted authority on the church in the Middle East and the role of women in the church.

Mikhael preached about being a neighbor and answered questions concerning the refugee schools. Mikhael said when she speaks in America, she asks people for their assistance for displaced Syrian.

”The number of refugees has increased since the war started,” Mikhael said.

Of the half million people killed during the war, 10,000 were children, she said. A total 9.5 million Syrians are displaced, of which 3 million have become refugees in neighboring countries.

“I want to get the world to become aware of the human tragedy that has so many faces. We need to educate for peace in Syria so the problems there can end. Only peace can help solve the problem,” Mikhael said.

She said she comes a once a year to the United States to share her message, and this year has stayed for two months.

The Rev. Rusty Cowden, pastor of the Warren Presbyterian Church, said, “This was a wonderful opportunity for us to hear firsthand of not only about the magnitude of the problem but also the hard work and dedication of the Lebanese and Syrian Christians as they address and deal with the situation.”

Cowden said as part of the recent Alternative Christmas event held this month at the church, a donation was made to the refugee school effort through the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon. He said the church has given $7,800 to the evangelical synod. A previous $7,800 donation also was given.

“What a great gift this Christian denomination is giving,” he said.

Mikhael said the Syrian refugee children in Lebanon had no opportunity to learn basic educational skills. Cowden said many people take education for granted.

“We are among the most highly educated group on one of the most highly educated countries in the world,” he said.

Nearly every child of the five schools is Muslim, the congregation was told. NESSL is also helping children of different faiths to have a chance to prosper as they become adults, Mikhael said.