Syrian pastor visits Snohomish to spread words of peace

By Amy Nile, Herald Writer
@AmyNileReports
The Rev. Salam Hanna speaks to church members and guests at First Presbyterian Church of Snohomish on Sept. 22. Hanna, a Presbyterian pastor from Syri…
Annie Mulligan / For The Herald
SNOHOMISH — He was here promoting peace.
As the U.S. aimed airstrikes at his home country, a Syrian pastor helped people in Snohomish understand the conflict Americans are engaged in and urged them to consider nonviolent resolutions.
The Rev. Salam Hanna is the pastor of a Presbyterian church with a congregation of about 1,000 in Latakia, a port city on the Mediterranean Sea in the northwestern part of Syria. Hanna spoke at First Presbyterian Church in Snohomish on Sept. 22, just after news broke of U.S. bombs striking Islamic State targets in Syria.
“It’s really something to hear from someone who lives and breathes and really embodies the story,” said Charlie Lewis, who co-pastors the Snohomish church with his wife, Ann. “This is an effort for us to educate our congregation.”
The two congregations were connected last year through Presbyterian Church U.S.A. The Snohomish church donated part of its 2013 peacekeeping offering to the national organization’s Syria Synod Relief Program, which provides emergency assistance to refugees. Hanna has been among those on the front lines of that relief effort in Syria and Lebanon.
Now, he’s bringing his experience to the U.S. During his travels, Hanna has made speaking stops in Washington, including Bellingham and Whidbey Island. His trip includes Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.
“We’re trying to tell people the importance of working on peace and stopping violence,” Hanna said.
He said he practices his religion freely in Latakia, which is in an area controlled by President Bashar al-Assad. But with the rise of the Islamic State group, it is becoming increasingly dangerous for Christians in areas dominated by radical Sunni Muslims and jihadists. “Things are getting harder on the Christians,” he said. “We have seen death and destruction.”
Many Syrians who share his faith, he said, have been faced with the choice to pay the Islamic State group, convert or be killed. Of about 20 Presbyterian churches in the country, Hanna said, two have been displaced and two have been destroyed.
Hanna is a fifth-generation Christian. His father was a Presbyterian pastor. In Snohomish, he shared photos of destroyed sanctuaries, including one of his father’s church in Homs. Its roof was ruined from the fighting. The violence, Hanna said, has made his Christian beliefs grow stronger.
“We have witness and testimony to our faith of peace, love, justice and mercy,” he said. “We’ve found God is with us even in the valley of death.”
People are being killed and displaced. Almost 200,000 people have died since Syria became entangled in conflict in 2011, according to the United Nations. Hanna said his 76-year-old uncle is among the dead.
Hanna’s relief work includes helping refugees provide for their basic needs, such as food, shelter and medicine. About 9 million Syrians are in need emergency assistance, he said, noting that’s about 40 percent of the country’s population.
“Imagine 3 million displaced children,” he said. “Imagine old people and sick people left with nothing.”
In June 2013, a relief and rehabilitation program was formed with $50,000 to help refugees. Hanna directs that effort.
“We help Muslim families as well,” he said.
Hanna is quick to point out that he is not against Islam but instead opposes radicalism and violence. Hanna shied from talking politics, preferring to focus his interview with The Herald on his goals in the U.S.
“People have to be aware that supporting violence does not solve the problems,” he said.
He hopes other churches will join his in working on a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis. He is asking for prayers.
“My hope is God will be working in the midst of a crisis,” Hanna said.
Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; anile@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @AmyNileReports

  

  • The Rev. Salam Hanna speaks to church members and guests at First Presbyterian Church of Snohomish on Sept. 22. Hanna, a Presbyterian pastor from Syri...

    Annie Mulligan / For The Herald

    The Rev. Salam Hanna speaks to church members and guests at First Presbyterian Church of Snohomish on Sept. 22. Hanna, a Presbyterian pastor from Syria, is speaking at churches across the U.S. about the crisis in Syria and how it is affecting Christians and civilians.

  • Members and guests of First Presbyterian Church of Snohomish gather to listen to visiting Syrian pastor Salam Hanna.

    Annie Mulligan / For The Herald

    Members and guests of First Presbyterian Church of Snohomish gather to listen to visiting Syrian pastor Salam Hanna.

 

 

http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20141004/NEWS01/141009585