Syrian Graveyards

 
 
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I stood overlooking the graveyard in Syria, my eyes skimming over the Arabic script on all the headstones. I hadn’t expected this to be part of my day, but we had a few free minutes as we were driving by and I was curious. I certainly hadn’t expected the rush of emotions that flooded over me during the visit there, making me try to hide my watering eyes from our team’s local guard who stood behind me.

I love walking through graveyards. I always have, but I had never really stopped to examine why. I would try to read as many of the headstones as I could; what words had people chosen to leave behind? It also felt hopeful to me; what had people experienced when they encountered Jesus face-to-face?

I was expecting it to be like that. 

It was not.

There was a heavy weight of missed opportunity in that place and the air buzzed with an urgency for those lost souls who were still breathing. I saw a picture of God’s heart for the unreached with brand new perspective. My team were the only followers of Jesus in that Muslim town. The fact that I could stand there and look at this huge plot of land, full of graves extending beyond the hill in front of me, and safely assume that none of the people buried there had known Jesus made tears rush to my eyes. 

Why hadn’t we gotten here sooner? 

And why haven’t I been bolder?

Hudson Taylor recorded an episode in China, when he had a conversation that would mark him forever:

“Shortly after [a young Chinese man came to faith in Jesus], he had asked Taylor how long the gospel had been known in England. When he was told it had been known for hundreds of years, the man was shocked. What! For hundreds of years you have had these glad tidings and only now have come to preach it to us? My father sought after the truth for more than twenty years, and died without finding it. Oh, why did you not come sooner?”[1]

I’m not sure that before this experience I had ever been to a place that I could classify as “unreached.” Having grown up in America I tend to take for granted that almost everyone I know, even if they choose to ignore Him, has heard of Jesus. But if I truly believe that Jesus is the only answer to eternal life, why have I been embarrassed to proclaim Him? And now He had brought me to a place where people needed an introduction to Him. What was I doing with that opportunity?

I thought of Acts 20:24: “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” 

The Gospel is of the utmost urgency. If we truly believe that, then our lives become clay in the Maker’s hands. We are given the task of testifying, of sharing, of speaking about how Jesus has transformed our very souls. When we lean into that, we begin to prioritize our lives differently. 

I turned to face our guard, who hadn’t ventured in very far. When he saw he had my attention, he motioned to the sweeping hill of graves around us and said, “This is my family.” My heart splintered. He had brought us to the graves of people he knew and loved. I had been introduced to many of his family that still lived in town. They were the people that had begun to make Syria feel like home to me. And then, he pointed at an empty plot of land near his feet and said, “This is for me.” 

He looked around once more and then turned back to the car. I followed behind with my teammate, looking at her face to see if she felt it too. This overwhelming, white-hot burning desire for him to know Who I know—so that even when his earthly body does inevitably occupy that plot of land, he can find a different eternal home. 

So we shared Jesus in all the ways that we could, not just through our broken Arabic vocabulary. We worshipped Him through song, we prayed to Him openly, we wept when the town experienced trauma and loss, we celebrated new life when babies were born, we laughed with them, and we enjoyed our relationships with the inhabitants of this town to the fullest. We lived life with them and prayed fervently that the Lord would sweep in to capture their hearts as only He can. And we wait for those seeds that’ve been planted to take root in the perfect timing of the Holy Spirit. 

It’s not always easy, the working and the waiting. 

But we go because He commands it: “Go and make disciples of all nations.”[2]

We go because He is worthy: “For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen.”[3]

We go because Jesus. 

 
 
 

Kayla serves as a nurse with FAI Relief. You can hear more about her time in Syria here.


 
 

[1] It’s recorded in Taylor’s autobiography, ‘A Retrospect,’ but you can also get the context here: https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1801-1900/hudson-taylors-heart-for-chinas-millions-11630493.html
[2] Matthew 28:19
[3] Romans 11:36