Prayers take aim at Lebanon in worldwide services

Saturday, March 8, 2003

In a time when the nation is captivated by news of the crisis in the Middle East, a part of the world where nations are preparing for war and people are living in uncertainty, a group of area women gathered Friday morning for prayer.

The annual World Day of Prayer service sponsored by Church Women United was celebrated in Cape Girardeau, Jackson and Perryville. The service is observed in 179 countries and is written by women in a different country each year. Last year's service was written by the women of Romania.

This year's interdenominational services focused on the needs and concerns of women in Lebanon, a country situated on the Mediterranean Sea that borders Syria and Israel. The content of the service was written by Christian women in Lebanon.

The service included the stories of five women and children touched by the war and loss in Lebanon. Participants in the local service, held at Christ Episcopal Church, told the stories of a girl whose legs had been amputated after she stepped on a land mine, a mother whose college-age son was kidnapped by a militia and never seen again, a woman who feels sorrow for the damage and destruction her native land has seen and another whose desire is for more Lebanese to stay at home instead of leaving for better jobs outside the country.

One prayer a woman recited read: "... Fill us with that wisdom and light that we may discern the way of truth, oppose darkness and conquer hopelessness. Grant patience and long-suffering to the mothers and wives of the kidnapped and prisoners. Give them your peace and comfort. Enable us all to be loving and kind to others."

First-hand experience

In Cape Girardeau, the women who attended the nearly two-hour service heard about life in Lebanon from a native of that country and sampled some foods.

Mimi Salamy and her husband, Emad, shared stories and pictures about their native land. Emad Salamy couldn't stay for the entire service because he had to work.

Both grew up in Jdeidet Marjoyoun, a city about the size of Jackson located in the southern part of Lebanon near the border with Israel.

It's a part of the country where vineyards grow, fountains spray in lush gardens and and rivers flow. Lebanon actually translates as "spring fields."

But despite the beautiful surroundings, life there also included limitations because of years of Israeli occupation. Lebanon fought a civil war that ended in 1990 and then was occupied by the Israelis until 2000.

By 1991, Mimi's family chose to leave Lebanon and moved to Canada. Her soon-to-be husband had already moved to the United States. He has been here 23 years. The couple married in 1993 and operate Phoenicia restaurant.

Mimi Salamy shared stories about how Easter and Christmas are celebrated in her home country. Both holidays are marked for their meaning and not for their commercial interests, she said.

"Holidays mean something back home," she said.

She and her husband are trying to raise their two daughters, a 7-year-old and a 4-year-old, with the same traditions and values they received from their parents.

So, Mimi Salamy usually prepares a special pudding, called carawya, and hot tea drink called migly at Christmas to mark the birth of Christ. Both include pine nuts, walnuts and almonds and are customarily served when a family celebrates a new birth.

"We do it at Christmas because it's like a birth," she said.

At Easter, everyone gathers at the church at 3 a.m. for a resurrection worship and then afterward heads to the home of the oldest family member with wishes for a happy Easter.

Both holidays are favorites for Mimi Salamy. "It's like there's a child inside me for Christmas and Easter," she said.

Mimi Salamy wants people to know that her country isn't a war-torn nation that is constantly seeing battle. Lebanon is filled with beautiful mountains, ancient ruins and thousands of cedar trees.

"It is a gift from God," she said.

Though the family doesn't get to Lebanon often -- they haven't been back since a 1997 visit -- they are able to keep up with the latest events and popular entertainment through a satellite TV network.

An Arabic channel helps the children learn about Lebanese culture and pick up some language skills. At home, Mimi Salamy speaks to her children in Arabic, though teaching them grammar is a little trickier because it is such a complicated language.

"It is difficult to write because it takes a lot of patience," she said.

Services like the World Day of Prayer help remind people "to open their eyes to the whole world of God," said Deb Tracy, an event organizer. "We are so busy with our own lives and problems that sometimes we forget that we are a community of faith and that we are all one in the Lord."

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