A delegation of top U.S. Presbyterian leaders headed to the Middle East on Friday on a visit to several conflict-ridden countries to show support for the region’s Christians and observe the situation.
Visiting Lebanon and Israel/Palestine are the General Assembly Council (GAC) chair, the Rev. Allison Seed; the General Assembly stated clerk, the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick; and the GAC executive director, Linda Bryant Valentine.
“What we are trying to send is a sense of community and solidarity with our fellow Christians in the Middle East … [who have] had some rough times and some serious challenges,” said Seed in a statement, according to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s news service.
“We want to make it clear that we want to do as much as we can to share their burdens with them.”
The delegation will begin their visit with Lebanon, which is still suffering from last summer’s bitter Hezbollah-Israel conflict.
The 34-day fight began in July and left essential bridges and highways destroyed as well as hundreds of civilians on both sides dead. The Christian heartland north of Beirut was also the target of Israel airstrikes, where the Islamic militants were accused of using Christian villages to shield its military operations against Israel.
PC (USA) partners in Lebanon include the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, the Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches and the National Evangelical Church of Beirut. The denomination also works ecumenically with Lebanon’s Orthodox and Catholic communities.
Following Lebanon, the group will visit Israel/Palestine where they will meet with Israeli Jewish and Christian church leaders, among others.
Linda Bryant Valentine, who has not visited the middle east since 1968, hopes the delegation will “gain a better understanding first hand of the issues” to help the Council and the denomination better respond to the needs of Mideast Christians.
"I'm looking forward to learning more," said the GAC executive director.
Kirkpatrick, the General Assembly stated clerk, will join the group in Lebanon after a meeting in Istanbul, Turkey between the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Kirkpatrick is also the WARC president.
Other prominent Christian delegations have also recently visited the region. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams accompanied by a delegation of U.K. church leaders visited Bethlehem in late December and visited the controversial Israel-Palestinian territory wall. In November, a delegation of black church leaders hosted by Church World Service visited Jerusalem over concerns about the conditions of Palestinians in the Holy Land.