to Syria and back

at Yarmouk, doing what we do best 😉
with Kaouthar Bachraoui and Maria Saadeh at the Dama Rose in Damascus
there's no shortage of pretty girls at Damascus University!
at the home of Ananias - Straight Street, Damascus
with Maria Saadeh at the Umayyad Mosque
at the ancient Christian villiage of Maaloula
with the Bishop of Saydnaya in Maaloula
honoring the martyrs of Maaloula
I was glad when they said to me let us go up to the House of the Lord (Psalm 122)
honoring the martyrs of Saydnaya
a performance by Saydnaya's Youth Fellowship
remembering the genocide of 1915 with the Armenian bishop
Armenian Christians fighting with the Syrian Arab Army
Dinner at the Mufti's place 🙂
interviewing the Grand Mufti of Syria
with the Mufti and friends 🙂

Hi Fighter,

I’ve been to Syria, I’ve come back, and at the moment I’m sick in bed. I guess I’ve been pushing myself a bit too hard, but I’m now on long-service leave and will hopefully get a bit of a break.

People have been asking me how I would sum up our Syria experience in a word, and the truth is that there is no one word that can do our time there justice.

What I must say is that my heart is still there, and that I felt awful leaving – as if I was walking out on a friend who might die at any moment!

When I returned to Australia everyone was stressing about Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukamaran – about whether they were about to be executed. I appreciate that it was a horrible situation. Even so, I was walking away from a whole country full of people who were living with the same stress – ‘Are we about to be executed, and if so, when?’

Syria is at a very volatile point and, I hate to say it, but I think the future of all those people is being decided upon now in negotiations between the US and Iran. In truth, Syria is only surviving because of support from Iran. If the USA though makes Syria a bargaining chip to be sacrificed in exchange for the lifting of sanctions then a great many of those good people may be dead by the time I return.

Having said that, the indications at the moment are that Iran is not going to give up on Syria, and neither are her other two allies – Russia and Hezbollah. Nonetheless, things are at boiling point right now, with ISIS embedded in Yarmouk in the south and Palmyra in the north! Anything could happen over the next few weeks and months.

In terms of our Fighting Fathers’ visit, I have written-up some of our experiences in detail on www.prayersforsyria.com and www.christiansandmuslims.com.

Specifically, I’d encourage you to look at the following three articles:

The title of this last article is a quote from my interview with the Grand Mufti of Syria – Dr Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun – which I’ve embedded below. Indeed, it was such a great privilege for me to get half an hour, one-on-one, with the great man!

I won’t say more about that experience here except that he said three words to me in English before we parted. He said “pray for me.”  I said, “I do every day”, and indeed I do, for I know the takfiri will have no mercy on him if they get hold of him.

Dr Hassoun considers himself the Mufti not only of the Sunni but of the Shia and the Christians too! That’s the sort of talk that enrages religious fundamentalists!

I am hoping to be back in Syria in the next couple of months – this time with a larger team of boxers.  I’m also working on lining up a title fight for myself against one of Syria’s great veteran boxers.  My goal is to hold the fight either on the outskirts of Yarmouk or at another key Syrian city – perhaps Palmyra – and use the fight to draw attention to what’s really going on there.  It’s an ambitious ploy and I’d appreciate your prayers.

In the meantime there are plenty of other things happening, and a few that I’m keen to pass on to you here:

  • In case you didn’t hear, the United Nations Human Rights Committee finally replied to our official complaint regarding the Australian government’s treatment of my dear friend Sheikh Mansour Leghaei. Indeed, they upheld our complaint and instructed the Australian government to re-examine his case and to compensate him for damages! If you don’t know the full story, it’s on savethesheikh.com.
  • Another dear brother who has received even harsher treatment from his government – Mordechai Vanunu – just got married! The picture below was taken at the Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem! I look forward to meeting Morde’s Norwegian wife, Kristine, in person as soon as they are allowed to leave Israel and travel to Australia. I trust they’ll find Mansour here when they get here!
  • And some more good news concerning a very talented sister – Ruth McCall – who will be having her own musical works performed by ‘Echology’The University of Newcastle Chamber Choir! There’s a performances at our church, Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill, on Sunday May 31st.  Full details can be found on the poster here.
Morde & Kristine are married!

Morde & Kristine!

That’s enough from me, especially as I’m still coughing and spluttering.

As I say, I’m on long-service leave at the moment and will be for the next three weeks. I’ll be spending the weekends down at Binacrombi, developing our youth camping program. You’d be welcome to join me on any of these weekends, especially this weekend when I think I’ll need all the help I can get. 🙁

I’ll be in contact again soon. Until then I remain …

Your brother in the Good Fight,

Dave
www.fatherdave.org
www.fighting-fathers.com
www.holytrinity.org.au
www.binacrombi.com.au
www.israelandpalestine.org
www.prayersforsyria.com
www.zerocostwebsite.net
www.dulwichhillgym.com
www.warriorweekends.com
www.boxersforpeace.com
www.how2changetheworld.com

P.S. Support the work of the Fighting Fathers by joining our online community at  www.fighting-fathers.com. It only costs you $10/month and the first month is free.

 

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About Father Dave Smith

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four

Peace Pilgrimage to Syria – on the streets of Damascus

G’day Fighter,

It’s Father Dave here and I’m actually now in London, having finished my week in Syria where we’ve been spending time with both politicians and refugees, sharing in the joys and sorrows of the Syrian people, and boxing with kids on the streets of Damascus, Lattakia and Homs!

I have so much to share – pictures, videos and stories – that it’s going to take me a little while to put them all in order, but I want to share something with you today so I’ve chosen one picture that has behind it one amazing story:

Mother Agnes with Sheikh Tahhan and a former FSA fighter

Mother Agnes with Sheikh Tahhan and a former FSA fighter

See the pic above (you can see a larger version of it if you click on it). On the left you will recognise our beloved leader, Mother Agnes. The man in the middle you are less likely to recognise. His name is Sheikh Tahhan.

Sheikh Tahhan is apparently the only man in Homs that the FSA fighters trust if they want to take advantage of the armistice offered by the government. He roams the streets of Homs and seeks out rebel fighters who want to hand in their guns and stop fighting. On the right of the Sheikh is one of these fighters who is no longer fighting. Two of his mates are at his side (out of picture).

Naturally Sheikh Tahhan is a prime target for those who want to keep the fire going, and he is very aware of the fate of Jesuit Priest, Father Frans Van Der Lugt, who was shot in Homs only last week. Father Frans was apparently also involved in this same work – mediating between the government and rebels who want to lay down their arms.

So why, you might wonder, are both the Sheikh and Mother Agnes smiling when they both have prices on their heads? The reason is because the Sheikh has been telling Mother about a high-level meeting between the rebel leaders of Homs and the government’s Ministry of Reconciliation in Damascus. Apparently there is talk that the entire FSA contingent in Homs will hand in their arms and seek reconciliation with their fellow Syrians. If this happens it will mark the beginning of the end of the violence!

So many commentators are saying that there’s no end in sight to the Syrian catastrophe. If what the Sheikh has told Mother is correct though it could all be over within a couple of months! As I see it, if the Syrian rebels of Homs successfully take advantage of the armistice, other FSA fighters will follow quickly. Of course this won’t affect the more powerful rebel groups such as ISIS and Jabhat Al Nusra, who are made up mainly of foreign fighters on jihad. But if the Syrian members of the rebellion stop fighting the government there is every chance that many of them will join with Assad’s forces to expel the foreigners! Once this happens the violence will wind up very quickly as the foreign backers who are funding the conflict will quickly cut their losses and pull out.

Of course nothing is certain and there are still many things that could become road-blocks on this path to peace. The Americans are still training rebel fighters in Jordan and graduating them at the rate of around 150 per month (see this excellent first-hand account by Sara Williams if you haven’t read it yet) and the Canadians have apparently been making preparations to enter Syria themselves, all guns blazing (see here)! Beyond this insanity though the victory of government forces seems inevitable. Moreover, if there ever really was any common ground between those Syrian rebels who were fighting for democracy and freedom and the foreign takfiri (who now make up the greater part of the rebel ‘alliance’) it has by now completely evaporated.

That’s enough from me today. You can see where my heart and my prayers are. I am hoping that the next time I am in Syria it will be to celebrate peace and to participate in the rebuilding of this shattered country. So many people have suffered and it will require a massive amount of sustained energy to reestablish the infrastructure of the country. Even so, my respect for the strength and determination of the Syrian people gives me every confidence in a bright future for this wonderful land and I look forward to joining hands with the Syrian people to do what I can to share in that rebuilding.

Your brother in the Good Fight,

Dave
www.fatherdave.org
www.fighting-fathers.com
www.holytrinity.org.au
www.binacrombi.com.au
www.israelandpalestine.org
www.prayersforsyria.com
www.zerocostwebsite.net
www.dulwichhillgym.com
www.warriorweekends.com
www.how2changetheworld.com

P.S. If you’d like to see some of the media coverage we had in Syria, check out these Arabic and Farsi language articles (using your brower’s translator):

P.P.S. Support the work of the Fighting Fathers by joining our online community at  www.fighting-fathers.com. It only costs you $10/month and the first month is free.

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About Father Dave Smith

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four

Weekly Missive – July 2nd, 2013

G’day Fighter,
Father Dave back with you – a little weary but strong in spirit. :-)
I seem to have been spending all my time travelling and speaking since last we spoke.
  • I spoke to a Lions Club gathering, hoping to raise more funds for our youth work.

2013 - guest speaker at the Sydney Executive Lions Club

  • I spoke to at a gathing of the Wikileaks Party faithful

2013 - Addressing a gathering of the Wikileaks Party faithful

  • I had the privilege of being guest speaker at Sydney’s 2013 Muslim Youth Conference!

2013 - it was a great privilege to be invited to address the Sydney Muslim Youth Conference

I’m still trying to work out what made the ‘Muslim Women’s Association’ think I’d be a good speaker on the subject of issues facing Muslim youth, but I must say that it was a great privilege and I had a great time! :-)

As to travelling, I’m still following dear Mother Agnes around!

You’ll remember that not long ago I dragged Mother and Sister around Canberra. We got back and went one step further up the ladder of greatness and met with Bishop Rob!

2013 - Mother Agnes and Sister Carmel meet Bishop Forsyth

Then, before Mother Agnes left our fair state, all the churches shared with her in a wonderful evening of prayer for Syria at the Syrian Orthodox Cathedral in Sydney.

2013 - a great night of prayer for Syria at the Syrian Orthodox Cathedral in Lidcome

Right now I’m en route to meet up with Mother again – this time in Kuala Lumper! Indeed, I’m starting this missive at an altitude of 11582 metres according to my flight information (and I thought they always measured these things in feet :-0)!

Within a few hours of landing we are scheduled to meet with members of the Malaysian Department of Foreign Affairs. Our subject, of course, will be Syria.

Our host in Malaysia is the great human-rights activist, Dr Chandra Muzaffar.

I first had the privilege of meeting Dr Muzaffar in the late 80’s in his home in Penang. I had read about his exploits – how he had worked tirelessly to defend the rights of minorities in Malaysia, especially Christians. That was the first time I had heard of a Muslim community leader putting himself on the line for Christians.

And then I heard how he’d been imprisoned by the government for his efforts – an act that created such a stir worldwide and generated so many protests (including many from prominent church leaders) that the Malaysian government was force to release him!

It seems that this year I am getting to meet all my heroes!.

I had the privilege of travelling to Syria with the great peace-maker and Nobel Laureate, Mairead Maguire, and now I’ve been invited to Malaysia by another champion of human rights! And of course it didn’t surprise me when Dr Muzaffar told me that Mairead was on the board of his human-rights organisation – JUST (The Campaign for a Just World).

God has been extremely gracious to me of late and I do not take it for granted. :-)

Anyway, I’ll send you a full report of my two days in Malaysia next week. For the moment I have some more urgent things to share with you:

George Galloway in Sydney

Just when I thought I was running out of heroes to meet, that outspoken and wonderfully offensive Scotsman, George Galloway, arrives in Sydney!

galloway-townhall

If you don’t know George, he’s a British politician and a passionate human-rights activist, particularly well-known for his Palestinian advocacy.

How did he come to be in Sydney? Well … it’s a long story, but my friend Mohammed Naqi gets the credit for organising both his trip and his appearances!

There are two public gatherings and only one that has not been sold out. It’s at the Sydney Town Hall this Thursday evening. Click here to get the details on Facebook or here to download the flyer.

The event is not free because Mohammed needs to cover his costs for the hire of the Town Hall (which doesn’t come cheaply). Even so, this is a great opportunity and not one to be missed. I will certainly be there (God willing) and hope to see you there too.

The Youth Centre is Re-Opening

No, we haven’t rebuilt our Youth and Community Centre yet after the arson attack in March that completely destroyed it, though we have now levelled the site and have submitted our ideas to the architects.

2013 - our once-mighty Youth Centre has now been levelled to the ground

While we wait for our new centre to be constructed, we are teaming up with our new best-friends – the Salvation Army Corps of Dulwich Hill – to open a new Youth Centre in our area, based on their premises! :-)

It’s a true joint venture. The Salvo’s are providing their wonderful space and are also contributing a youth worker. We are contributing more team members and lots of equipment, including a new boxing ring! I guess the Salvos are also counting on us to supply a truck-load of kids, and I trust that we won’t disappoint! ;-)

At any rate, we have scheduled our grand opening for Sunday July 28. We’ll probably start with a lunch-time BBQ and continue till early evening.

I know that some of our Koori friends have expressed enthusiasm with regards to providing a band. My idea was to celebrate the opening by having a last-man-standing bout with Fighting Father Caine!

Either way, we’ll hopefully also have clowns and jumping castles and sticky food and lots of other great party stuff! It will be a great opportunity to put the ashes of the past behind us as we forge ahead with new initiatives of service to the young people of our region! :-)

Binacrombi Needs YOU!

I mentioned last week that our beloved Binacrombi caretaker, Geoff, is leaving for New Zealand and that we are looking for teams of people to run weekends down there.

I’ve had a handful of people express interest, but now I really need those of you who are interested to get down there before the end of this month (when Geoff leaves) and get trained in how to run the site!

It’s not easy! We have our own eco-system at Binacrombi. We are not connected to the power-grid, the gas-grid or to any mainline water or sewerage system. You need to know how our generators, gas system and water-piping system works, and you can only really learn through hands-on experience.

So if you’re keen please book in over the next few weeks and let’s make Binacrombi the greatest adventure camp for young people in the Southern hemisphere!

I’m selling my websites

OK, I’m not selling all of them, but with Fighting Father Jim now gone (see last week’s post) it’s going to be impossible to maintain so many of my traditional sites.

I have at least three ‘mininets’ of sites that I’m willing to part with. All are useful and informative sites that can also generate a significant income through Adsense ads etc. These site networks are currently being under-utilised as I just don’t have time to maintain and develop them any more. They cover topics such as child custody and drug addiction.

Each of these mininets offers a significant public service and each has generated up to $1,000 per month at different times. At the moment though they aren’t generating more than a few hundred per month between them, but if you were willing to put the necessary time and energy into them …

Interested? Send me an email and we’ll work something out.

Mother Agnes’ gives us the Good Word

OK. It’s high-time I got back to more spiritual matters.

Last week we had the privilege of having Mother Agnes join us for worship at Holy Trinity, Dulwich Hill, and it was a wonderful service!

Here’s a pic of our liturgical team just before the start of the service.

2013 - Mother Anges joins us for worship at Holy Trinity

Some said that it was the greatest service they had experienced at Holy Trinity. Mother Agnes, for her part, said that it had ‘all the grandeur of the Byzantine liturgy’.

I’m sorry I can’t give you a recording of the whole service but I have got Mother Agnes’ sermon for you. Enjoy! :-)

[imaioVideo v=1]

(if you can’t see the video above, click here)

OK guys. That’s it for me this week.

As expected I’m now in Malaysia. I’ve just met with the Under Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and am soon to head off for dinner with dear Dr Muzzafer!

So I’ll hold off on the details of all that till next week.

Until then, I remain …

Your brother in the Good Fight,

Dave
www.fatherdave.org
www.fighting-fathers.com
www.zerocostwebsite.net
www.prayersforsyria.com
www.israelandpalestine.org
www.how2changetheworld.com

P.S. And as I’m apt to remind you, if you’d like to support our work, the best way is to become a financial member at fighting-fathers.com. It only costs you $10/month but it makes all the difference at this end!

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About Father Dave Smith

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four