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20-Something

I saw God's grace in Syria

From the July 2012 issue of The Christian Science Journal


Kateland Oakes

Susan Oakes

About a year ago, I received a good lesson in the necessity of wholeheartedly trusting my life to God, our divine Father-Mother. I learned to yield to God’s infinite wisdom, and that there is nothing anyone can do to interfere with divine Love’s plan for us. I am so grateful for the greater sense of trust in God I gained while traveling alone overseas.

I was living in Damascus, studying Arabic, when protesting and the initial uprising broke out across Syria. 

Studying Arabic in an immersion setting was something I had wanted to do for a long time. I was excited to be in Syria and loved my time there. My home-stay family was incredibly loving and generous. My language school was challenging, yet my tutors were fun. Old Damascus, where I was living, offered gorgeous old architecture and bustling markets; and
I loved walking around the Old City, seeing many places referenced in the Bible. 

However, after violent protests broke out in the southern city of Deraa (about 60 miles south of Damascus), my family and friends in the United States became concerned about my safety and urged me to come home.

Some friends at home were very scared and did not hesitate to tell me all the terrible things that would happen to me if I stayed in any Middle Eastern country at that time. Having been in the region for almost six months during the “Arab Spring,” I knew that God’s provision of safety, love, freedom, security, and joy existed in each and every one of the many Middle Eastern countries I had visited. Surely infinite and omnipotent Love could not be contained by or limited to certain geographical borders. 

I had already witnessed firsthand some of the most incredible examples I’d ever seen in my life of forgiveness, love, compassion, strength, and courage in the people whom I met in my travels. So I claimed my right to see safety and protection no matter where I was. At the same time, I prayed to know what I should do next, and if, when, and how to leave Syria.

Damascus remained quiet for some weeks after the initial outbreak of violence in Deraa. The Syrian uprising had only just begun. Many individuals I talked to told me the protests would blow over and that I was fine to stay in Syria. Others told me that the situation was stable enough right then, but it would probably get much worse. Talk of more violence, the nature of Syria’s political instability, as well as the exodus of foreigners from Damascus, helped me realize that I should leave the country. 

I very much wanted to continue my study of Arabic and felt unsure of what to do next. Leaving Syria was a complicated matter because I could not travel overland because of the protests that were breaking out in regions surrounding Damascus. Flights out of the country were also becoming difficult and very expensive to book.

While I was making plans to leave, I decided to call on the help of a Christian Science practitioner to support me. When I initially called him, I felt confused and in desperate need of direction. It seemed that everyone I knew had a different opinion of what I should do, ranging from: “Stay right where you are in the Old City so that you will not become a target,” to “Get out of the country right now.” 

The practitioner helped me realize that confusion is the subtlest of the carnal mind’s tricks. When we feel either confused or discouraged, it can seem difficult to know which is the next step to take. Yet it is immensely reassuring to know that God’s plan is always in motion, always becoming perfectly apparent, and that we are all an essential component of divine Love’s creation. 

The practitioner was utterly unimpressed by my descriptions of the security situation in Syria. He stated with confidence that there would be a clear answer. This helped me put all my trust in God. One helpful idea we discussed was: “We can seem to get buried in the testimony that matter is real.” Whether it was my personal safety, political tension, or regional conflict, I needed to make sure that I was not being impressed, confused, or overwhelmed by what the material senses were trying to tell me. 

I kept diligently listening to God and tried to open my thought to be willing to do whatever God wanted me to do, even if that meant flying straight home—a very disappointing prospect at the time.

The protests were always scheduled to take place on Friday afternoons. On one particular Friday, I was told that the violence could reach the outskirts of Damascus and that small protests could take place near the Old City, where I was living. However, later that afternoon, a sudden and intense hailstorm kept everyone inside, and the day passed in peace. The practitioner pointed out that hail is referenced many times in the Bible, in Exodus, Job, and Psalms, as a form of protection. I realized that God is always protecting His children and that I had tangible instances every day to be grateful for divine Love’s care and safety.

I ultimately decided to take a bus from Damascus to Beirut, Lebanon, the following Monday. I was to stay with some American friends, who kindly agreed to put me up and help me get settled in an Arabic program there. 

The day before I was scheduled to leave Damascus, I did some final shopping and sightseeing. As I was touring one site, I was surrounded and then harassed by a group of young men. As I tried to defend myself, my backpack was taken from me. It contained my passport and wallet. I was at a holy site, too, so I had removed my shoes and put them in my backpack before it was stolen. I had no way of even walking back to my host family’s home. I immediately became very afraid of how I was going to function with no money and no identification, let alone leave the country.

When I think of Syria and those living there now, I know that God's law of protection, love, care, and guidance, which defined my experience in the country, is still operating.

In that moment of chaos, I knew God had not left me, and that none of Her children is ever without an answer. I reached out to God in prayer: “Father-Mother, I really need some help. I can’t do this alone.” 

Immediately my prayer was answered, because I certainly was not alone! Many loving and compassionate people surrounded me and offered their help (which is what I found to be a common trait in every Syrian I met—a people that is generous, friendly, and loving). Two gentlemen nearby had noticed the incident of my being harassed and immediately came rushing over to ask me if I was OK. Almost instantly another man noticed I had no shoes and quickly took off into the market to buy me a pair. Others reported the incident to the nearby officials. Still more told me that “Syrians do not steal” and that it is not in their nature to harm foreigners. I saw all this as a declaration of who the real man really is, as God made him to be. 

I assured them that I loved being in Syria and that my experience with Syrians had always involved my being taken care of in some way. And then a few minutes later, the man who had rushed off to the market returned, beaming, with a pair of bright pink, sparkling sandals. They fit perfectly, and he smiled at me as he said in broken English, “I picked this color especially for you.” Two other men offered money for a cab home, but the shoes were just what I needed. 

From an Internet cafe, I was able to Skype the practitioner and ask for additional support. It so happened that I had planned to have dinner that night with a Senior Foreign Service Officer (FSO) from the US Embassy, whom I knew of through a mutual friend. She, too, turned out to be a perfect example of the immediacy and ever-presence of God’s angels ministering to us.

The FSO insisted that I stay in her gorgeous home on the well-to-do side of the city, where I would be protected by Embassy security. She took me to the Embassy the next morning to help me get an emergency passport issued. I ended up staying with her for almost two weeks while my passport and exit visa documents were processed.

During this time, the protests were ramping up, and the coming Friday was predicted to be a “Day of Rage” in Damascus. I was having trouble getting the Syrian police to issue a report of my passport’s theft, a report I needed to take to the immigration office in order to acquire a temporary visa. And I needed the visa in order to leave the country safely and not risk being detained at the border. 

I had been warned about the police. Syria is a police state that had operated under emergency law for decades, meaning that Syrians were prone to arbitrary arrests, restriction of the media, invasion of privacy, and bans on any political protesting. The police had complete autonomy, and I could be detained, imprisoned, or flat out denied a visa with no cause.

“Whatever holds human thought in line with unselfed love, receives directly the divine power” (Science and Health, p. 192) is the main idea I prayed with, as I spent two days going in and out of three different police offices and the immigration office in Damascus. Many police officers told me I could not get a report because I was not a citizen of Syria. Others told me that even if I did get the report, I would never get the immigration office to issue a temporary visa. 

I kept clinging to the fact that God’s law of harmony was there operating. I knew that God is omnipotent good. Therefore, the only power that exists is goodness. I had the opportunity to reflect that power and goodness right then, by being a healer in this situation of conflict—by holding my thought in line with unselfed love. 

After two days of going in and out of the police offices, feeling wrapped up in my problem of how I was going to leave the country, and frustrated at the police officials, I made a change in my thinking. Instead of feeling discouraged, I chose to love each and every individual with whom I came in contact. I knew the good that I did would bless those around me, who certainly needed love right then. I needed to see every person around me as pure, perfect, safe, and never in any danger.

As a result of this change in perspective, I made friends with the Damascus deputy chief of police. He was a tall, friendly man who was one of the only policemen I met who spoke much English. When I met him, instead of immediately voicing my concern and demanding a police report, which had been my strategy over the past two days, I asked him about his family, his life in Syria, and how his day was going. He told me that to get my police report, I needed to recite to the police general—in Arabic—exactly how my bag had been stolen. He then taught me how to say this in Arabic, and he also convinced his boss that I really needed their help. Soon, I got a signed copy of my police report. And within three hours, I had cleared the immigration office and secured a temporary visa.

I found a cheap flight to Amman, Jordan, that was scheduled to leave at 5:00 a.m. that Friday—the planned “Day of Rage.” My friend from the Embassy arranged a taxi to take me to the airport very early that morning, and it was smooth sailing all the way there. After I had left the country, my friend told me that roadblocks and checkpoints had been set up later that morning on the highway on the way to the airport. Yet I was completely protected and able to fly to Jordan, and then later I got a ticket home.

While I am very grateful for the many examples of love, protection, friendship, and support throughout my trip, I am most sincerely grateful for the conviction I’ve found that God’s grace for each of us is always a given. His plan is always in motion. We are never without an answer. We never have to be confusedly distracted by fear. And when I think of Syria and those living there now, I know that God’s law of protection, love, care, and guidance, which defined my experience in the country, is still operating. It is so important that we not be duped by what we see or hear about Syria, whether it be injustice, brutality, or violence. I witnessed firsthand the powerful transformation that occurs when one’s focus is shifted from doubt to trust, from fear to a hopeful and confident expectancy of good. God loves each of us so much, and He protects us because we are each vital—each an absolutely essential part—of the evolving of good that is God’s plan.


Kateland Oakes lives and works in Washington, DC, where she continues to study Arabic. She looks forward to her next trip to the Middle East.

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