Rancho Santa Fe pastor does outreach work in Lebanon, Syria
A North County pastor has been going to the Middle East for five years to meet with folks who live there and bring some hope.
Five years ago a North County pastor went to the war-torn Middle East to meet with folks who live there and bring some hope. He heard they couldn’t get things like Tylenol for their children and other common supplies, so he packed his suitcase full of those things.
He preached in the basement of a shelled church in Damascus. The sanctuary had a hole in the roof left by several mortars.
Since then Rev. Jack Baca, senior pastor at the Village Presbyterian Church in Rancho Santa Fe, has been back to Lebanon and Syria every year (except 2020), bringing encouragement and support as part of mission trips with the Tennessee-based Outreach Foundation.
A few months ago, Baca was back preaching at the same church in Damascus, this time in the sanctuary, which had been rebuilt with help from the Outreach Foundation and his local church.
The Damascus church is not far from where Christians believe the Apostle Paul met Jesus some 2,000 years ago.
Baca usually travels with a group of about 10 pastors and parishioners from across the country who are part of the Outreach Foundation, which connects Christians in the U.S. with church partners around the world.
The foundation includes 350 Presbyterian congregations in the U.S. which provide spiritual and material support to Christians in 37 countries.
The foundation, for example, is helping Syrian refugees by funding churches, schools, dental clinics, vocational training and a nursing home along with a retreat center.
“By fostering relationships, providing material aid, and especially by traveling and being with others in the midst of their very challenging lives, we offer critical spiritual and physical help and strength to each other,” said Baca, chairman of the Outreach Foundation’s board of trustees.
“We pray together, laugh together, cry together and we try to help each other,” Baca said in a sermon.
During his 14-day journeys in May to Lebanon and 17 days in October to Syria, Baca and the outreach team visited various ministries and were welcomed into many homes.
“We travel to the Middle East to meet with some of our Christian family there,” Baca said in a recent presentation on his trip. “Keep looking after them, keep praying for them, keep doing what you can do.”
Among the ministries they visited was a school for Christian and Muslim children of Syrian refugees in Lebanon opened by the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon. Most of the students live with their families in tents.
The school provides education along with food, clothing and medicine for refugees. Classes, including sewing and carpentry for adults and children, are held in repurposed shipping containers with windows. There is also a dental clinic onsite.
The school has bought supplies, including sewing machines thanks to donations from Baca’s local congregation and has built a basketball court, which doubles as an outdoor auditorium where graduations and other gatherings are held.
The group visited the Amar al-Hosen Christian Retreat Center in Syria, which is under construction with support from the Village Church and will serve as place where Christians can gather for spiritual healing from the trauma of war, economic ruin, loss of home and especially loss of loved ones. The retreat center is open to all – clergy or not, of all denominations – and will help with recovery from what Baca calls, “spiritual PTSD” from the war.
Along with visiting numerous modern churches, the group visited historic churches and monasteries going back to the 4th century and met with church leaders from historic Orthodox, Catholic churches. They also have met on previous trips with government and Muslim officials in various Syrian cities.
Baca traveled to Beirut to meet with folks at ministries for refugees and at-risk children, such as House of Hope, Blessed School and the Philemon Project in Beirut. He also visited with families whose homes were destroyed in the Port of Beirut explosion Aug. 4 last year.
“There is nothing to replace being present with others in their most vulnerable and difficult moments,” Baca said.
As part of the outreach, the foundation runs a hunger program which provides seeds and tools along with farming training to help families plant a garden in their backyard to grow food.
“We travel in order to give a hug, say a prayer, and express the love of others who perhaps cannot go themselves,” Baca said.
A video on this year’s trips is at villagechurch.org/visit/special-events/report-from-syria-lebanon.
Get the RSF Review weekly in your inbox
Latest news from Rancho Santa Fe every Thursday for free
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Rancho Santa Fe Review.