Syrian orchestra in exile: Changing the image of refugees | Music | DW.COM | 22.09.2015

Syrian refugees have created a symphonic orchestra of musicians in exile in Europe. Hoping to change the image of their war-torn country, they rehearse for their opening concert in Bremen.

Bremen - Syrian Expat Philharmonic Orchestra, Copyright: Samih Amri

War, death, refugees – most people now associate Syria with devastation. “We want to change this,” says Raed Jazbeh determinatedly, “with our music.” The young double bassist initiated the “Syrian Expat Philharmonic Orchestra” (SEPO) a few months ago.

The orchestra will be giving its first concert in Bremen on September 22. Most of its approximately 30 musicians are Syrian refugees. They have come from all over Europe and are rehearsing together for the first time.

The opening piece is the overture to Felix Mendelssohn’s singspiel “Heimkehr aus der Fremde” (Return of the Roamer). With its sad sounds, this concert piece conveys a strong longing for home. Flight and exile characterize the atmosphere of the program, but it also explores the themes of love and hope, selections ranging from classical European symphonies to lesser-known music by the contemporary Syrian composer Mayas Al Yamani.

Bremen - Syrian Expat Philharmonic Orchestra, Copyright: Samih AmriRaed Jazbeh has been living in Germany for two years

Raed started dreaming of creating this orchestra two years ago, when he fled Syria to Germany. He corrects anyone who refers to his ensemble as a “refugee orchestra:” “We are an orchestra of exiles,” he says, gently running his hand over his double bass.

The orchestra practices until late in the night. There isn’t much time left until the premiere. “Even professionals usually need more than three days of group rehearsals,” says Naser, a horn player who now lives in Berlin and came to play with the SEPO, the first symphonic orchestra of Syrian musicians in Europe. They are hosted by German families during the rehearsals in Bremen.

Separated in Damascus, united in Bremen

Some of these Syrians had already performed together in their home country, at the Academy of Music in Damascus. Four years ago, civil war led the young musicians to new destinies – a forced exile in Europe.

Raed found some of his former colleagues over Facebook. It took him a long time to track down the violinist Michella Kasas, who now lives in France and pursues her music studies there.

“I can hardly believe that we are reunited after so many years,” says Michella. Playing with her former classmates in Bremen almost feels like a miracle for the 28-year-old musician. “It feels like we’re back in Damascus when we rehearse. It’s very emotional.”

Bremen - Syrian Expat Philharmonic Orchestra, Copyright: Samih Amri‘Play music with your feelings,’ says conductor Martin Lentz

Michella was lucky enough to be able to bring her violin to France, but the trumpeter Dolama Shabah had to leave his beloved instrument behind when he left: “I just didn’t have enough space in my small backpack,” he explains. It was the only piece of luggage he carried with him when he fled via Turkey, the Mediterranean Sea, Serbia and Hungary to finally reach Germany. A German offered him a used trumpet. “That gave me new hope. I’ve found my strength and my ambition through this orchestra,” says Dolama.

Chaos meets harmony

When he heard about the SEPO a few months ago, conductor Martin Lentz did not hesitate to get involved. Enjoying working with international groups, he recently supervised a project in Ramallah with the Israeli-Argentine conductor Daniel Barenboim.

Lentz is very affectionate and understanding with the young Syrians but remains strict in rehearsals. He repeatedly stops, improves and corrects the musicians: “This must be softer, much finer,” he tells the violinist in English. Then he gives the cues and nods his head. Fingertips roll on a Mideastern darbuka drum while bows are drawn on violins: The musicians gradually create a balanced, fresh rhythm together. Yet combining Arab and Western music on the same concert program is not an easy task.

Bremen - Syrian Expat Philharmonic Orchestra, Copyright: Samih AmriA musical statement with drums, trumpets and strings

Strange sounds keep popping up. Lentz interrupts once again. The musicians are nervous and insecure: Their performance is tomorrow.

They look up to their conductor for advice, and he tries to encourage them: “You don’t need to play as perfectly as the Berlin Philharmonic! Just play with your feelings.” Then he raises his hand and gives the cues: The rehearsal continues. There is no more time to lose before the opening concert.

The concert at the Radio Bremen broadcasting hall is sold out. Further concerts are planned: The next one will be on October 3 in Hitzacker.
Follow the link to better understand the Syrian refugees. And then pray.

Come and love through me

worth it allFollowing on from some recent posts about love, I would like to share with you a song from Meredith Andrews, a singer I’ve only recently discovered and am really enjoying.  It comes from an album “Worth it All” and expresses a longing for God to work in her life, that he might love through her. Sometimes it is discouraging  to look at the great lack of love in the world, in people and families around us – but really it starts with us choosing to be obedient to God’s great command to love. He is willing and able to love through us, through me! What a privilege!


You are air to desperate lungs
Water falling on the sand
Silence to an angry storm sight to a blind man
You’re still the God of miracles
So if You’re gonna move again
Then would You move in me move in me

You’re the beat to a broken heart
Bread for a hungry crowd
And one word from Your voice rings out
And the dead throw their grave clothes down
‘Cause You’re still the God of the empty tomb
The One who came to life again
So come alive in me come alive in me
Come alive in me come alive in me yeah

My life is an empty cup
Fill it up fill it up
I want to hear ev’ry rescued heart cry
You’re enough You’re enough
Break what needs breaking
‘Til You’re all we see and start with me
Start with me

Whose arms hold the fatherless
Whose voice do they hear
Who sits with the prisoner
And stands for the one in fear
You’re still the God of what is just
And You’re still the God of love
So would You love through me
Love through me yeah
Come and love through me
Would You love through me yeah


Your kingdom come
Your will be done
Lord let it be and start with me start with me
Yes Your kingdom come and Your will be done
Oh Lord let it be
Let it start with me start with me yeah
Start with me
Start with me oh

CCLI Song # 6378185 Meredith Andrews | Paul Duncan | Paul Mabury © 2012 Word Music

Jesus, friend of sinners

casting-crowns-come-to-the-well-TOURJesus, Friend of Sinners is the title of a beautiful song from Casting Crowns’ most recent album “Come to the Well“. It is a song which speaks of need for us to show the love of Christ to others, to show what we stand for . . . that we stand for and by the grace that has been shown to us in Christ. We stand for His forgiveness, won on the cross. We want the world to know that our God shows unmeasured grace and love to those who are his enemies. We don’t want the world to define Christians as those who simply oppose everything, and who stand against them. Jesus is the only righteous Judge of those for whom he died, so let’s leave the judging to him. Let this resounding challenge (from the chorus) go with you today:

“Oh Jesus, friend of sinners, Open our eyes to the world at the end our pointing fingers
Let our hearts be led by mercy, Help us reach with open hearts and open doors
Oh Jesus, friend of sinners, Break our hearts for what breaks Yours.”

Jesus, Friend of Sinners

Jesus, friend of sinners, We have strayed so far away
We cut down people in Your name
But the sword was never ours to swing
Jesus, friend of sinners, The truth’s become so hard to see
The world is on their way to You
But they’re tripping over me

Always looking around but never looking up, I’m so double minded
A plank-eyed saint with dirty hands and a heart divided

Oh Jesus, friend of sinners
Open our eyes to the world at the end our pointing fingers
Let our hearts be led by mercy
Help us reach with open hearts and open doors
Oh Jesus, friend of sinners
Break our hearts for what breaks Yours

Jesus, friend of sinners
The One whose writing in the sand made the righteous turn away
And the stones fall from their hands
Help us to remember we are all the least of these
Let the memory of Your mercy
Bring Your people to their knees

Nobody knows what we’re for, only what we’re against
When we judge the wounded
What if we put down our signs, Crossed over the lines
And loved like You did

You love every lost cause, You reach for the outcast
For the leper and the lame, They’re the reason that You came
Lord, I was that lost cause, And I was the outcast
But You died for sinners just like me, a grateful leper at Your feet

‘Cause You are good, You are good
And Your love endures forever
And I was the lost cause, And I was the outcast
You died for sinners just like me
A grateful leper at Your feet

by Mark Hall, Matthew West © 2011 Sony/ATV Tree Publishing (BMI)

Listen to Mark Hall speak about the story behind the song – click HERE

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When our ‘good taste’ overrides our grace towards others

coffee heartThe other day I turned my nose up at an instant coffee made for me from a jar of Nescafe 43. I thought I could justify this ungracious response by defending my ‘good taste’ in coffee, but apparently not, according to C.S. Lewis.

“(Humans) . . .  are best turned into gluttons with the help of their vanity. They ought to be made to think themselves very knowing about food, to pique themselves on having found the only restaurant in town whether the steaks are really “properly” cooked. What begins as vanity can then be gradually turned into habit. But however you approach it, the great thing is to bring him into the state in which the denial of any one indulgence “puts him out”, for then his charity, justice and obedience are all at your mercy.  Mere excess in food is much less valuable than delicacy.”  (Letter 16: Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis, 1942).

Ouch!  If you have never read the Screwtape Letters I would encourage you to rush out and get a copy (or download). The Letters record fictional (but strangely believable) correspondence between a Senior and Junior devil. The uncle instructs his nephew on how to keep his ‘patient’ (a new convert to Christianity) from getting too close to the Enemyscrewtape (for them the Enemy is, of course, God).  In the section above Uncle Screwtape explains how to get at his patient, to annoy him, by encouraging the unbearably fussy eating of his mother and her delicate tastes.  If he can make her insist on having her food served in a particular, apparently simple way he will have some delightful amusements. It is also designed to keep her deluded in selfishness and pride.

Here Lewis makes an insightful connection between the “god of the stomach” and pride in our own good taste. This is a much more dangerous distraction from godliness than simply overeating. What I find most interesting here is that he wrote on such matters long before our addiction to both reality TV cooking shows and the great variety of good foods we enjoy in the West (thanks to globalisation). Lewis’ words also come before ‘coffee culture’ swept our world and people became ‘coffee snobs’ – who insist on having their particular bean roasted a particular way on a particular machine in a particular shop, or their own kitchen. I have met people who will rave for hours about having the best taste in coffee and the most knowledge of how to make it – properly! How gracious are they when offered inferior coffee? (How gracious was I?) And it’s not just coffee. Our egos can be fed and mislead by thinking we have the best taste in food and the best skills in how cook it, to create amazing dishes and impress others.

I suppose I am not that far behind the people that I call coffee snobs! I do prefer real coffee from a coffee shop (though not A particular shop) and I do think I have better taste than others in many ways (doesn’t that just sound awful in print)!  The more I think such proud thoughts, the more I train myself to respond to others with less grace, less charity, less justice and kindness. Let’s measure our “own good taste” against God’s measure, of perfect grace, humility, charity and kindness to others. We are more likely to display the fruits of the spirit to others when our hearts are not bent on satisfying our own ‘good tastes’, and proving our superiority in such matters. I’ll keep working on this!

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Why do we sing about Wrath?

I’m sharing this post from one of my favourite blogs (The Blazing Center) by songwriter/Pastor Mark Altrogge from Sovereign Grace:

lightningSometimes I think if a stranger came into our church he might wonder why in the world are we singing songs about a Roman instrument of death, spikes, whips, and a crown made out of a thorn bush. Why are we singing about some poor guy hanging alone in darkness, bleeding, and thirsting while crowds mock him and spit on him?
And it might really seem strange that so many of our songs mention wrath. This stranger might wonder if we’re fixated on death. He might say, “I thought I would come here and sing about God’s love.” We do. We definitely do. But God’s love for us involves….wrath. We can’t sing songs about God’s love without mentioning his wrath, and a cross, and a bloody sacrifice.
“The common contemporary view of this is that we are estranged from God, but He is not estranged from us. The enmity is all one sided. The picture we get is that God goes on loving us with an unconditional love while we remain hateful toward Him. The cross belies this picture. Yes, the cross occurred because God loves us. His love stands behind His plan of salvation. However, Christ was not sacrificed on the cross to placate us or to serve as a propitiation to us. His sacrifice was not designed to satisfy our unjust enmity toward God but to satisfy God’s just wrath toward us. The Father was the object of the Son’s act of propitiation. The effect of the cross was to remove the divine estrangement from us, not our estrangement from Him. If we deny God’s estrangement from us, the cross is reduced to a pathetic and anemic moral influence with no substitutionary satisfaction of God.” — RC Sproul

God’s wrath makes his love that much more amazing and sweet.

If there were no wrath, if God somehow just loved us and didn’t deal with our sins – if he somehow just put up with them – “Oh boys will be boys. You just have to love them anyway” – we wouldn’t appreciate his love and mercy. Most likely we wouldn’t love him, but go on loving our sins. But God’s wrath that once hung over our heads like a very real sword, waiting to overwhelm us with unspeakable and unending horror and unimaginable, infinite agony is gone! Gone forever! And where did it go? It fell on the one human being who didn’t deserve any wrath. It fell on the innocent, spotless Lamb. It fell on Jesus.

And why? Because of God’s love for us. Because of God’s tender mercy and compassion. Oh yes, we will sing of wrath. Wrath well deserved. Wrath stored up from day one. Heaps and mounds and oceans of wrath barrelling down on us like a juggernaut, then suddenly diverted. Suddenly turned aside. And heaped on Jesus. Jesus, like some kind of heavenly lightning rod, absorbing billions of volts of retribution that was due us. Jesus, on the cross, going to hell.

Yes we will sing about wrath. And meditate on it. And marvel at what we deserved but didn’t receive. We will celebrate and sing our strange songs about wounds and blood and darkness of soul and a cry of abandonment. Because God’s wrath makes his love for us so much sweeter.

O Father, thank you for your deep, deep love. Jesus thank you for the height, width, breadth and depth of your love. Thank you Father for sparing us the terrifying wrath we so well deserved and pouring it out on your Son. Jesus, thank you for taking our place on the cross and drinking this unimaginable cup to the dregs for us. Holy Spirit, thank you for showing us the wrath of God and the love of God.

Thinking about Psalm 73: What did Asaph find in the Sanctuary?

asaphMany thanks to guest preacher Andrew Bain who invited us last Sunday (Mother’s Day) to consider our attitude to the prosperity of the ungodly in the world. In Psalm 73 Asaph expresses at length his bitter envy of ungodly prosperous people and he cries out to the Lord at this extreme injustice. Then midway through the Psalm he takes the time to visit God’s sanctuary (probably the temple, to pray and read God’s word). There he realises how seriously skewed was this envy and this cry of injustice!  “I finally understood the destiny of the wicked” (v17). “I realised that my heart was bitter….I was foolish and ignorant” (v21-22).   In the sanctuary Asaph gains renewed confidence in the goodness of God, and realises that it is the ungodly, not himself, who are on the “slippery slope” to ruin.

What a strange coincidence (God-incidence!) that this Psalm was explored on Mother’s Day, a day when some of the “unfair” aspects of motherhood are supposedly remedied, with gifts and much  attention and thanks being showered on mothers. The world has been shouting at us for some time that motherhood is unfair, that our biology has put women at a disadvantage in a society where prosperity and material gain is the ultimate good (and god!). When we compare our opportunites with those of most men in the developed world, it can seem unfair that women must put their career and their bank balance on hold in order to bear children (in considerable agony). . . and then stay home with them, doing daily repetitive tasks which, though extremely valuable, are deigned unimportant in the eyes of the world. Even the alternative seems unfair: we put the children in day care, head back to work and then, exhausted, enjoy very little of our life as we juggle a thousand demands on our time and attention. We may even get to the point of envying non-Christian women, who sleep in on Sundays and don’t have to add church commitments, bible reading and prayer to their already full diaries! How unfair is it that women often must battle loneliness when at home with little ones, and again at the other end of life, lonely, widowed and apparently forgotten? How unfair is it that some women who want children have been deprived the opportunity, while the ungodly despise and dispose of their unborn children in great numbers?

So what do we do when these bitter thoughts creep in, settle down and discourage us? Like Asaph we need to turn to God. As Christians, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, He lives in us, yet we must take the time to “tune in” to God’s voice. The “sanctuary” is a place we must go to daily, as we turn away from the voices and attitudes of the world, and tune into God’s voice in His word and through prayer. Paul challenges us in the book of Romans: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2). As we tune into God’s voice, in His word, the Spirit helps us understand and see things from a right perspective. God reminds us that the world we live in does not hold correct opinions about heavenly realities: who is King, who is in charge, what is right and wrong, and the ultimate purpose of mankind! God reminds us of the riches we have in Christ, which far surpass anything we could aspire to own or achieve in this “unfair” world. Let’s turn to God and restore our confidence in his goodness. He sent His own son, Jesus, to face extreme injustice, nailed to a cross for the sins of those who were his enemies (us!) and because of this we can draw close to God. Yet I still belong to You; You hold my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny. Whom have I in heaven but You? I desire you more than anything on earth. My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever. (Psalm 73)

Welcoming a little child

So, the blog has been sitting here unused since an enthusiastic outburst at the New Year. Oh well. Am reflecting at the moment on the need for more compassion in the world, as I prepare for Compassion Sunday at church this week. This is basically a big promotion for Compassion Australia, which attempts to gain many more sponsors for children across the globe – in fact to reach the 100,000 mark of those Australians sponsoring children in 26 developing countries! Globally there are 1.3 million sponsor children through Compassion International…..yet this hardly seems enough. We have so much unnecessary stuff in our homes and lives, unused resources which could and should be more evenly distributed around the globe. If they were my children dying of preventable disease wouldn’t I lift a finger to help? If they were drinking dirty water or going without food, wouldn’t I be quick to do something? We need to put faces on the statistics of children (and people generally) living in poverty, and not just consume and spend more because everyone around us is doing it!

The definition of compassion is “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” And Jesus said “. . . whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.” Matthew 18:5. When we sign up to sponsor a child we are welcoming them into our lives, to share with us our resources, our family and our faith in the One true God. We are welcoming more of Christ into our lives!

So, I had been thinking as I prepare for Compassion Sunday: Do I really need to work so hard on this slideshow, on making it attractive and making things clear for potential sponsors. Why can’t they just see the need and sign up? (I think in frustration and with tired eyes and the beginnings of a head cold!). But with all the above in mind, yes they do need encouragement to sponsor a child – whatever might incite one more person to sign up for a sponsor child is worth it! Isn’t it?! How awesome that a little bit of our income can make a really big difference in the life of a child, a family, a community! We may not ever know the full extent of the impact child sponsorship has, but God knows, and it is He who works through Christians and local churches in these countries to bring the gospel to the hearts of these children.

We have had the privilege of sponsoring two Compassion children (since about 1996): a boy Santiago in Ecuador, and then our current sponsor child, a girl named Stacy, in El Salvador. Blessings to you both!