Dr A with Samara Levy – Up from the ashes: A Syrian Doctor’s Story of Sacrifice and Hope
Hodder and Stoughton Hardback ISBN 978 1 529 358421 1 £16.99
Rev John Woods spoke to author Samara Levy for Inspire, to find out more about the story behind Up from the ashes
Samara thanks for being willing to answer questions about your new book. All of the humanitarian work of the past seven years started with an appeal for winter clothes at your son’s school. If you had been told in 2014 what that would eventually involve, how would you have felt?
I would have been utterly terrified. When I set out to fill that first lorry it was like climbing Mount Everest … God has stretched me to my limit at every stage of this work.
How has God has prepared you for this task?
Interestingly I feel that my entire life has been a preparation for this work. Thinking of my experiences in family, life, education and work, not a single one of these experiences has been wasted. My parents were separated when I was very young, I was raised in a Sufi environment in my early years, then my mother remarried a man who was half Arabic, so I had a Middle Eastern influence in my life.
I found ‘Up from the Ashes” a really moving book. It is clear that you have been changed by the process of working in the middle East. What have been the greatest changes?
I have been humbled … my eyes have been opened to the bigger picture. I was very naïve when I started this work, to how much we are influenced and shaped, even as Christians, by our secular culture and the media …I have had the privilege of seeing the world from a Syrian perspective. I have gained a fascinating insight into how they see us. It has also shaped my faith by almost living the Bible … I have been surprised that life in Syria has not changed much from what we see documented in the Old and New Testament. Talking to Dr A is like talking to a character from the Bible.
The book was not entirely what I had expected – instead of using a wide lens to look at the whole picture you have chosen to use a zoom lens to look at one remarkable man’s life. Why was that?
My faith journey has been influenced by the testimony of faithful people who have done great things for God. What stays with me is the individual stories, because telling a person’s real-life story is a powerful way of getting a message across in a way that leaves an imprint in our memories.
I am in awe of Dr A’s story, and I have tried to retain his Syrian voice in this book.
The book describes culture shock and reverse culture shock for both you and Dr A. What have you both learned about each other’s culture?
I grew up in London in a multi-cultural area. Seeing many cultures assimilated into our society, I didn’t initially notice his differences. Over time, each of these contrasts fascinated me.
Dr A has also been surprised that there is a difference between English people in general and English Christians. He has come to see that English Christians’ faith is very much like Syrian’s Christians’ faith.
What is so impressive is that this is a story not about western control, but about genuine partnership. How did you learn the importance of this approach and how has it worked in practice?
God has humbled me. In the West we need to be careful not to carry an arrogance that everything we have is better than others in the world. It is not better, it is different. I sometimes think that these communities are closer to God than we are, because we have lost so much through our use of technology and media.
When I first started this work I felt that we had something to gift to the Syrian people. But over time I felt that God wanted this partnership to give a gift to the West, from Syria, and I feel that this book is part of that gift.
What would you like this book to achieve?
This book is a wake-up call for us in the West. It’s my hope that it will challenge people to think about how we prioritise our lives here. If something like this horrific war were to break out in our countries, what would suddenly become important to us?
The book also shows people what one poor child can achieve. Dr A worked hard and has subsequently served his nation, and will continue to achieve so much more, God-willing. God blesses us when we say ‘Yes’ to him. Dr A’s life is what that looks like in practice.
Samara, thank you for taking time to speak to me.
- John Woods is a writer and Bible teacher based in West Sussex, and is Director of Training for the School of Preachers in Latvia.