I was invited back to visit with several of the members of the Syrian Christian church in Lebanon. A lot of stories among the 900,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon start very similarly; the Syrian army came through their small town in the middle of the night and told them to get out, so they did.
Most thought they would be returning within a few hours or at most a few days. Now, six years later, they are waiting. Waiting for the United Nations to step up, waiting for the war to end, waiting for safe return, or waiting for other nations to do what they do not have the ability to do in their own country.
It was a strange experience being in Lebanon with Syrians on April 13, 2018, when the U.S., Britain and France struck Syria targets. The attack was meant to punish President Bashar al-Assad for his suspected chemical attack near Damascus that killed more than 40 people.
As foreigners, we took extra precautions that day. However, everywhere we went, people thanked us. Thanked us for doing something that they could not do. It was a surreal. We had brought destruction and correction. But, the coalitions response gave the refugees hope that others in the world had remembered them. They were not forgotten in their humanitarian and civil crisis.
I was asked to teach on Monday night. I really felt like I should teach from the book of Ruth. This is a wonderful Old Testament story of loss and redemption. However, I wanted to speak specifically the character of Ruth. She was committed. She was resolved. She was a hard worker. She was kind. She did the right thing.
As I was sitting on the plane, preparing my notes for my class on Monday night. I prayed to God that if there was something I didn’t know, He would help point it out, since I didn’t have access to the Internet for the 9 hour flight. Specifically, I didn’t have access to my online Hebrew and Greek dictionaries. As I was studying, a young woman in front of me, with freckles and a brilliant red hair kept turning around.
Finally, she spoke to me, “Is that a bible?”
Student: “What are you doing?”
Me: “I am prepping for a class that I am teaching to Syrian refugees on Monday night.“
Student: “Oh. I am a seminary student.”
Student: “Yes. What are you teaching?”
Me: “I am teaching on Ruth.”
Student, “I just did all the Hebrew dictionary work for Ruth. It’s due on Monday. Did you know that the main theme is “To return?” I think that this is the main theme of the book.”
I previously knew that the phrase “to return” is also used frequently used for repentance. But her comments helped me make additional connections in the text I was to teach on. Thank you God. You answer prayers – in the dead of night, with a friendly seminary student, over your vast ocean.
After, I was done teaching the local Pastor asked if I would bless a baby. Over 10 months ago our mission’s teacher, on a prior trip, had prayed for the mother of this baby to conceive because of her struggles. This was baby, was from the result of that prayer.
The Pastor later told me that he felt very led that I was to present that baby boy. Ironically, one month before, while sitting in my late mother’s church, I prayed to God and told Him how sad I was that I had never presented a child to Him. It really hurt my heart that I didn’t get that opportunity. And, here, 7000 miles away, I was being asked to present a miracle with a young mother. God answers prayers. Sometimes they just surprise us.
At one of our teaching sessions, I saw a young woman wearing a shirt that said, “SELFISH” in bright colored sequins. I am not sure she understood the English translation of that word. However, I thought how much easier church would be, if we just wore shirts that confessed our sins for the day, “JEALOUS, HATER, LIAR, ANGRY, etc.”
On the last day, I asked the Pastor’s wife, how she dealt with so many needs every day. The Syrian refugee church is riddled with needs ranging from physical, medical, and spiritual. Most people think the United Nations deals with all of this. But the reality is many times people get stuck and are unable to “get out” of the situation. My question to her was, how do cope day after day hearing about a child’s leukemia (that will probably kill him or her), relatives that are missing in Syria, men that have taken off leaving their wives, lack of food, lack of money for shelter, the list continues.
And she answered, “It is the believer’s job to pray to God and believe that He will help them. It is my job to believe that God will answer them. Because, I can’t help them. I am unable to.” Two sides of faith, one for the believer and one for the church: to stand together in faith before God with there needs.
The fist house we visited, there was a teenage girl that would even hardly look at us. When we entered the home, she kept her eyes down. As we visited with her mother, we found out that three children lived in the home. The teenage girl had two younger siblings, a brother and sister. They had limited schooling, since they are only allowed a few hours in the evening after the Lebanese children finished school for the day. They said that their lucky if even a schoolteacher shows up.
I asked through an interpreter what they all wanted to be when they grew up? Immediately, the mother said, that the teenage girl had never been educated. After the younger children had answered, a teacher and a mathematician. I again asked this teenage girl what she wanted to be, without hesitating, she raised her head and said, “teacher”. As we left that visit, I had gnawing feeling…. How do you choose which children to educate? We take it for granted in the USA that our children will be educated. The question for us is where will they be educated – at home, in public school, or in private school. But here in Lebanon, for many families affected by the war, it is who will be educated?
In Matthew 15:21-28 there is a story about a Canaanite woman and Jesus. On one of our house visits, the wife exclaimed that this was her story too. That she implored upon the Lord to heal her daughter. And, He did! This family was so happy to be together. They did not like that they had to leave their home in Syria. But, they were glad that they were together and as safe as they could be at that moment. They had witnessed first hand the redemptive power of Christ. Even though they were born Christian in Syria. Their faith was solidified during the war. The husband said that he asked God to put his hand on his head if He was real. The husband went on to say that it felt like liquid fire ran from his toes to his head, where he knows he felt the five fingers of God.
Another family was so joyful it was hard not to laugh with them. I assumed as visitors we were suppose to be serious. But, it was hard to be serious when you could feel the love, joy, and warmth in the room. The husband told us that he had become a Christian because his leg was badly injured and the local church came and prayed with him. His leg got better and he didn’t have to go to the doctor. (A real problem in these refugee areas).
I asked him what his life was like before he became a Christian versus what it is like now? Without even hesitating, he said, “I use to beat my wife. Now, I don’t.” My western ears were shocked by his candid confessions. I glanced at his wife and she was beaming and smiling from ear to ear. Wow, no guilt, no shame, just a straightforward confession this is what I was. I believe this man was walking in a spirit of repentance and what a beautiful statement of true repentance. When we first repent and become new believers, we experience great joy just as we felt throughout this home.
Another woman has been faithfully disciplining two other Muslim-Christian families for the last four years. She asked us to pray for her home. Her family of four lived in a studio apartment. She asked us to pray for a room where she could study the bible since her flashlight was keeping her children awake at night.
While we were in Beirut, two prayers that we offered for different women were answered. The first woman asked us to pray for her son, who had been recruited into a local gang. He had not returned home for several months. However, after we prayed for her and left her home, he returned within the hour.
Another woman asked us to pray for her brother whom she hadn’t heard from since the chemical attack in Syria. It had been over two weeks and she feared the worst. We prayed that he get in contact with her immediately. He arrived that evening with his whole family – having been able to leave Syria and enter Lebanon.
I highly recommend Christians in the western world participate in Missions trips. It will help you grow your perspective on the global church and what Jesus truly did on the cross. My church encourages us to pursue people with the love and the message of Jesus, both on our campuses, and outside the four walls of the church. Most of the church is outside the typical Sunday service. It is my hope, by reading about my missions’ experiences that you will want to have your own. May God bless the church.