Saturday, March 31, 2018

christian refugees in lebanon

Beirut Lebanon
There is this undercurrent that you pick up on as you walk down the tenant streets. With 2 million refugees in Lebanon, that is a lot of pressure on the financial, health, utilities, and other infrastructure in the country. 

You couldn’t help but notice that many of these refugees were in a holding pattern.  Waiting for the war to be over, waiting to return to Syria, waiting for the UN to grant them access to Canada, waiting…and while they were waiting, they were having children and their children were growing up. 

Most of the young people looked older – wearied from the years.  I couldn’t help but be reminded of the three sieges of Jerusalem by Babylon.  First, Nebucanzzer took the noble men and educated (Daniel and friends), then, he took the trades people, and what was left in Jerusalem were the weak.  It seems that most of the young people have left Syria. 

I had the opportunity to do a teaching as part of the local discipleship class.  There were about 60 women in attendance and 10 men.  I taught on Daniel and being in the lions den.  Basically, Daniel was faithful and loved by God, yet he still had to face the lions.  When I shared this story, I realized that some of these women would be killed due to their faith.  Their lions were going to eat some of them.

 I encouraged them to learn to read and write, to be mentored with a stronger Christian, and specifically challenged them that if I returned in 6 months would they be different?  At the end, I had several women ask for prayers for their children and themselves.  It was humbling to serve in such a manner.  I was a unique creature for these women.  I had a profession.  I taught bible studies.  And, I had a husband. 

My group conducted over 30 home visits while we were in Beirut.  All of our visits were Syrian refugees associated with the Nazarene church in Beirut. All lived in tenant buildings.  Most lived in 1 room, where the family ate and slept.  The children were not in school and their parents themselves have very little education.  New believers were encouraged to start mentoring people (2-3) in your home immediately.

Memorable Stories
One young woman had two sewing machines set up in her apartment.  She said that an organization had helped her establish her in a trade.  She was able to provide some income for her family this way.  When she became a Christian, her father gave her photo to ISIS and had her brother join ISIS.  Basically, a hit was put out on her for betraying her faith and her family. She and her family had gone into hiding until the hired hitman was caught

Another woman had a child that was sick, She had prayed at the Mosque, she had asked for healing from Allah, yet, none came.  So, she decided to pray that if Jesus were real, her son would be healed.  And, the next day, the child’s fever broke and he was eating normally.  That’s how she knew Jesus was real.  There were many stories of healing.  These people were stacked in housing, poor living conditions, and inadequate health care.  They had to depend on Jesus to heal them.

Our interpreter was 14 when he left Syria.  He had been on the streets of Beirut for 5 years.  His education was limited, but he wanted to go to Argentina and become a computer programmer.  I have no doubt that one-day; he will be working in a software company in California…just as he wishes to.

I had a small six-year-old girl with small gold earrings curl up next to me in a chair.  I wondered why she took to me – a stranger.  It wasn’t long until I saw two older girls start kicking her chair.  She was being bullied.  I turned around and glared at the girls and they stopped.  But the little girl had figured out who would protect her.    When I visited in her home, the young girl immediately sat on my lap.  She wanted to play with my watch, bracelets, and rings.  Then, she took pen and paper and started drawing.  Her family couldn’t afford to send her to school.   I think this experience hit me the most.  This young girl knew she had to have a protector.  It wasn’t lost on me that the wrong conditions or the wrong person, she could be a victim of sex trafficking or worse.

I met several women Syrian pastors.  And, like the woman I am, we started visiting and soon bonded.  They found great delight in finding out I couldn’t cook and didn’t have children.  They went on to tease me all weekend that I would make a horrible Arab wife.  (Good thing I married an American).  As the weekend proceeded, the women approached me over and over and shared their stories.  Mainly, they told me that my laughter was healing to their heart.  They hadn’t laughed in so long.  And, with me, it was easy. 

The Syrian pastors I met were very different than the refugees I had worked with in Beirut.  They were committed to staying in Syria.  They were going to rebuild.  They were going to survive.  They were not waiting on anything.  They were moving in the flow of God.  After each story, the women would all say, “God is sovereign.”  These women had claimed it as their mantra.  And, quite refreshing, they owned it. 

One morning, a delightful young woman approached me wanting to share her testimony and a selfie with me.  After we had secured a translator, she began to share how God had changed her life.  With ISIS, she had seen her brother beheaded.  She shared how she was bitter.  How could God allow such things and yet demand love in return?  Then she went on to say that one-day, she felt like her son, who was a mute, shouldn’t go to work.  She said, “Jesus spoke to my heart”.  So, she desperately searched and tried to contact her son.  Her son, who was a barber by trade, communicated that he didn’t go to work because he felt like he shouldn’t.  Later that morning, the barbershop was bombed killing 12 people in total.  Then she said, I knew then that God was good.  And that He didn’t cause my brother’s suffering. 

When the young woman had finished her story, there were more selfies and about 5 other women surrounded us.  They each asked me to pray specifically something for them.  So, I wrote it down.  Then, they asked what I could they pray for me.  I told them what I needed prayers for.  And, they each wrote it in their bible.  My name – in their bible.  I was so humbled by the gesture.  They valued me much more than I had valued them.

Another woman told me that she had been very wealthy in Syria.  She had a restaurant and a 3500 square foot house.  She had several cars.  However, in 24 hours her house was robbed.  Her restaurant blown apart, and she was living in a home with 15 other people.  God had saved her and her family and she loved Him for it.

Another women, a teacher of Arabic literature, lived in a resort town and loved skiing.  She discipled 15 women each week in her home.  When I asked, how do you host them, when you only have electricity 2 hours a day and resources are limited?  She said, that at the start of the war, she planted various fruit trees: cherry, apple, apricot, lemon…. etc.  She said that she often could only give fruit to the women.  Her planning and her fruit for lack of better word struck me.  It solidified what bearing good fruit meant in my mind.

At the end of the session one evening, I was asked to walk with the women around the hotel as they shopped.  The Syrian women said that Lebanese prices were much higher than Syria and they couldn’t afford anything.  As we windowed shop, we talked about Christmas and whether they decorated.  Both women were wealthy and said that before the war they had trees and presents.  However, now, some put trees up, some didn’t, but the most profound thing said…I use to buy gifts for my family.  But now, each year, I put a bow on my head and say, you get me!

Upon my return, my neighbor asked what my biggest insight was…the question that haunts me from this trip is would I be faithful?  At the loss of family, business, possession, income, and comfort, would I be able to stand a faithful Christian- before my God and be happy, joyful, and content as these people that I had met.