I thought I was over jet-lag when I woke up that morning. Wrong. I checked my clock, it was 4:00 AM. After multiple attempts to go back to sleep, I got up at 5 and went to take a walk outside. I dressed in jeans and a t-shirt and figured out that the team wouldn’t be at breakfast until 7:30. Liz was up too since we were both pretty jet-lagged anyway. We took a walk together in the cool morning air. Along the way we saw a small vineyard and
a melon patch, an olive tree grove and lots of white doves sauntering around the convent grounds.
At 7:30 we headed back to the cafeteria to have breakfast. Surprisingly, Dawn and Mike were there and so was Dr. Foster. The nuns had already laid out breakfast for us. Preserved figs, cucumbers, tomatoes, pita bread, some cheese that tasted like mozzarella, and apricot jam. We loaded up our plates and headed back to a table. I had some Lebanese coffee with cream and sugar (apparently people there drink it straight…I’m so American. haha :D). Kara, Nate and Stephen walked in, looking very sleepy. The team had a good laugh when Stephen told us that his air conditioning wasn’t working last night. Welp, living in Lebanon for less than 24 hours and we are already struggling.
At 8:00 sharp, the Heart for Lebanon white van pulled up to greet us. Out walked Milad, who we had met the night before and our driver whose name was Hassanein. We piled into the van and Milad told us the drive to the Bekaa Valley was almost an hour and a half. My hands were shaking with excitement and my brain buzzed with a million thoughts.
“Thank you God. Thank you for everything. Prepare my heart to listen, love and be present at these refugee camps.” I prayed silently.
We arrived in Zahle, the largest Christian city in the Middle East, says Milad. Zahle is a city near the Bekaa Valley. Hassanein pulled into a narrow alley and parked next to the Heart for Lebanon office. We entered through the glass doors and inside was a warehouse with several heavy white bags stacked high on wooden pallets. A short, clean-shaven man approached us with a warm smile. In one hand he held a small cup of Lebanese coffee and with the other he shook our hands saying his name was Bashir. For the next hour, he told his story of how he came to work for Heart for Lebanon and what he loves most about this ministry.
The most striking thing about his story was how the power of forgiveness and reconciliation has been a huge part of his walk with Christ and the ministry with the Syrian refugees. He tells us about the historical tension and hatred that exists between Lebanese and Syrians. In 1976, the Syrian regime took over and began to control the Lebanese government. Families were torn apart. Kidnappings. Murder. Now in 2011, when the Syrians are returning to Lebanon, they have neither weapons, tanks or soldiers, but rather, the clothes on their backs and a desire to return to their homes as soon as possible.
“If I did not have Christ within me, I would hate them,” said Bashir. “I can forgive them because He has forgiven me. I can show love to these Syrians because the Lord has shown me love.”
Bashir wants to be an ambassador for reconciliation and the grace of Christ Jesus. The truth and beauty of the Gospel transforms lives. It mends broken communities and brings peace to difficult political and historical tensions where there is deep bitterness and hatred. This great love that the Heart for Lebanon workers have for the Syrians is, by the World’s definition, mind-boggling and so reverse. This makes the Syrians genuinely curious, they are asking the H4L team why they are doing this. This radical love and reconciliation that they are showing opens doors to the words of the Gospel!
Bashir accompanies us to the tent camps in the Bekaa Valley with the Heart for Lebanon truck filled with supplies following behind us. When we arrive, we jump out of the van surrounded by several women dressed in long chadors with their children close to them. I’ve never been stared at so intently in my life. We make our way to the supply truck and pack bags with oil, soap and towels to pass to each of the women waiting. The sweltering heat and humid air beats down on us, there is no shade or lush trees, but I smile knowing what life-changing work God is doing through Heart for Lebanon.
After the items are distributed, we split up and head to the tents for visits. Milad takes my group of Mike, Dawn and I to a tent. A Syrian man with a blue buttoned-down shirt gestured for me to come in and take my shoes off at the entrance. I felt ashamed as I removed my sandals to reveal my feet covered in dust from the rocky road. I sat down on a woven mat spread across the clean concrete floor. An older woman introduced herself to us as Jenny, on her lap was a little girl who stared at me with large eyes. While the man talked to Mike and Milad about their situation, I asked Jenny about her story and family. Turns out that the man is Jenny’s brother-in-law that helped her and her four children escape Syria illegally, since the Syria’s borders have been closed since 2014.
I look through a low window covered in green mesh close to where I am sitting. Two kids are staring and giggling at me through the small opening. I smile back, which sends them running in the other direction. I shift nervously on my heels wondering how I would interact with these people if they’re just afraid of me.
A few minutes later I lift my head and a group of children appear at the door. They approach me, their eyes wide with curiosity. I let them come close to me, one curious girl reached out and touched my hair and examined my skin that paled in comparison to hers. I felt awkward just letting them stare at me, so I pulled out a pair of blue sunglasses from my bag and put them on one of the kids.
The little boy with dark, curly hair and mocha colored skin laughed as he adjusted them to his liking. I giggled with the children as he stumbled around pretending to be blind with the silly-looking glasses on.
I didn’t know how long we had been there. My heart was captivated by these children, their warmth and beautiful eyes filled with love. One girl followed me out of the tent with her little sister trailing behind as Mike, Dawn and I made our way back to the van to get lunch. Her little hand slipped easily into mine and she said the only words she knew in English, “I love you!” My heart could have burst. Perhaps she didn’t know the gravity of that phrase, but I did, and I felt it so heavily. I did not know her name, her story or her family, but she captured me with her joyful soul.
We got back into the van, air-conditioned and ready for us to go get lunch. I couldn’t help but feel reluctant as we jolted out of the camp. When would I see these people again?
After lunch, the Heart for Lebanon team had prepared us for another set of tent visits, but Nate, by seeing how burned out and jet-lagged we were, told them that it would be best for us to head back to the convent and rest. Bashir agreed and told us to be ready tomorrow at 8:00 AM again where Hassanein would pick us up.
We arrived at the convent and Nate asked us to meet back down in the lounge area at 5:30 where we could debrief and just talk about what we saw today. Liz and I both agreed that the heat had exhausted us, but we washed up and came down with Bibles in hand ready to just process our emotions. After dinner and a short tournament of Dutch Blitz, we turned in for the night 🙂 It was such an amazing day, and I remember just falling asleep thanking Him for His goodness.