Over the past week I have been sharing some of the experiences I had from my trip to Lebanon at the end of March.
I have tried to write this a few times hence the delay. Today is the final post. I want to thank you all for liking and sharing. I also want to thank those who have been kind and contacted me to tell me how it has affected them. As a story teller, all you want to do is tell your story, via words or images, in a way that allows people to experience some of what you experienced. So, part five, let's go.
I knew very little about Lebanon before I found out I was going there.
I was unaware of the social and political history. Upon doing my research and talking to people when I was out I was even more amazed by how the Lebanese are reacting to the Syrian refugees. For over 20 years ending in 2005, Syria occupied Lebanon. From stories I have heard and things I have read, to say they occupied with a firm hand would be an understatement. So in 2011 when war broke out in Syria and the Syrians started crossing the boarder, you can imagine for a lot of people that this wasn't a welcome sight.
I can only speak of the people I met and the organisation I was documenting the work of [Heart for Lebanon] but watching the reaction of Christians towards their Muslim brothers and sisters was inspiring. It's as if they read their bible and started taking the challenging passages of Jesus seriously. For years the passage that has kept coming back to me has been:
This passage is one that I speak on but RARELY act on. However, over the few days I was on site with Heart for Lebanon, I not only saw these things being done, but the heart that they serve with is something I could only aspire to. I watched as people came to pick up their food package, every single time, they were engaged by at least one member of staff with a smile and a question. I then watched and listened when the staff were offsite and as they told stories of the people they came into contact with I saw their hearts break all over again.
We conducted one final interview on our third day in camp. It was with a lady and her husband. Strangely the husband requested that his wife spoke on behalf of their family. One of the children was with them and she sat patiently as the mother recounted her story.
Her demeanour was quite calm and unemotional. So it was with great surprise when the translator told us her story that she had just told to him.
She was traveling with her family from one village in Syria to another. As they approached a check point the guards at the check point opened fire. 5 of the bullets that were fired hit her 11 year old son in the head. Her son unsurprisingly died of the injuries inflicted upon him. Her father in law was also hit and he died too. So a simple journey from one village to another changed their lives forever. Her demeanour was misleading. Her grief, whilst still very fresh had made her numb.
Strangely I was numb too. When I heard the story I was disgusted with myself that I didn't have an emotional reaction. In the short period of time that i had been there, my heart had already started to become hardened to the stories I was hearing.
I asked Bashir, one of the staff members how he keeps going. How he protects his heart whilst keeping it soft. He says he has one story that for him keeps him going. It drives him forward, the one he revisits.
He tells of a grandmother who had to look after this small baby when they arrived in Lebanon because the mother of the child [her daughter] had died in the fighting in Syria. The grandmother couldn't produce any milk and she couldn't afford any. So for days she struggled to find milk with no prevail. Days later this little starving baby died and was buried in one of the camps. For Bashir, this broke his heart and drives him forward. It was his line in the sand.
In 2011, in Northern Ireland one of the things that had people up in arms was Pop superstar Rihanna shooting her music video for 'We Found Love' in Belfast and surrounding areas. When the video came out people were upset at the hook line in the song, as if there was a reason other than her touring schedule that made her shoot this video in Belfast.
Walking around the camps in Lebanon it definitely felt like the most hopeless place on earth. I have heard someone describe it like time is standing still.
For me, one of the biggest criticisms that is thrown at Christians that has the most sticking power is that Christians are known for what they don't do, rather that what they do do. The Christians I met through Heart for Lebanon, not one of them ever told me what they don't do. It was refreshing that the heart for service was one that didn't get tainted by arguments of church stewardship, conflicts over differences or even a bakery*.
I have spent a lot of time thinking about the few days I had in Lebanon and the hours that we spent in camps. I have been searching for the thin line of hope that exists there. Then it dawned on me.
Hope walks into these camps everyday with supplies.
Hope knows the residents names.
Hope touches the knees and hands of the broken.
Hope listens to the painful stories.
Hope weeps with the broken.
Hope shines its light in dark places.
Hope causes people to smile with its presence, even if only for a minute.
Hope bandages up the scars of the past with its healing touch.
Hope waits with you.
Hope takes the shape in extraordinarily ordinary people.
Hope is relentless.
Hope does the simple things like just getting up in the morning and being there.
Hope strives for resolution even when the horizon line of change is nowhere to be seen.
Hope has a name.
Hope is Chris
Hope is Denise
Hope is Bashir
Hope lies in the faces and the in the actions of the rest of staff at Heart for Lebanon.
As I left Lebanon, taking a last look at the sunrise over Beirut as we walked through the doors of the airport, I thanked God for people who take their faith seriously. Not in a way that gets upset when someone offends them through something they have said or done, but who are upset and offended when there is something that isn't being said or done.
To that I say Amen [so be it]