June 2, 2016
Many first-time visitors to Lebanon are surprised by its natural beauty! (Photo: Rosette Mansour)
To read the first installment of this two-party story, click here.
What has God Promised About Safety?
Having returned from the trip, Mike now says he would remind those who hesitate to go “that Jesus is not just God within the walls of our churches or the borders of our country. If Jesus is God, he has to be the Provider everywhere. He’s our Shield.”
We have this confidence, this knowledge of God’s nearness and character, and yet can also consider what God has and has not promised for His children. Is a life of safety His primary purpose for us? Todd Crusey, Pastor of Community Life at Grace Presbyterian Church, shared that he consistently tries to sow a specific seed of truth in the minds of church members. “Our safety is never guaranteed,” he shares. “You can’t open the Bible and find a place where God promises us that we’ll be safe. Our standing in Him is secure. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. But that is not a promise of safety.” In fact, “in the history of the Church, there were a lot of people who were never safe, but they were secure.”
His wife Liz, a MEBO staff member who led the team this spring after visiting Lebanon herself multiple times considers church history and lives of influence, and agrees. “The people who lead us and show us the way and hold up the lantern for us aren’t safe people living safe experiences.”
The concept that hardship and danger can, at times, be God’s will for His children may be challenging to wrestle with. And yet this was one of John’s conclusions as he prepared for the trip. “We’ve got all these people praying for us,” he thought. “If anything does happen, apparently it was God’s will. So why worry about it?”
The U.S. team toured a monastery with Lebanese friends in South Lebanon. (Photo: Joy Zeigler)
Relationships Make the Risk Worth It
Although interviewed separately, members of this team were unanimous in expressing that the compelling purpose for, and great gift from, this trip were the relationships developed with Lebanese brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as with Syrian refugees they encountered.
For John and Joy, conversations with ABTS Partnerships Manager Wissam al-Saliby and ABTS President Elie Haddad during their trips to Houston last year cultivated a desire to visit Lebanon and learn more. Remembering his decision to join the team, John said that this “relationship aspect opened the door for me.”
For Joy, watching the unfolding refugee crisis from the comfort of the U.S. wasn’t enough. She compassionately desired to see, first hand, what life is like for refugees of the war in Syria. The team’s time spent in the tent of a destitute but hospitable refugee woman was deeply impactful. “Don’t forget me! Pray for me,” their gracious host pleaded with them as they left. “I felt an inward stab as I thought about how I think about the world—as a map rather than as people with names and stories,” Laurel shared. “People opened their lives to us on this trip, and were so grateful for our presence. That was both warming to my heart and humbling.”
The makeshift tent dwelling of a refugee family in an unofficial camp in Lebanon. (Photo: Tim Stuckey)
Back in St. Louis, Mike has shared with other church and ministry leaders, “the church in Lebanon is our responsibility. South City Church has brothers and sisters in Lebanon.” This same take-away caused Joy to say, reflecting on the impact of their trip on her local church, “I feel like the church is moving toward a better understanding of our global connection to each other.”
Todd, one of her pastors, agrees. One of the most enduring and beautiful results of a trip like theirs is that when you “enter into relationship with people, there’s a deeper responsibility.The riskiest thing about going to Lebanon,” he said, “is that you’re going to develop relationships with people that have consequences! Now you have a deep love for a particular people and a particular place, and what happens to them matters to you.”
So why do Western Christians consider things like safety and risk, purpose and calling, and consider a trip to Lebanon worth it? For this team, relational connections with the Church in Lebanon are a gift far greater than any perceived danger. They walk away humbled by the courage and faithfulness of believers in the region, as Joy pointed out, which minimizes any initial risk they might have felt they were taking by coming.
Perhaps Laurel speaks for her team, and for many others who have been blessed by opportunities to connect with Christians and ministries on other continents and within other cultures, when she says, “I delight to be a part of God’s Church, this global Church. The center is not in any geographic area. The center is Christ. As far as the risks I took in going—they were balanced out by the opportunities that awaited me there, and the way my horizons have been broadened.”
If you are interested in visiting Lebanon as a listener and learner, contact us! You’ll find yourself among those who have acknowledged the risk to be small and the gain to be great.