What do you think of when you hear the word Refugee? My perspective has changed dramatically in the past two years. When we bring people to our outreach center, people frequently ask, “Where are the refugees.” I show them the people walking in the streets, children running outside, the people running worship, and leading others to the Lord that they now know. Our ministry is currently to Urban Refugees. People like most of us in America. If we had everything taken from us we would move to a new home in a new city not to a tent. Here in Lebanon it is the poorest of the poor and those who lived in tents in Syria that ended up in what we call the Bekaa Valley. 500,000 men, women, and children living in communities of shacks.
Until last month I had never been to the camps. There are very few dangerous areas in Lebanon but I had heard stories from my friends of several incidents that had happened in tents close to the Syrian border. They shared about medical relief enclosures being set on fire, fights breaking out over food portions, and rumors or ISIS kidnappings.
So when I was asked if I wanted to help prepare one of the camps for Winter I was surprised that my immediate answer was, “Absolutely! I would love to! When do we leave?” I suppose part of me was thinking, “You have already followed God’s calling around the world and brought your family to a country bordering war. Why not go a little farther?” I love telling people that Jesus had a habit of being in the wrong place at the right time. So it makes sense that I would continue to follow after my Middle Easter savior.
We brought a few hundred gospels, mattresses, blankets, and heaters to a camp that the local churches were not reaching out to. In the past there had been big issues with people driving in with trucks of aid. One of our local ministry contacts went ahead and was able to gain the trust of the leader of the camp. So with his authority I stood on top of a mountain of mattresses and began to give them out under his direction two at a time.
I have to say I was surprised; it was different than I expected. The UN had responded with aid from all over the world and built plywood structures for each family. Each had electricity. Some had refrigerators and I had to laugh when I saw a satellite on top of one shack. A Lebanese local joked that refugees come with only the shirt on their back and a TV under their arm. Many things are different throughout the world but some of the humorous idiosyncrasies of poverty still prevail.
Though some of the conditions were better than a few of the homes I have visited in Beirut. The look of desperation on he faces of the mothers was identical. There were 8 different mattress coverings stacked randomly to the sky, and I was asked by one of these women if I could bring honor to her family by giving her matching mattresses. Realizing this was an issue that could shame others by giving them unmatched mattresses, I began to assess how consuming it would be trying to stand 20 feet in the air and match the mattresses that were beneath me.
After 2 hours we were able to give out over 100 gospels each with a matching sets of mattresses. The subtle smiles given to me before people hurried back to their homes confirmed the honor I could restore by this simple act of inconvenience. The second to last set was given to a couple that had just been married in the camp a day before. It reminded me of a movie where a couple in a concentration camp have a wedding service after dark. A reminder that life perseveres, and that if the light of human love can shine in the muddy darkened hovels of a refugee camp, how much greater will Christ’s light shine as his salvation brings true honor and true hope to the truly hopeless?