Let It Go: A Frozen Post by Louis

Expectations

If I was to take to look back at my expectations prior to coming to Lebanon, having a transforming experience listening to a Disney animated musical would not have made my list. So, you can imagine my surprise when I found myself in tears listening to “Let It Go” in the car with a group of high schoolers.

We have gotten to the point with our Syrian young men that we no longer schedule events. We have moved within walking distance of Horizons’ outreach facility, so we are in their neighborhood. We now have people coming over all the time, and we get to see the remaining three youth at least four times a week.

Make Disciples Who Make Disciples

Our discipleship with these young men has moved from meetings in “air conditioned” rooms to just living life together and taking them with them wherever we go. If we are going out to eat they come. If we are staying home to watch a movie they come over. And if we have activities with our interns or staff they always tag along. This has led to amazing exposure of mature believers closer to their ages who all have a passion for loving and sharing Jesus.

The one requirement of the high schoolers being around all the time is that they become our kids and our kids have to become their brother and sister. They must protect and help David and Kyrie as they try to navigate life in Lebanon. One day we were traveling around taking interns from place to place when all of a sudden Kyrie began crying uncontrollably.

Though an American high schooler thinks very little of a crying two-year-old, in the Middle East they jump into action.

Immediately the three boys searched their phones vigorously searching for something to take Kyrie’s mind away from whatever had bothered her. At the same time two of them yelled out, “I found it!” They began playing “Let It Go” on their phone. One was playing in English and the other in Arabic. It turned out they had the same video saved to their phones in at least three different versions. They then proceeded to sing along to every word and then translate the music into Kurdish and then to Arabic.

Needless to say, Kyrie was extremely happy.

Before I continue let me recap what just happen lest there be confusion: My two-year-old burst into tears; a 16, 18, and 19-year-old desperately try to help; they find and unleash a treasure trove of downloaded Frozen music videos to soothe my daughter; and I am stunned in complete befuddlement.

A Song For Refugees

I see them start to tear up as they sing the words and so I press in to listen to the lyrics of the song of which previously I had cared very little. Suddenly, I realize this is a song for a refugee. If you will allow, I will share a few points that made my high schoolers begin to cry:

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see; Be the good [man] you always have to be; Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.”

    The thing I am consistently amazed by is the incredible resilience of people who have lost everything. These young men had to push aside all feelings of loss in their lives in order to press on and provide for their families. This forces them to go into survival mode relentlessly year after year. They have to choose to either flee into themselves or fight to survive. Through the storm that rages around them they have stayed strong and persevered.

“It’s time to see what I can do; To test the limits and break through; No right, no wrong, no rules for me, I’m free!”

Most refugees are spread throughout nations that do not like them and want them to leave. The policy of many nations is if you treat refugees well, then they will want to stay. It is easy to feel that the laws of the host nation are set in place to make foreigners feel oppressed and as a subjugated class. To sing a line about breaking through and experiencing freedom from this bondage would bring any of us to tears.

“And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast, I’m never going back, the past is in the past”

I’ve seen a change in refugees over the five years since we came for our first visit. At first, everyone thought that they would be going back any day. Then people began to make a life in transition. Finally, it has set in that this is going to be the rest of their lives. They have truly lost everything and they will never be going back. The only hope for a refugee is truly the hope of heaven. Just like the old hymn goes:

“I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back, no turning back!”

Sheep Stealing—Division is Multiplication

Right before we returned to Lebanon the ministry we were returning to split in half.

I have been part of three churches that have closed and two that have split in half, and in every situation it has caused a rippling current akin to a death and divorce all wrapped together. So when I heard that the ministry was splitting in half as I was preparing to return to the Middle East, a cold chill gathered at the base of my neck and I thought, “Not again.”

Instead, upon our return, I found something remarkably different than I ever could have suspected.

From the beginning of our ministry in Lebanon one of our core principles has always been that our outreach center is not a church. Our passion is to light a fire under the local church so that they would, for the first time, embrace evangelism and discipleship to those who are not from a Christian background and who are not Lebanese. We want the local churches to work together as a single organism in order to battle the forces that bare down against them. The challenge is that each church is in competition with one another, even within denominations, to be the best ministry in Lebanon and all are threatened by the competition of other local leaders.

So who is the person that we sent to bring unity to the disconnected body of believers? A singing carpenter.

Our worship leader, named Boutros went from parish to parish asking each pastor to come and preach to the refugees at our center. Everyone was happy to meet with a lowly carpenter, because he couldn’t possibly be a threat to anyone’s ministry. One by one the pastors came and saw what they didn’t think possible. There were hundreds of Christians freshly delivered from Islam praising and worshiping God. There was ministry being run by lay people of over a dozen different cultural backgrounds who shared only a passion to reach the lost.

When these pastors came to our staff and asked them what they could do to help they were all told the same thing: “Steal our sheep.”

Steal our sheep. They’re not ours to begin with; they are God’s sheep. So who are we to lay claim to them, and this ministry is really the job of the local church. Initially God used us to bring them into the kingdom. Then God began using local Lebanese leaders to disciple these believers. The churches went from looking down on Syrians to embracing them and are now able to boast about entire services filled from wall to wall with refugees from around the region.

Finally, something happened that we had been praying about for years.

A local church started its own refugee center in our neighborhood of Naba3. Those of our staff who were members at this church went fully equipped to start a new facility and continue the work of evangelism to the lost that we had begun.

This could have broken our ministry.

Half of our staff just quit and went to work at a center “in competition” with us just next door! It could have brought dissension. It may have even caused some to fall away and never return to worship. That has always been my experience and was my fear as soon as I heard what had happened. Instead when our leadership was approached by the church to let us know of their plans we were exuberant. The plan all along was to help the local church wake up.

Instead of dividing the ministries, now both centers are overflowing.

This has allowed us to enter into a season of discipleship. Those who remain at our location are ready to go deeper. Meetings that began with 50 people are now 10 meetings of 5 people each. Home ministry is increasing, and we are able to dig in and raise up the next wave of believers to bring people to Jesus. God is using this season to heal my heart as well. Instead of being heartbroken at the pain and loss of a church divided I can sit and saturate in the hope of glory shown through smooth transitions like this. God wants His family to work together and when they do the gates of hell cannot withstand it.

Christianese -Written by Louis Liss

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1 Corinthians 2:2

I adore intellectualism. I lavish wading in the waters of hyper-cognitive conversations and am filled with a bolt of adrenaline at the opportunity to debate any given topic that pops up in daily dialogue. So when the Holy Spirit illuminated the Great Commission for me in high school as being imperative for my life, I felt uniquely equipped to stand in the middle of the courtyard and watch as my words brought down tongues of fire onto the campus. You can imagine how stunned I was when my incredible oratory and prowess in verbal sparring bore no fruit and sowed a lot of dissension towards not only myself but God in general. For some bizarre reason my puffed up pride did not convey the gospel of Jesus Christ. Beyond my arrogance, the greatest barrier to Jesus was the language I was using, which to me was clear and deeply significant. To my post-modern classmates the words, “Justification by grace through faith,” not only had no meaningful impact, but had no meaning at all. Though I had a comprehensive command of the theological principles of the road to salvation this did not impress my classmates enough to give their lives over to Jesus nor did they appreciate being dragged brain first across the threshold of salvation. So I stumbled through constant clumsy evangelism into college. It was there at our InterVarsity campus ministry that we played a game where we had to make a list of words that meant nothing or something completely different to our non-Christian neighbors. We made a long list of words including, for example, atonement, sanctification, and blood. Then we were asked to flip over the page and answer the following question without using any of those aforementioned words: What is the significance of the cross in your life? Jesus’ death on the cross was and is the most important manifestation of Christ in my life and so I feverishly began to write with growing fervor. I soon found that I was doing far more erasing than I was writing. I realized that I had become fully dependent on explaining my deep and passionate love for Jesus in a way that only I and those select few fluent in Christianese could understand. I then received a far deeper revelation from the Holy Spirit. I had been clinging to these insider terms during evangelism because I had placed my identity in my intelligence and not in Christ. I thought that it was more important that people were impressed by my knowledge of God than by God, and to bring the illumination to its completion the Holy Spirit finally told me that my amazing oration had drawn many people to myself but very few were then drawn to Him. So I began to take a John 15 set of shears to my language. I started to systematically reevaluate all of my beliefs about God and if it included any of the post-modern taboo words that I had listed then I moved it from the evangelism part of my brain to the discipleship section. I began to realize how deeply difficult this truly was. I found my post-modern friends were in no way interested with whether or not Jesus was true in what He said, but they were intently fascinated by whether or not these truths worked practically in my life. With my high church armor stripped I found myself exposed. These words had protected me from having to engage about my own struggles and failures. I now stood bare before the world with nothing but Jesus and my personal stories of his daily actions in my life. I sat one day in my hockey locker room surrounded by several guys I have known for well over 15 years. They would frequently recount the debaucherous exploits of our youth. After several months of stories a newer player who knew that I had been present for all of the depicted events asked me how it was possible that I could be a character in these stories from the past and now be a pastor and missionary who continued to consort with my former teammates. The characters in these tales were comprised of heroin addicts, a multiple rehab attender, a drug dealer whose family had to flee the state because of death threats, a prisoner for illegal pornography, adulterers, drunkards, three lifetime ban holders, and a rap sheet full of assaults to round out the tales that come to mind. Even as I began to speak I looked at my teammates through a haze of pot smoke. “How did you end up like you did after spending your life with these guys?” he asked. “I was lost, running in darkness and filling my life with anything that could make me not think about the pit I was in. I tried to pull myself out so many times and never could shake the darkness. Then I was invited to come to a youth retreat where Jesus met me and broke in with such amazing light that all of the darkness in me fled and all the venom in me was drained out. I was a new person with Jesus in my heart, and as for these guys. There’s no place that Jesus would rather hang out than in a hockey locker room. We all need that light in our lives.” The locker room that usually sounded like, well, a locker room was silent. One of my old friends leaned over and said, “Thanks Lou we need someone like you in around us.” Everyone agreed and as we were going out to play the game the new guy approached me and asked if we could talk more at the bar after the game. Of course I agreed and we had weeks of amazing conversations about Jesus and His light. While I am amongst someone who hasn’t yet taken that unfathomable leap into the arms of Jesus I now confess to know nothing but Christ and him crucified. It has transformed my life, my ministry, and truly proven to me that God was right when He spoke about all we need in Revelation 12:11, “They overcame [the accuser] by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony.” Amen and Ahmeen

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