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!”

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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.

October Newsletter: Written by Louis Liss

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A “Normal” Day At The Center
     This is the view from the roof of our ministry center. Many of you been wanting to know about what an average day looks like for me as we do ministry here in Lebanon. Three days a weeks we spend in formal language training, Sunday is church, and every other day is a new and unpredictable experience. I have had trouble answering this question until now because of the extreme variation from one day to the next, but over the course of enough time certain patterns have begun to emerge.
     1st Public Transportation: I leave home and walk to the main street to wait from 10 seconds to 30 minutes for either a bus, mini-bus (van), taxi, or serviice (cheap taxi) to come by and take me to our refugee center for between $1 and $6.66 depending on 10 different variables and situations. I get dropped off on the side of the 5 lane highway and must run across to get into our slum called Nabaa. 2nd Discovering the Plan: When I walk through the gates of our Hope of the Nations Center I discover either 50 things I expected happening simultaneously or 1,000 things I didn’t expect. I had a meeting scheduled last week with someone living in the center and walked in to discover that the shared men’s bedroom had been turned into an OBGYN (Embarrassingly I only discovered this after opening the door) 3rd Riding the Wave of Chaos: After finding out what the day will hold. I get the amazing opportunity to share the gospel with refugees in my limited Arabic, Disciple the men living at the center and the high school boys who spend all day there, and meet with our interns about all the new challenges they are facing. 4th Evening Worship: We have a dozen different meetings during the week, but four days a week we have worship services for Kurds, Armenians, and two big combined services where 200 people and 100 kids come to worship at the same time as the evening call to prayer is pumped through the speakers of the local Mosque. Out of respect we crank our speakers even louder and flood the neighborhood with worship music. Finally, I take public transportation back to our apartment for a late dinner and to begin day 2: e-mails.

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High School Ministry
It turns out I like high schoolers after all. After spending my seminary internship as a youth director and running two-dozen retreats for high school students, I was confident that it was just a stepping stone to a bigger role in ministry. So I moved my entire family across the world only to discover that youth weren’t a stepping stone they were the destination. The adult men are amazing, but the ones who truly have a fiery passion for spending time in the word and a desire to be discipled are the young men. I want to share with you about my friend Rizan. He and his family are Kurdish Syrians who have been living in Lebanon for two years. He has lost so much time in school because of the war that he is three years behind in school, so he decided to instead spend all day every day at the Center. He has been reading through the Bible in a year and I asked him to bring me any question he has. So every time I see him we get to stumble through broken Arabic and broken English to answer his deep theological concerns. The church he attends is now sponsoring him to attend the local seminary since he is too ashamed to go to school. Please be praying for Rizan as he embarks on this exciting new part of his life and I continue discipling him through this process.

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New Job
As some of you know we became the Coordinators for Foreign Teams and Visitors in Lebanon. The plan for foreigners visiting Lebanon to do ministry at our center before we came has been: When they arrive at 1:00 AM from the airport we drop them off in our lovely slum named Nabaa where no one speaks English and let them fend for themselves until they need a ride back to the airport. For some reason people have not enjoyed this experience so far. With interns already coming before we arrived, we felt a clear call from God to care for and disciple these short term staff. So far we have had a young man named Andres from Mexico who came for a month and we still have a young woman here named Annie who will be with us until December.

We quickly threw together curriculum for Pre-Arrival, Orientation, and Continued Teaching. It has been an immediate success and has solved a dozen issues with our foreigners, their ministry, and harmony with national staff. It has been a tremendous blessing to us as well. We thrive and grow by being able to disciple men and women to share the gospel. It has been a very slow process for us to grow as quickly as we would like for ourselves at the center, because of the huge language barrier. This has been an amazing experience to make disciples who can affect change in peoples’ lives at the center in a short term context.

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Davey’s Arabic
     There is a standard 6 month breakthrough that missionaries experience where they start moving from surviving to thriving. The feeling of drowning begins to turn into a felling swimming as we persevere through cultural and language barriers. Davey struggled a lot initially not just because of sickness. When we left America he had an extremely high English comprehension and then being immersed in Arabic caused him extreme frustration because he couldn’t understand anyone.
     We have been working diligently to teach him Arabic greetings and phrases. This not only has brought him a lot of joy but is an amazing testimony to every Arab that we see who understand how committed we are to sharing about Jesus that we would teach our child their language. Because many Lebanese speak conversational English, it is common for English speaking missionaries to not learn Arabic. Davey is an amazing avenue for us to share that just as Jesus came and learned our language we have come to immerse ourselves in their culture in order to share the salvation of Jesus in Lebanon.

Pray For The Middle East

Today was supposed to be a Bible Study post on Romans, which is the Bible Study Louis and I are doing, but he is sick. Instead, I was thinking about the amazing things happening here, and wanted to make sure people knew about them. Additionally, this week the emails and Skype calls asking about The Situation over here have increased dramatically. I am not sure why this week was different, but I wanted to share with you again that Pray4MENA.org has daily and weekly updates on prayer requests and praise reports happening all over the Middle East. We have had not just 1 but 2 people in ISIS come to Christ recently!

With all the exciting things God is doing, there is still desperation for prayer every day. Please be in prayer for those people coming from war-torn, traumatic situations. They are on our heart as we meet them, pray with them, and minister to them at the center.

SAVE THE DATE!

Lebanon Send Off & Launch

Phoenix:

April 27, 2014
5:00 PM
St. John’s Lutheran Church

 

Tucson:

May 3, 2014

11:00 AM

Mt.Zion Lutheran Church

Come and bring anyone who might be interested in partnering with us to fund our mission work in Lebanon or find out more. Our team is desperate for us, and we are leaving this May in faith that God is going to provide the remaining funds.

Our team leader sent us a list of just a few of the things happening there and we want to be able to tell you the stories first hand from that country. So, the week following this Launch we are getting on a plane and leaving. (I am publishing this blog post as we are looking at plane tickets.)

Pierre, our team leader just sent us this encouragement in our email correspondence with each other:

Once you arrive you will be able to send back tons and tons of stories of God doing miracles and changing lives. This week a man’s shriveled hand was mostly healed and he’s writing with it, which he couldn’t do before , a woman’s face that had been saggy from her stroke was restored , a kid came out of a coma, Jihan came to Christ 6 days after she came from Syria and is eating up the word if God. A teenage kid named Roksha prayed to accept Christ last week, Boutros has a carpenter’s assistant named Ahmed who came to Christ a couple weeks ago, my dad preached last Thursday and over 30 people responded to the altar call. There are more new believers than we can follow up on.”

We need to be there. Right now those are just stories that are happening there, but that is just a taste of what is happening and our team needs us. We have a heart for discipleship to follow up with these people. We are being called, and we are changing our strategy from asking for money to just leaping out in faith. God will provide. Plenty of people know the need, and it is time to GO!

For many of you who have been with us along the way you are sharing our mix of emotions: Excitement, apprehension, nerves of all sorts. We are finally going! Now is the time to pledge a monthly, quarterly, or annual amount. We are running low on time for one on one meetings, and if you want to meet or visit with us, please contact us!

Many of you are giving to other short term missionaries, and we are thrilled because we have not been able to pour into those people (e.g. Charlie Wheeler). Please continue the commitments you have made. If you are considering giving to us after these short-term commitments end, let us know so we can keep track of the pledges.

Bombings In Beirut

This was posted by our team leaders in Beirut in our team’s blog, Pray4Mena.org and we thought many of you would be interested in reading it.

Bombings in Beirut – Some Perspective

Every time there’s a new series of bombings, many people ask how we can continue to work in an environment like Beirut. They want to know how to interpret what they see on the news. But one question I have for them is whether they are really much safer where they live.

The two most recent bombings, like many in the past, are a reflection of the sectarian tension between Sunnis and Shiites, which is manifesting itself openly in the Syrian war, and boiling up from time to time in Lebanon.

This will likely continue to happen, and it’s possible that it could escalate, although we are praying that it doesn’t. So far it’s not really more than the weird “usual” of Lebanon, which tends to have assassinations and/or bombings every few months.

But for perspective, some good frames of reference are the murder rates and violent crime rates in the US. There were 500 murders in Chicago in 2012.  All the bombing victims in Beirut each year are a lot less than that, even though the Beirut metro area has a comparable population to that of Chicago, which has 2.7 million residents. Even the US department of state admits that violent crime is rare in Lebanon, so I doubt that annual murders plus bombings in Beirut would even approach half of the murders in Chicago.

But we should also remember that fatalities from car accidents are far far more likely than deaths from bombings in Beirut, or even murders in Detroit, where 1 in 1832 residents were murdered in 2012. Car accidents are the leading cause of death in most places, with the exception of some, like Ohio, where in 2007 drug overdoses surpassed motor vehicle crashes for the first time on record , or Vermont who loses more people to heroin than cars or guns, as I learned yesterday from a speech by Vermont’s governor, who devoted his entire state of the state address to heroin.

This illustrates the fact that, no matter where you live, life is dangerous. I don’t mean for this to trivialize the political and ethnic violence in the MENA region, and we certainly need to continue to pray for peace in MENA. However, having a realistic view of the world requires an acknowledgement of the frailty of human life everywhere, which should lead us to a deeper trust in God, who sustains us through every moment.

Pray for Chicago, for Ohio, and for Vermont, and don’t forget to pray for MENA!

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