My journey to Lebanon began long before I boarded the plane.
I have been a professional writer for 20 years. A few years into my career, I traveled to south Texas, where I spent several days with undocumented immigrants. One hot afternoon, I sat under a tarp in a dirt field across from a young man. On Sundays, that place was a church which he pastored. Across the field, I could see the one room shanty he, his wife and their children lived in. It had no running water or electricity. As I listened through an interpreter, he shared how he and his family crossed the Rio Grande, fleeing poverty and seeking a life where his children wouldn’t starve. Many in his make-shift church—also undocumented—risked their lives and those of their children for the same reason.
On that trip, I met dozens more like him. Their stories put a voice and face to those whose voices and faces are too often unheard. I learned the power of story to cut through the evening news and statistics and make it personal. Stories confront us with real people and real suffering. We begin to actually see the people behind the crisis.
Early last year, I began following the news about the Syrian refugee crisis. One Saturday afternoon in August, I sat with my 16 year-old daughter watching a video about the organizations our church partners with around the world. One of them was Heart for Lebanon, a faith based organization that runs several ministries to refugees in Lebanon. The images of the tent settlements and refugees brought me to tears.
Over the next few weeks, a sense of urgency began to grow in me. I was frustrated by the lack of coverage of the refugee crisis in the media. Living in the capital of one of the most powerful nations on the planet, I felt paralyzed by the lack of action and attention being given to what is becoming the worst humanitarian disaster of our era.
I approached the Global Missions pastor at our church about ways we might raise awareness about the crises, Heart for Lebanon and others advocating for the refugees through storytelling, especially in our church where many individuals are in positions of influence in D.C.
Soon afterwards, I was scheduled to join a small team from our church to go to Lebanon in January 2015 and collect stories to help raise awareness about the crisis. I was humbled and excited by such an opportunity—and also a little nervous. While I’ve traveled extensively on this continent, this was my first overseas trip—and the Middle East was not where I imagined that first trip would be. And then there was the suffering. It is on such a grand scale. It was heartbreaking enough to read the stories; now I would hear them first-hand.
Today, I can’t imagine my life without that journey.
Lebanon is an amazing and beautiful country. The size of Delaware, it packs a rich diversity–a mix of modern and ancient, sea and mountains, religion and ethnicities. At night, the way the lights of the cities spread over the hills reminded me of San Francisco.
As I stood in Martyr’s Square in downtown Beirut and walked through the souks in Byblos, I listened to stories about the country’s history of turmoil and war as well as stories of restoration, resilience, deep compassion and hope for the future.
That hope permeates the hearts of those serving with Heart for Lebanon, who hosted me and two others from our church while we were there. I went to Lebanon expecting to hear stories of misery and suffering—and I did. But I also heard story after story of God’s action and power in their lives and the lives of the refugees. Bodies healed, dreams and visions, hearts and minds captured by Jesus, and lives transformed in ways that, quite frankly, I rarely see here at home.
Some of those stories are on this website now. Others will be added in the future.
My time in Lebanon only fed the sense of urgency I felt before I went. Right now, Lebanon is an oasis in the middle of a sea of turmoil, but even those who live there sense that might be temporary, especially if more is not done to alleviate the suffering of the millions of refugees.
My hope is that the faces, stories and pictures you find on this website might not only cut through the evening news and statistics and help you see the people—real people who are suffering—but also move you to help.
Who knows? Perhaps we were given much for just such a time as this.