On arrival in Beirut, we were welcomed by familiar signs of Krispy Kreme, T.G.I. Friday’s and Starbucks and unfamiliar signs of Hezbollah leaders on street lights. Except for a few signs, Christian Beirut and Muslim Beirut looked the same to me. A cathedral and a mosque occupied the same city block. Muslims and Christians ordered food in the same restaurants, admired the same jewelry in shops and competed for the same parking spaces. We shared the same photo ops and took turns posing at Pigeon Rock. Christians were welcomed into mosques and, I presume, Muslims were welcomed into Christian churches. Arabic was passionately spoken and sung in Christian sermons and hymns. Muslim children were educated in Christian schools.
At Dar El Awlad, the orphanage, I was reminded of my R.A. days at Calvary. Jeremy and I were promptly victimized in football (soccer) by some third graders. I was amazed at their English proficiency as they taunted us after each score. Despite the humiliating defeat, these guys included us in everything. Some of them quickly discovered my passion for baseball and began to ask “Mr. Les, let’s play catch…just you and me.” We were included in songs and games during chapel, mostly in Arabic. I could only guess what was going on. As Lanna tried to teach the Plan of Salvation with her “John 3:16 volleyball,” she was frequently interrupted by one of the little guy’s recitation (again, in perfect English) of the Bible verse she was about to read. After playing the games, hearing the laughter and seeing the radiant, smiling faces for a few days, our early departure was more than a little difficult. But, my new best friends knew this. So, they prayed for us in Arabic and English and reminded us that the Lord said “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5)
Not being a veteran missionary, I am a little confused by my experience in Lebanon. For the most part, I missed the war-torn, embattled country I had read about and, instead, saw a beautiful, vibrant community of one Creator. At the orphanage, I found a place where grown-ups can go for spiritual healing and see children as Christ sees them. With this experience, the concepts of “missionary” and “orphanage” mean “opportunity” and “salvation” to me. I now carry with me the mental image of the 7 year-old boy and the Bedouin Chief (see black and white photo) when the boy found opportunity at the orphanage and experienced salvation. That boy arrived at Dar El Awlad in 1957. He grew and flourished in the love of the missionaries that found him. He became the man, Jed Hamoud, a director of Kids Alive International and, most importantly, the father of Baylor graduate, Dar El Awlad host and a new best friend…Brent Hamoud. Thanks be to God!