Why I was Shocked…
From the moment we left home, I was preparing myself for major culture shock once I arrived in the Middle East. This was my first exposure to the Muslim culture and the Arab world, and though we had been well-prepared for the trip by our team leaders, I expected to have an immediate feeling upon arriving in Beirut that, just like Dorothy and Toto, I definitely wasn’t in Kansas anymore. I expected to feel like a “fish out of water” in a strange new world with strange new people. As I explored this area of the world, I was constantly fascinated and amazed by the people, culture, and beautiful new sights surrounding me. However, as I interacted with people, sang songs with children, taught Bible lessons and played with “magic noodles,” I realized that I really wasn’t that far away from Kansas after all. The real shock for me was that the feeling of being in a world completely different from my own never really happened. This was especially true as I worked with the children at the orphanage. Even though children living in urban poverty in Waco, Texas may have different situations from children living in a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon, the similarities shocked me much more than the differences. If you give children the opportunity, they will all jump around and “go bananas,” if you give them your undivided attention, they will usually soak it up with a sweet smile on their face, and if you teach them God’s Word and show them God’s love, they will gladly receive it, and God’s love will be planted deeply within them.
My Biggest Question…
I also have a lot of questions about Islam now…what do we do with religions that are different from our own? It’s easy to operate with the mentality that our religion is “right” and others are “wrong” when Christianity is the only religion we’ve ever known or encountered. However, it is quite a humbling experience when you first hear the Muslim call to prayer, when you see shoes lined up outside of a mosque as people are inside quietly praying, and when you wear the black robes that women wear week after week, even in the heat of summer, as they enter into their separate room for worship. I have come home with a new appreciation and respect for a faith that is different from my own and a desire to understand it more. Therefore, I have enrolled in a class at seminary to learn more about religion and worldviews, focusing specifically on Islam.
What I Learned….
I’ve learned that Christ’s presence is strong in the Middle East, in Lebanon, and especially at Dar El Awlad. There is a calmness and a peace at the orphanage, and a joy on children’s faces that could only come from Christ. On our last day at the orphanage, Jennifer and I were playing with some children at the orphanage, one of whom said, “Baylor must really love us!” After receiving frisbees, shirts, shorts, backpacks, whistles, and other goodies from Baylor, we had made every child a life-long Baylor bear J However, another child added, “Yes, but you know who else loves us?” And then, with a huge smile on his face and a glow in his eyes, he boldly exclaimed, “Jesus!” and then giggled with excitement. Granted, “Jesus loves us” is something we hear all the time, even from children, at our church at home. We sing songs about Jesus, we read Bible stories about him, and children are taught even as infants that Jesus loves them, so sometimes, we are numb to the power of these words. However, the young boy who made this joyful proclamation of Jesus’ love hasn’t grown up in church, or with a Christian family. Until he arrived at Dar El Awlad, he hadn’t grown up in an environment that showed him much love at all, let alone an environment that pointed him toward Jesus. Yet he proclaimed boldly and confidently that JESUS loved him, with much more joy than many of us demonstrate in our church today.
Journeying to Lebanon opened my eyes to just how big God is, and yet God works in even the smallest circumstances of our lives in beautiful and unbelievable ways. I don’t have the answers to all the world’s questions, but maybe Jesus’ love is enough for me. May Christ’s love compel me to live intentionally, to love boldly, and to giggle with joy all the days of my life.