Last night, half of our beloved team left for home, leaving Trevor, Hannah, Tim, Sarah and myself for a few more days. While sad to see our friends go, we overcame our grief long enough to travel to the Bekaa Valley for what promised to be one of the highlights of the trip: a Bedouin wedding celebration.
On Friday, our team celebrated the wedding of Brent Hamoud (the director of the home) and his fiancee Ruth Salubi. It was a really fun time, complete with delicious Lebanese food, all of the boys wearing their new shoes, and a temporary power outage which left the guests eating delicious food but having no idea how they would ever rediscover which one they really liked. Brent's extended family is from the Bekaa Valley, an hour to the east of Beruit, and home to the traditional Bedouin culture, and so on Sunday afternoon, they threw Brent and Ruth a second celebration, Bedouin style.
The Bedouins live in many ways on the margins of Lebanese society. Because they do not hold to one of the major confessions of the country, they are not officially recognized as Lebanese, and lack access to many of the public systems of Lebanon. Sarah referenced an excellent new book, Profiles in Poverty, which details the Bedouin situation, and having read the chapter on the Bedouins, my image of them was formed by this new information about their legal status , with a weird combination of Aladdin and Lawrence of Arabia.
As we pulled into the village, it looked very much like any other small village in Lebanon; there are still nomadic Bedouins, but many of them have become residential. Welcomed by the head of the family as honored guests, we sat in the large open main room, covered in traditional rugs and reclining seats. When you read in the Gospels about Jesus reclining at the table to eat, this is it: there are no "chairs" per se--just floor couches. After visiting with the hundreds of guests, many of whom were village neighbors come to welcome total strangers into their home, the meal came in: plate after place of rice, yogurt, vegetables, and freshly cooked sheep that had been bleating that afternoon.
One minor detail: the trays included two special ones with the cooked sheep heads on them. As the meal began on the floor, a man began to pull apart the heads, a delicacy for the honored guest; as such, one head went to the bride and groom, and the other to the wide-eyed Americans gratefully receiving cooked sheep brains. For the record, they weren't that bad.
Today was an exercise in hospitality reminiscent of the legendary Southern hospitality. to be welcomed into a complete stranger's home and treated not as an interloper but a a honored guest, given the best of the feast, was a profoundly humbling experience. We were told, both by the hosts and second-hand, how honored they were to have us in their home, and all I could think was "Really?". But hospitality, at its core, is gratitude for whoever comes in for no other reason than they have come to your house. As Jesus reminds us, such is the kingdom of God, welcoming in an overflowing house for a wedding feast. I continue to be in awe of how visceral these images become, and how small my vision of God's kingdom truly is in light of parables such as these.
The whole team on the last day before half of them left. They are in downtown Beirut by a place called Pigeon Rock.