Friday, July 10, 2015

Joy and Sadness

            This week I was standing on a basketball court with boys and girls running a relay race. It was a game I had made many times. I call it relay mania and it’s a game I have probably played 50 times with kids at the summer camp I worked at for four years.  I stood there on this basketball court in Lebanon and tears flowed from my eyes. You see I was seeing what I already had come to believe through years of college, seminary and graduate school for social work; human beings deep down are the same. The boys here this week have put their hands under their armpits making noise just like I have seen 10,000 kids in America do. They love sports and making rubber band bracelets. They fight with their siblings and sometimes they don’t listen to their house mothers or teachers. They have great joy and they have great sadness. They are human. They are made in the very image of God. Just like you and me.
            During Bible study on Monday, Mary Alice asked the kids to share a time where they have felt protected by God. One little girl raised her hand and said she felt protected when she crossed the border between Syria and Lebanon and her family was being shot at. MA choked back tears as she continued and I sat there with a sweet boy in my lap (at Dar El Awlad there is most likely a child in your lap) in tears as well. My sweet friend wiped the tears from my eyes and asked why I was crying. The boys here have a deep compassion for each other and for anyone they meet. They come from situations much like some children in our own church; divorce, death of a parent and numerous other situations. You can see sadness in their eyes, but you can see deep joy too.

            Tonight as we went around to each of the three residential units to say good bye my sweet friend leapt into my arms. “I love you, Mister,” he said. He buried his face in my shoulder and cried. Again, I saw Mary Alice tearing up across the room and I choked back tears so I wouldn’t make the situation worse. “I love you too, buddy,” I said. And I do. I will be praying for him and each of the boys we have formed and continued relationships with this week and I hope you will too.  Good night from Lebanon for the last time in 2015. We all hope to write from here again soon. 
-Will Ward

A Day to Celebrate

The day they've been waiting for--going to the river and getting their shoe packages!  We didn't have tutoring today, so we could get to the river(1 1/2hrs) and have all day to enjoy.  The river is in the mountains and is fed by the melted mountain snow; tall cliffs and many trees created a beautiful canopy.  God's creation was seen and discussed. We even had a short science lesson  on weathering and erosion with some of the students.

This flowing river was lined with river rocks which made it difficult to walk across, but this did not deter the kids from giving it their all.  I wish that I could attach a video for you to see the fun that everyone had:  splashing, laughing, riding in a blow up boats (thanks to Will & Obayda), jumping off cliffs (older boys with Les & Josh), throwing and collecting river rocks, and shivering while eating their sandwiches, watermelon and chocolate bars.  Some started off apprehensive around the water, but were fully invested before we left!  God's protection was with us.

I was named "toilet lady" for the day, which meant I escorted kids up & down a steep hill to the only toilet.  I'm not for sure how I got chosen, but it was great exercise.  Many kids and team members fell asleep on the way back!

Upon returning to Dar El Awlad, the Oasis children and school children left for their homes and the boys bathed, ate dinner and were eagerly ready for the evening program.  We sang fun songs and Mary Alice read "The Day the Crayons Quit"(great book) before shoes were handed out.  This year we were able to give the women at Dar El Awlad Sketcher's shoes/toiletries--I think they were as excited as the boys.  Pictures were taken of each boy with their package of shoes; letters were read to them; shoes were tried on; toys were played with and "traded" and lots of hugs and kisses were given.

The night ended with some of our team and a few of the older kids doing a cup, clap, tap routine to "You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone". Truly, we will miss this place and the relationships that have formed and they will miss us.  God's love stretched from Calvary Baptist Church to Dar El Awlad and it was felt by everyone!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

From Beirut to the Bacaa

Last night (Wednesday a few from our team attended a traditional Ramadan evening meal with Brent, our Dar El Awlad host, and his extended family. Brent's relatives are in Lebanon as Syrian refugees. They were driven from Syria into the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon by military forces. They lost fathers, husbands and sons to the war. They lost their homes and life as they knew it, fled with a few sheep and other possessions, and settled into "camps" to hope for better days when they might return to their homes in Syria. (Currently, Syrian refugees comprise approximately 25% of Lebanon's total population. This number is expected to grow significantly by the end of 2015.)

Despite their personal suffering and economic hardship, the family honored us as their guests with warm greetings and an outpouring of generosity. In traditional Ramadan fashion, the family had fasted all day. When we arrived shortly before sunset, final preparation for the evening meal was being completed, the men were reading from the Koran, and all were anxious for sunset to occur. After the sun had set, Brent and I were invited into the large salon with the other men, seated on cushions lining the walls and facing the banquet of bread, rice, goat meat, salad and yogurt drink. After the prayers were said, we knelt on the floor to eat by dipping our bread into the rice and goat meat platters. When we had enough, we sat back on the cushions and other men came into the salon to eat as we had done. We continued to enjoy the company of the family patriarchs, drink coffee and hot tea. The women and children ate separately from the men but in a similar fashion.

In our after dinner visiting, we sat comfortably in their humble rented homes and other immaculate make-shift structures. And, the family continued to serve us the best of their hot tea and cold juice. Despite the easy laughter, smiles, beautiful children and outpouring of hospitality, there was no escape from the reality of war. There was no escape from the recent death of a mother's son. There was no escape from the tremor of the bomb blast in nearby Syria. Conversation naturally turned to life before the war, beautiful homes, fields and orchards lost, hiding for weeks in underground dugouts, and fleeing to Lebanon. Finally, the lingering question was asked, "When will this end?"

As we began to leave for our drive back to Beirut, we attempted to thank our hosts for their  wonderful hospitality. They, in turn, expressed their sincere gratitude for our visit. They assured us that we had honored them by simply visiting them in their homes. They gave us the best of what they had. We brought them nothing in return.

Some on our team are finishing their fourth trip to Lebanon. Each year we have carefully planned and prepared to serve others in Christ's likeness in Lebanon. Remarkably, God has been faithful to meet our needs and teach us through the lives of others. In one of our team's morning devotionals this week, we discussed the concept of "generosity" we might practice it and where we might find it. Wednesday night, God faithfully taught us again. He taught us generosity through the lives of those we should serve.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Unexpectedly Great Things

We begin each morning here in Lebanon with a devotional and time of reflection.  Today, as we talked about “doing good” and “expected” and “unexpected” results I thought about our work here with the children.  The children are divided into classes and we spend time each day helping them with their math, English and Arabic (yes, Arabic) lessons.  I have been working with the kindergarten class.  When I met the 5 wonderful boys that would be in my class I expected them to be calm, attentive and to eagerly get their lessons done.  Did this happen?  No way!  In fact, the class might often feel more like chaos than learning. Not what I expected!
Has my class learned any new math, English or Arabic skills?  I’m not sure. (I know they haven’t learned any Arabic from me.) But as I thought about “unexpected” results today I realized that even though it may seem like chaos, the time sitting on the floor with puzzles, reading books, singing silly songs, or just playing together is also important.  The children have an opportunity to learn to share and to be patient, kind and respectful.  Throughout the week our group has tried to show all the children the love of Christ in our smiles, our laughter and our hugs as well as the Bible stories, crafts and activities.  We have seen so many positive unexpected results and have received so many unexpected blessings from the children.
I don’t know what the long term results of our time together will be but I trust God to do unexpectedly great things in each of our lives and the lives of the children here in Lebanon.

-Clara Holleyman

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Mountain Top Moments

When we as church family only see each other a couple times a week, we can usually pull off a false impression that we have it all together.  We actually do this pretty well through sharing superficial smiles in the hallways and surface level responses when we ask how the other is doing.  
But when we travel with one another halfway around the world, this false pretense shatters.
Don’t get me wrong; we have had incredible, mountain-top experiences together this week in Lebanon…literally as we haveexplored the mountains overlooking Beirut and the Mediterranean Sea and have hiked through the cedars of Lebanon in the Barouk Forest, over a mile above sea level.
And there have certainly been spiritual mountain-top experiences as well.  Deep conversations about what God is doing here at Dar El Awlad.  Meaningful connections with the children and staff who have not only welcomed us into our homes but also into their lives.  Times of worship and prayer with our team and the various friends we’ve made along our journey.
But when you travel together, not all moments are mountain-top moments.  We’ve also become well aware of each other’s flaws and imperfections.  
Already, the team has seen my tendency to worry…to be anxious about the possibility of worst-case-scenarios.  They’ve seen me tired and cranky because of lack of sleep, jet lag, or nausea after long bus rides with children through the narrow roads on winding mountains.
But I think it’s precisely in these moments – in the real moments – that we’re best positioned to rely on God to work through us, despite our jet lag, our crankiness, our anxiety, and our other flaws.  It’s in these moments when we’re intentionally looking for God’s presence with us, because we realize we can’t do this task of mission as our own flawed selves.
Today, I was reminded that we’re not in Lebanon to “do” anything spectacular.  We can’t do that.  Instead, we’re here to be.  To be with.  To come alongside.  To laugh.  To cry.  To listen.  To be present to what God is doing here in this spectacular place.  It’s in these real moments when God encounters the broken parts of my life, and God connects me with other people who have experienced brokenness in their lives, and together we are all changed.  These are the true mountain-top moments.  Thanks be to God.

-Mary Alice Birdwhistell

Monday, July 6, 2015

A Reflection on Calling

In light of several friends who have been in the midst of transitions and the summer mission’s devotions, I’ve been thinking through the idea of calling recently. Some of us are called to certain things and others are called away from certain things. We are called to serve in a variety of different ways in certain places in a certain time. Most people who know me well, know that I often go between feeling like I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing and not having a clue what I should be doing in life.
The last few days, I’ve had the opportunity to consider the idea of calling in the midst of this beautiful setting that is Dar El Awlad. I’m always amazed by the staff that are called to this place to love and care for the boys here. There are a few families who have been here for decades serving generations of boys and a new house mother who just started in a unit last night with her first group of boys ever. All of them have responded to a call to serve in this place at this particular time with a wonderful group of boys.
I’m also always in awe by the group of boys and children that we’re working with this week who have been called to this place while being called away from another place. There are children who have found their way here after leaving unthinkable situations such as war torn countries, persecution for becoming Christians, or difficult family situations. It’s unbelievable to hear their stories, to hear the things they’ve seen or experienced, and to also see the joy that they are still able to have at this place.

I’m still not completely sure about my calling half the time, but I pray that I can begin to lean into the calling that we have this week. To be present, to laugh and have fun, and to relentlessly learn from and love the boys and staff here.

-Josh Caballero

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Welcoming the boys back

Greetings from Beirut.  Now that all of our luggage has arrived we began the day refreshed and in clean clothes.  This morning we attended church with Brent (our leader for the week).  The service was all in Arabic but they had translation for us so we were able to understand the songs and the sermon.  After church we gathered for lunch and had a relaxing afternoon.   Around 2:00 the boys began returning to the home for the week.  There were lots of smiles and hugs as we greeted boys that have been at Dar El Awlad since Calvary sent its first team 4 years ago.  There were also greetings with new boys who we will be getting to know this week.  This is always one of my favorite parts of the trip.  It’s so exciting to see the boys remember our team members who have returned and warmly greet our new team members.  The boys quickly occupied themselves with a soccer game while a few of the boys stay behind to talk with our team.  These are precious moments of unstructured time with the boys that remind me of the depth of relationships we are able to form even in the short time thatwe spend in Lebanon. At dinner we traveled to a monastery in Beirut and had a picnic dinner among some old ruins.  The team is beginning to recover from our jet lag and as I’m writing this we are putting together craft supplies and recreation activities for tomorrow.  Tomorrow will be our first day of programming with the boys.  Please pray for our preparation and that we will all be well rested and ready to begin programming tomorrow.  
-Jenn Caballero

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Missions through relationships

I would like to be a seasoned world traveler, but I can't claim that title. The last stamp on my passport is dated 2008. I was over joyed at the prospect of getting to come on this trip and now I'm overwhelmed with happiness. I was even pretty optimistic when our luggage was missing, because well at least I'm here. Things are different here and that's a good thing. Even the lack of traffic laws make things exciting.

Today we did touristy things. We visited a castle built during the Ottoman Empire, we did some shopping and ate an excellent Lebanese meal (another different thing is that pita bread here is actually good).

What I have come to detest about mission trips is a lack of relationship. Often Americans in our arrogant nature think we can drop down into a situation and be the saviors. We sometimes imagine we can spend a week in a place and change the world. That isn't often true. We don't do anything. God does, and God works in relationship. It has been a joy today to see my friends and fellow Calvarians greet and catch up with their Lebanese friends. Calvary is not in the business of drop in evangelism. Calvary and its people have a deep relationship with the staff at Dar El Awald. It starts, I think generations before us with Tim's family and with Sheila's and they have blessed us now with a love for this place.

I've made new friends today and I've watched as my old friends caught up with friends they already knew. Relationships are deep here and the boys haven't even come back from their weekend yet. I can't wait to see them and my fellow trip members who have been before can't wait to see them again. They've anticipated their arrival by name and I can't wait to meet them and have fun and learn together. Mission happens best in the context of relationship.

Oh and our bags arrived. Thanks for the prayers for that. Also, pray we get some more rest tomorrow and for us as we prepare for the kids on Monday.

-Will Ward

Friday, July 3, 2015

We've Arrived!

Our team arrived in Lebanon around 5pm local time on Friday evening. Since our team members went on two different routes to Lebanon we were able to meet up in Milan, Italy and travel the last leg together. We had a bit of a hiccup at the airport when only 2 out of our 10 bags arrived. After about 2 hours of negotiations and conversations we are hoping our bags arrive tomorrow, Saturday, sometime.  Other than our bags not arriving we had relatively smooth travels here.
We arrived at Dar El Awlad around 7:30pm and had a wonderful dinner here. We found our various sleeping quarters and settled in for the first night.
The boys are not at the orphanage at the moment. They have all gone to be with family or relatives for about a week of summer and will be coming back on Sunday afternoon/evening. We eagerly anticipate their return!  Until then, we will do some sightseeing and tourism on Sat.
The welcome back was amazing. For those of us who haven't been here in 4 years it was like we were only gone a week. For those of us who have been here multiple times the reunions were so sweet and refreshing. It's so good to be here.
The weather here is wonderful. There is a cool breeze and it feels amazing.
Thank you all for praying for us and journeying with us. We look forward to sharing many pictures and stories in the days to come.
Much love from Lebanon.
Jennifer Whitlark

Monday, June 29, 2015

Here we go again...

I am delighted to fire up the blog again as we prepare for another summer trip to Beirut, Lebanon.  Our team will be at serving at Dar El Awlad in Beirut from July 2-11.  We have a wonderful team of 9 people (7 of whom have been to the orphanage before).  It is an amazing team and I am delighted to serve alongside each of them.  Here is our official team picture that we took tonight as we had a packing party together.

 We are minus one very important team member though.  Our beloved friend, fearless leader, native arabic speaker, and brother, Tim Smith, will not be able to join us this year.  He has been temporarily sidelined due to cancer.  While he cannot join our team physically this year we take him with us in our hearts and in our thoughts.  His wisdom, smile, and presence will not be far from us as we spend time in one of his favorite places.  We look forward to him joining the team again next year when he has overcome his cancer battle.

We will miss you dearly on the trip!  We are so thankful for your wisdom as we go and we covet your prayers for us while we are there.  We will bring back stories, memories, and plenty of pictures to share with you.  We love you and look forward to sharing memories at Dar El Awlad with you again one day.
The whole Lebanon team

 And, because we all will miss Tim this year, we decided he needed to be in our official team picture too.  So, look closely and you will see our friend Tim.  And, stay tuned as he may appear in more pics in Lebanon.

I have some thoughts to share from some of our team members who are returning and also from some who have not yet experienced Lebanon.  Here are some things that we are excited about as we prepare to go where God has called us.

"I am so excited to be going to Lebanon for the first time.  I have loved hearing stories from others about the boys there and the wonderful people who help care for them.  Members of the team have encouraged me to to in the past but this is the first year I have been able to go.  I am excited to see how God is working in Lebanon and to see how He is going to use our team this year." - Clara

"I am looking forward to seeing all of the boys that we have worked with before.  I'm sure they have changed and matured in two years.  I'm looking forward to meeting Yazmeen, Brent and Ruth's baby girl.  We were at their wedding three years ago and now we get to meet their firstborn.  I'm also looking forward to doing some sightseeing this year.  I am excited about bonding with our Calvary family even more."  - Lanna

"I first went to Lebanon four years ago in the summer of 2011.  It was Calvary's first trip, so we were just getting to know the boys at Dar El Awlad, and the boys were just getting to know us.  Since then, a sense of family has developed between our communities.  I'm eager to go back this summer to see how the seeds that were planted four years ago have grown and developed.  I'm excited to see Ali, Abdullah, and Bilal, boys who were in my group as kindergartners, who will not be rambunctious, independent 4th graders.  I'm excited to see if Jad's shoulders perk up to his ears when he lets out a mischievous laugh.  I'm excited to see if Ochinga still wears a cheerleading outfit and prances around the campus as he tries out his new magic tricks on his friends.  I'm a different person than I was 4 years ago, and I know they will be, too.  Some boys may no longer be at Dar El Awlad, and new boys may have joined them.  I'm excited to sit on the bench under the balooka tree and to get to know each of them, and I'm incredibly grateful for this opportunity God has allowed for our paths to cross in Lebanon once again."  - Mary Alice

"Not having seen our friends at Dar El Awlad in two years, I am anxious to see their faces.  Those faces of genuine warmth and hospitality when we arrive, faces of intensity and enthusiasm when we compete, and faces of compassion when we discuss faith and life.  Most memorable are their faces on shoe night when they are overwhelmed by the love and generosity of their Calvary family that gives so generously and thoughtfully to these guys so far away.  I remember those faces.  I'm hoping they remember mine." - Les

"We're now less than a week out from starting our journey to Lebanon and I find myself more excited than ever to return.  Last minute preparations are being made and for many of us, we will soon be returning to a familiar place.  A land where some of the best fruits and food is eaten.  A place where hospitality is a way of life and everyone goes out of their way to help you feel welcomed.  A ministry where God is doing amazing things with a dedicated staff who seek to love him and love others.  And finally, a home where I will encounter my friends, Charbel, Mohammad, Ahmed, Jad, Abboud, Daniel, and many others.  I've missed you Lebanon and I can't wait to be with you again."  -Josh

"It has also been 4 years for me since I first traveled to Lebanon.  I loved every minute of it!  From tutoring rambunctious 4th graders, to seeing smiles shared when language was a barrier, to eating the most amazing food ever, to seeing God work miraculously in young boys lives. to seeing staff members give up their own lives and dreams to love them boys unconditionally, to growing closer with my Calvary family.  The list could go on.  I cannot wait to experience these things and so much more as we go."  -Jennifer

We will keep this blog updated as we go so please check back often.  May God do abundantly more than we could ever ask or imagine as we journey to Lebanon once again.

With great hope,