We've been back in the States now for 1 day. There is so much to write about; I'm not sure where to begin.
First, I'm so encouraged by Calvary's partnership with Dar El Awlad. We're only 1 of 2 groups they receive all year. When the boys received their shoes on Tuesday, many of them have had the same donor family multiple times now. It's great that the boys have formed relationships with many of you. It's not just from the shoe donations, but from meeting you in person during summer trips. As I was walking around the room, I noticed that many of the boys were writing long notes to you because they knew you and were deeply grateful for your generosity. Thanks be to God for a church that has loved these boys for many, many years.
This is the boys only trip to the river all year and of course they love it. Like most roads in Lebanon, the rode to the river was very windy and full of ups and downs. The river is in a beautiful valley with lush green trees and jagged rocks lining surrounding it. I was very impressed by the wonder of it all. Unfortunately, cooler weather had arrived and we were under lots of shade, both by the overcast sky and all the trees cover. Most of the boys had goosebumps and were shivering the entire time because the water was very cold and there was no relief from the sun. Nevertheless, they loved it all anyway. Many of them stayed in the water the majority of the day, splashing, jumping, and spinning as they took it all in. The older boys were allowed to go to another part of the river that had rocks they could jump off. They would jump off the rocks, swim back to the shore, and climb the rocks and jump again. They counted each time and made it a competition among themselves. Many of them, at the end of the day, had jumped off the rocks 25+ times!
The Bekaa (sp?) valley was very different from the mountainside city of Beirut. The humidity was lower, but the sun's presence was greater. I didn't quite know what I was getting into when I left Beirut. I thought it would be green like Beirut, but more remote. It was more brown than green and although there were not as many buildings, especially tall ones, there were still enough buildings around that I wouldn't call it rural. We turned off from the main road and were immediately greeted by tents everywhere. Although not officially recognized as one, this was a refugee camp for Muslims that had fled Syria.
We made our way down a narrow dirt road and finally arrived at the house of Brent's uncle. It was another tent house like all the other, except this one was torn down and built again rather recently. The floor was cement and the outer structure was made of wood with thick plastic for the roof and walls. It surprisingly looked well put together although there was no furniture in any of the rooms. Instead on the floors were rugs and pillows. Brent's relatives and friends had lots to say to us, and we stayed several hours until a meal was prepared. They had welcomed us with a feast and the food kept coming. They had prepared for us hot tea when we first arrived, but for the meal we were first greeted with a rice pilaf with chicken thrown in. There was also chucked corn with chicken thrown in. A yogurt that was entirely too strong was offered as a beverage. Daniel, one of the adults from Dar El Awlad, and I laughed as another adult, Mark, also from Dar El Awlad, downed about 5 cups - this includes both of our cups. Also among these dishes was a leafy salad and of course pita bread. I didn't know what to do so I put everything in my pita and rolled it up like I was making a burrito. The customary way to eat this was to break off a piece of pita, scoop some food up with the piece, and repeat. After the main course, we were served coffee, then Pepsi, and finally watermelon. I understood that they wanted to greet us well, but man was my tummy full!
There is so much more to say, but I'm forever grateful for the kindness and warmth showed to us by Dar El Awlad - between the adults and children alike. The children loved to play with Elijah and the adults went out of their way to make us feel comfortable in an entirely new place. We all got to say our final goodbyes and Dar El Awlad even gave each of the volunteers a token made of Lebanese cedar. They also presented a beautiful painting of a Lebanese church to us. It is signed by the Dar El Awlad Oasis children. These are the children that came as refugees from Syra. The painting has these words: "One family, one body, one church". I'm very grateful I could enter into the lives of these Christians half-way around the world! Especially knowing that Jesus and his disciples would not have walked too far from this special place.