February 16, 2016
BEIRUT: The passion of one person is often contagious and impactful in the lives of others, because by nature passion has to be shared, expressed, and demonstrated. Within Liz Crusey, a Houston-area woman whose gifting and heart for ministry thrives in the community-focused outreach of her local church, dwells a simultaneous passion for a small country far away, and for the people serving and being served there. She just returned from her sixth trip to Lebanon, where she traveled to interact with and support MEBO’s partner in the region, the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD).
Liz (right) with two Lebanese ministry leaders. (Photo: Tim Stuckey)
The Lebanese believers she gets to partner with, and the beauty and uniqueness of the opportunities they’re engaging, continue to be catalysts for Liz’s desire to partner with them. She gets excited about “working collaboratively with other believers, whether in Houston or around the world,” and is drawn to the fact that the LSESD team is passionate about what they do, and excellent at it. The cultural and historical dynamics of Lebanon also intrigue her. “I like to think of Lebanon as the ultimate confluence,” she shared. “When we lived in St. Louis, we could drive just a little bit north to visit Confluence Point State Park, the place where two of the most important U.S. waterways – the Mississippi & the Missouri Rivers – merge into one river. Sometimes this is a peaceful scene, but often in the spring as the snow melts upstream, it’s violent, chaotic & beautiful. Geographically and culturally this is part of Lebanon’s story. And I think that this blending, this confluence of Eastern & Western values, landscape, language and food is part of what makes Lebanon an alluring, fascinating, misunderstood place.”
Her love for Lebanon has roots in a much earlier interest in the Middle East, one which God planted in her heart in childhood and ripened in college when she had the opportunity to spend a semester in the region studying history. “I’ve always carried those experiences with me. I never knew how the Lord would bring them back up again.” She now identifies those early interests and experiences as God’s cultivation in her of a connection that He would bring to fruition later in life, and she urges other believers not to dismiss their own interests in other regions, cultures, and needs that exist half a world a way. “God doesn’t waste any of that,” she said, with an unmistakable confidence in His work in the world, and in the privilege and joy of finding our place in it.
Liz gets to collaborate on projects with the LSESD team from her home in Houston as well as during trips to Lebanon, and she noted how valuable it is that the organization is led and run by Lebanese men and women and not Westerners. She was also freshly impressed, after this visit, by the “robustness of the vision” of each of the six organizations that comprise the LSESD family. As an example, she noted the intentionality of the team running the center for Smart Kids with Individual Learning Differences (SKILD), a group of professional therapists and psychologists whose vision goes even further than the important task of serving children with special needs or learning challenges. Their work also involves interacting with parents, grandparents, and siblings, giving them hope and equipping them to communicate with and support a family member with special needs or learning differences.
The Relief and Community Development arm of LSESD, Liz said, is another “staggering” example of the organization’s vast reach and level of vision. The relief program, currently offering tangible support to approximately 9,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugee families in both Lebanon and Syria, has mobilized and carefully trained “normal people like you and me,” Liz said, many of them through their local churches, to be the hands and feet of compassion in the region. Because of this strategy, the relief work could reasonably expand to even three times its current capacity, as funding allows. Considering the vastness of the need and effectiveness of the relief work LSESD is engaged in among refugees, Liz noted that as we in the West hear about the tragedies of the Syrian crisis, we often “wring our hands, and shake our heads, and think, ‘There are so many people. There would be such a language barrier if we were to go there and try to help.’ But right now in the Middle East, God is using” willing people, “normal people,” to meet a vast need for tangible expressions of mercy.
Syrian refugee girl living in Lebanon. (Photo: John Bowen)
During her recent visit to Lebanon, Liz had the opportunity to spend time with several refugee families in their makeshift homes. Two lasting impressions from those conversations have stayed with her. First, she was struck by “the universal power of listening.” She encourages others to think of Syrian refugees “like your sister, or your college best friend. These are people who have walked through horror. They need others to just show up and listen. Listening,” she said, “is a need that transcends cultures.” She also walked away from those conversations concluding that we in the West need to change the way we think about who a refugee is. “These people are professional contractors, school teachers, small business owners, musicians, people who were living well in Syria. They lived in suburban neighborhoods just like we do. And today they have absolutely nothing.”
Because she so values her ongoing partnership with Lebanese men and women serving through LSESD, Liz is passionate about seeing other Americans get involved. “Cultivate an interest,” she encourages readers. “If you’re into history, read a reputable history book on the region. Or go and peruse the IMES blog. If you’d like to talk with someone to know more about the work of LSESD, contact them here. Everyone in Lebanon is trilingual – you’ll have a great conversation!” She also urges other to “Come and Learn,” and notes that “this is a harder thing for Americans sometimes. We’re doers. But now is the time for us to come and learn from believers in other places about what the God is doing in their region.” This could look like participating in a Vision Trip with your church or civic group, or attending the annual Middle East Consultation organized by the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary. And finally, she encourages other American church groups to “Come and Serve,” noting opportunities throughout the year to serve alongside the Baptist Children and Youth Ministries team during camps they organize for children and teens, including street kids, orphans, and refugees.
If you decided to further cultivate your interest, to ‘Come and Learn’, or to ‘Come and Serve’, Liz is confident that you’ll observe what she has about MEBO’s partners in Lebanon, who “show demonstrably, tangibly, that God has not given up on this region. Their work here depicts that it’s not in God’s nature to give up on people He loves, prizes, and values. All the departments of LSESD have one thing in common,” she said with tell-tale passion. “They are ministries that shine with hope and resilience and with the character of God, reflecting His heart for the poor and the marginalized and the weak.”