August 17, 2015

Ashley al-Saliby

BEIRUT: Have you ever paused to take in a moment and wondered, “What am I doing here?” You might be stepping into a neighborhood just a few minutes from your own, or into a home literally half a world away, but the amazement at how God chooses to lead and use us can be the same. In his study Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby challenges Christians to “find out where God is working and join Him in it.” American teams that traveled to Lebanon this summer reflected that principle through a humble desire to learn from their Lebanese brothers and sisters and serve alongside them in the midst of unprecedented need and the unmistakable activity of God through His people.

I wanted an opportunity to let the refugee families know that they were not forgotten,” expressed Tim, who came to Lebanon with First Baptist Atlanta, Georgia.  Chris from Bay Area First Baptist Church in League City, Texas, described the attitude of his team as they arrived: “We prayed for God to show us how He’s working.” One of the core values of their church is “kingdom partnerships.” This desire for collaboration is one of the primary motivators that has brought several groups from Bay Area FBC to Lebanon over the last several years.

Sometimes Love Leads us Far From Home

Kathy, a member of the Travis Avenue Baptist Church team, helps a child tie his friendship bracelet. (Photo: Ashley al-Saliby)

Although teams from three American churches journeyed to Lebanon at different times and with different itineraries and opportunities this summer, their experiences ring with a remarkable consistency. Members of each of team found themselves stirred with compassion for the communities they served and the lives they encountered on their trips.  They also expressed great respect and appreciation for the Lebanese leaders who tirelessly and faithfully minister in difficult contexts. Many also described unforgettable experiences with God during their brief stay in Lebanon.

Hailey, a high school student with the Bay Area FBC team, engages neighborhood children in a game of street soccer. (Photo: Brian Haynes)

The group from First Baptist Atlanta partnered with Baptist Children and Youth Ministry (BCYM) to offer three one-day camps for Syrian refugee children. The Bay Area FBC team served at a Relief and Development Center which includes a Child-Friendly Space. The team enjoyed the opportunity to reach out to kids in the classroom setting, as well as through spontaneous games of street soccer. They also completed a painting project at the center and visited local families alongside Lebanese ministry leaders. Representatives of Travis Avenue Baptist Church spent most of their trip high in the beautiful Lebanese mountains working with the BYCM team at a camp for former street children, where they shared about and demonstrated the love of Christ.

Blake from Bay Area FBC praised the Lebanese ministry leader his team served with, saying,  “His sensitivity to God’s leading is like a radar.” Chris, also from Bay Area FBC, added that this leader “has put together a team [at the center] that is like a well-oiled machine.” Seeing the Lebanese leadership in action, Tim from FBC Atlanta remarked, “What BCYM is doing is absolutely phenomenal.  The full-time staff and volunteers put their hearts and souls into their work.  They are making a permanent kingdom impact without fanfare and public accolades.”

Members of the Travis Avenue team share about the love of Jesus with a group of former street children during a fun-filled week of camp. (Photo: Ashley al-Saliby)

The personal spiritual impact of these trips has a lasting value for those who participate.  Chris from Bay Area FBC described the unforgettable opportunity to pray from a mountaintop over a large city near where his team served. “We knelt over it,” he remembers. “It’s hard to communicate this experience with people back home.” His reflections indicate the unique privilege of aligning our hearts with God’s, even through intangible ministry like intercession. The team from First Baptist Atlanta chose as their theme verse 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, which praises God as the “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.” Their time in Lebanon was characterized by a desire to offer to others the comfort they have received from God himself. Sometimes, however, it is members of visiting groups themselves who receive hope through interactions with those they came to serve. A member of one of the teams, a college student who suffers from severe chronic pain, found the testimonies and examples of refugee women to be a challenging reminder of the God who has a purpose in her own story, as well.

These reactions reveal something beautiful about what God does when His children are willing to observe where He is working and join Him. The result is always transformation of the ones sent, and not only ministry to the ones they had the privilege of serving. His purposes involve teaching us to see like He sees, give like He gives, and love like He loves. And even when we find ourselves far from home, this love can be communicated through small gestures like soccer games or the making of friendship bracelets, through the compassionate ministry of prayer or the gift of humble presence.