A few weeks ago, we got to send a team to Lebanon for 10 days. They were able to work alongside Pastor Mohammad and Tyre Church, one of Pulpit Rock’s partners, to do everything from building jungle gyms to sewing masks!
When we signed up to join the group from Pulpit Rock going to Lebanon, I was clueless about the country and its people. My perception expanded immensely when we arrived on April 30th. Pastor Mohammad and his wife, Grace, welcomed us with generous friendliness.
The countryside was beautiful, as we passed banana fields and orange groves. We also saw large makeshift camps that we learned housed refugees from Syria and Palestine. Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in the world (approximately 2 million from Syria and 500,000 from Palestine).
The six-story building that Tyre Church owns is made up of apartments, a large kitchen for preparing 200 meals a day for the refugees, and the church itself on the street level.
The community around the church in Tyre is a mix of Lebanese, Muslims and persecuted believers from the Middle East. Pastor Mohammad intentionally employs Muslims to build rapport and relationship with them. They operate several self-sustaining businesses on the same block. There is a wood shop, a sewing shop, a music school, a car wash, a coffee shop, a bakery, a health clinic, a café, and a market. The fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, milk and eggs are all supplied by the farms that the ministry owns and operates. There’s even a hospital under construction in another location.
The heart of this community is the church, the lighthouse in the darkness of poverty and spiritual need. The sign outside says it all, “Tyre Center for the Gospel Proclamation.” No confusion there about the mission of this operation!
Our team was welcomed into the worship service right away, which was joyfully engaged in Arabic singing and preaching, complete with overheads with the Arabic words.
I didn’t know what they were singing, but it was done with great enthusiasm. Pastor Mohammad preached in Arabic and alternated in English for our benefit. After the service, several friendly girls wearing head coverings approached me with welcoming smiles and brief greetings in either Arabic or English. The worship quickly became one of the highlights of our experience.
Each day began with coffee at the outdoor coffee shop and breakfast at the café, followed by a brief prayer meeting. During this entire visit we were treated to delicious food – another highlight of the trip.
So what did we actually do?
On day one, we hopped into cars and were taken to the church-run preschool/daycare which was scheduled to open in a couple of days. Grace is the director of the daycare, a cheerfully painted facility for the 20 children and 14 staff.
Our team assessed the outdoor area where we planned to build a jungle gym, and we immediately began digging the post holes. Over the next few days, concrete was poured, posts were placed, and the playground was completed!
Another one of our projects was building a ropes course at a summer camp site for teens. Again, wood was ordered from the wood shop and the team took tools, ropes and hardware to created the structure. We had to laugh at the family of pigs that was running around the camp!
While part of the team worked at the goat farm to construct a cabin for a future caretaker and his family, others did a variety of things; sewing masks for the kids at the preschool, visiting a woman who lost a loved one to covid, sitting in on a Bible study for Arab women led by a friend who runs the sewing shop… Jeanette was even able to use her expertise to advise on the layout and construction of the hospital!
The team soon bonded with the Lebanese drivers and fellow carpenters. Pretty soon the men were calling each other “Habibi,” an affectionate term for friend. Relationships quickly went to the top of the list of highlights of our visit!
We got to learn about Lebanon’s history on this trip too. One day we took a drive to see the famous cedars of Lebanon, 4000 years old, referred to in 1 Chronicles 14:1 and 2 Chronicles 2:3,8.
Next, we visited the Baalbek ruins in Zahlé, where the 2000-year-old remains of Roman temples to Venus, Bacchus, and Jupiter are still sitting.
We also visited the ruins in Tyre and got to walk places Jesus walked, such as the city gate in the ancient ruins.
Another day we went to Beirut and saw the explosion site, along with another Lighthouse outreach of Pastor Mohammad’s. I loved learning about the history of this amazing country.
Over the 10 days in Lebanon, the things that expanded my perception of this little country will be special memories. But the movement of God’s spirit in our hearts for the Lebanese people will remain as much more than just a memory.
I had been hearing about the Love Your Neighbor trip to Lebanon for a few months, and I was excited to pray for those going and hear all the stories coming from the team’s visit to Tyre Church. But nine days out from their departure, an unexpected slot opened up to go on the trip.
Within 24 hours, I had talked to my family and was about to head almost 7,000 miles away from home on my first international mission trip.
The quick turnaround time from invitation to departure was actually a huge blessing for me. I’ve been known to overthink and question even small decisions and details, so to have such a short time to prepare helped me let go of some of my natural tendencies.
God was good to help me put aside expectations and my desire to plan ahead for any circumstance. He knew the short lead time would not only stretch me, but give me less time to doubt my capability.
The trip also opened my eyes to some realities about following Jesus – it’s one thing to cognitively understand that people all over the world are on a faith journey, but it’s quite another to experience worship music competing with the Muslim call to prayer on the shore of the Mediterranean in person.
I’ve had little experience being in a place that isn’t at least nominally Christian, and watching the believers in Lebanon unapologetically live out their faith with courage and boldness in a not totally friendly environment was a challenge to me.
The breathtaking love that Pastor Mohammad and his family have for their country and ALL of the people that find themselves there, as well as the way that their love for Jesus permeates every moment of the day, keeps surfacing in my mind.
This responsibility to love God and love others isn’t something that they do as a part of their lives; there is no distinction between ‘regular life’ and mission. They are bringing the Kingdom to earth in every interaction. And the joy and beauty that it brings displays what it looks like when we actively partner with God.
This trip was beautiful, hard, inspiring, challenging and so much more. I’m praying for the continued blessing of the ministries in the Middle East and for the Lord to keep reminding me of the things he showed me in Lebanon and to give me a heart like the believers there.
Be on the lookout next week for an update from Pastor Mohammad and 1,000 Lighthouses on the Pulpit Rock Mobile SENT channel! We get to hear how your generous donations to the 2020 Christmas Offering have impacted them.