Lebanon Mission- 2019

Lebanon Day 4-May 21

On occasion throughout the year, the school here has “theme weeks” where all of the children’s learning, to include their academic subjects as well as chapel and evening worship experiences, are geared toward a common theme. This is one of those weeks here, and the theme is “Being Good Stewards of the Environment.”

So our Mission Team here isn’t just helping the students in the classroom to learn more about the environment around them and how to better care for it, but they are working with the faculty and students beyond the classroom to put into practice these lessons in ways that will make a difference. For example, John, Brian, and Jerry are helping the Science teacher for the upper elementary classes to build a mobile compost bin that will actually be used on the campus. Other team members are helping the children in other grade levels with projects that will become a part of an ecology exhibition that will be shown and shared with the surrounding community. And all of us will be participating in a campus wide clean-up day here on Friday!

But as I shared with you yesterday, everything that happens here isn’t just a matter of the mind…it is rooted in the Word of God! So the children are not just learning about ways to better protect the world…their world… but that this is, and always has been, God’s world that has been entrusted to us. That caring for the environment is really a part of our purpose, and just one of the many ways that we thank and honor God!

So this theme…this truth…hasn’t just been a part of the classroom, but also our focus in worship today. Today, I had the privilege of partnering with some of the staff in leading campus-wide morning worship. The principal (Ms. Lydia) opened with prayer, and Ms. Naomi (a teacher and missionary from France) led the school in singing some familiar songs, like “This Little Light of Mine.” Then I teamed up with the 3rd grade Math teacher (Ms. Miray – also from France) to bring a message about…you guessed it…light! And how this worked was very unique. I laid the Biblical foundation about light. About how God is the giver of light, Jesus is the light of the world, God’s Word is meant to be “a light unto our feet and a light for our path” (Psalm 109). But then Ms. Miray presented an object lesson to reinforce, in a very practical way for the children, the importance of having light in our lives and being a light in the lives of others. And it left me thinking, “Wow! This tag-team thing worked pretty well.”

Then God turned on the light for me! You see, this is what it really means to be the church in the world. Not just educated theologians or trained pastors teaching and preaching to instruct others…but all of us using our gifts and our witness to encourage and inspire others into lives of love and compassion. It is not about being the “Institutional Church”…but becoming more genuinely and faithfully the “Body of Christ” that has many members and many expressions. In that eye-opening moment, it wasn’t that I was the pastor and she was a math teacher…we were one voice, one heart, one mission, one purpose, and one spirit.

My friends, that is the church I am convinced that Jesus intended and prayed that we might become. Not just sometimes (like when we are on mission trips like this) or in some places (like here…when we are on mission trips like this), but each day as we live and serve together right there in our own community.

I cannot wait to return to you and continue the work we have been committed to together for years. But I will be returning to you with a renewed spirit, an uplifted heart, and eyes newly opened…so that we can continue our work in new and more effective ways!

I will see you soon! Buckle up!!!

--Pastor Rusty

Lebanon Day 3-May 20

“Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.”  - Dr. John Trainer

So today, we began our most important work, and the reason we came here…the children!

The day began as calmly as all the others…and then children seemed to come from everywhere. As I wrote yesterday, we had time on Sunday evening to meet the children who reside here full time (22 in all), but today they were joined by about 150 of their closest friends from the surrounding community…and that is when things quickly became infinitely more energetic!

Public education here in Lebanon works much differently than it does for our children in the U.S. I believe it would be an accurate statement to say that the goal of our education system is to “leave no child behind.” But here, if you are not Lebanese, you do not automatically have the right to have access to public education. This fact, coupled with the vast number of refugees from Syria and other countries that are here, means that many children go without the benefit of receiving a formal education. The reason I am sharing this with you is to give you some context for understanding the unique demographics of this school. You see, while the school here has grades PreK-6th officially, the actual ages of the children in the school range from the youngest of 4 years old to the oldest being a 17-year-old 6th grader. And if that shocks you…you ought to be here with us to see it happening up close.

But it works! It works because the administrative staff and faculty here are incredible. While they serve with joy showing great compassion and patience with the children, they also do so with intentionality and firmness in a way that somehow brings order out of chaos as is needed. It works because they work it. And they work it so diligently and faithfully because they know that they are the only chance that most of these kids will ever have at a better life and a real future.

But I think the thing that moves me the most is that they aren’t just filling the children with information (i.e. – Math, Science, Language Arts, etc.), they are instilling Christian values in them all along the way. Which is not to say that all of the children are Christian. Many come from Muslim- or other religious- traditions, and the school doesn’t require them to “convert” to be in school. But the entire faculty and staff proclaim Jesus in everything they do and teach. They lift up the importance of loving God and loving people in many and various ways. In other words, they don’t just teach the children here about Jesus…they actually show them the love of Jesus in a way that meets the children right where they are…regardless of who they are or where they come from.

And we (Your Mission Team) get to be a part of this incredible ministry! We all had different roles throughout the day. For example, some of the team worked in the classrooms aiding the teachers and the children in subjects like Math, Science, and English. Ellen Weaver was also called upon to help with the Music and Arts classes. Dr. Leslie Auers started doing check-ups for all the children (which will take several days to do) and will do a special clinic for the girls later in the week. And I was asked to teach a Bible Class to the 5th graders (which as I said included even young teenagers).

So when school dismissed at 2:00 pm, we had all had a pretty full day. But it wasn’t over yet. The team helped the resident children with their homework from 4:00-6:00. And then at 7:00, the whole campus gathered for an evening worship service where I was invited to preach in English while the message was interpreted in Arabic for the children. Then we ate, went to bed, and started getting ready to get up and do it all again tomorrow.

But it is so worth it! If you could see the smiles on the children’s faces as we worked with them today. If you could hear the joy in their voices as they told us their names and asked us questions about our lives. If you could only feel the love and gratitude that some of the children shared with us with a hug or a high-five. Then, you would begin to understand just what Dr. Trainer meant when he advocated that this is our “most important work.” And you would be as proud as I am to be a part of the ministry of Faith Lutheran Church. A ministry of significance… A ministry that is willing to take risk for the sake of love… A ministry devoted to Developing Relationships That Matter!

--Pastor Rusty

Lebanon Day 2-May 19

If yesterday was a “Day of Revelation” (and that is what I called it)…then today was a “Day of Preparation.”

The team here began this Sunday the same way I hope you did as well…by going to worship! We attended a Christian Church here in the heart of Beirut. Like our church there at Faith, they had a very contemporary style of worship complete with a great band that played upbeat music, and everything was projected on the screen. Like our church the preaching was relevant, Biblical, and about 35-40 minutes. And like our church, the people were hospitable, friendly, and welcoming. In fact, the only real difference was that 90% of the service was in Arabic…and since none of us speak Arabic…that was a pretty BIG difference!

But while it was different, that doesn’t mean it was a deterrent. The music still moved us. The joy of the people was real and evident. And as luck would have it (or better yet…as God had arranged it) the preacher was a visiting missionary from New Jersey who preached in English. All this is to say that even though it was very different from what we are accustomed to, and we didn’t understand everything that was said or going on, we authentically worshiped all the same and felt the presence of The Holy Spirit just as powerfully as when we worship together with all of you. And I know that God was using it to prepare our spirits for the work ahead of us here.

Then we returned to the Kids Alive campus and spent the afternoon actually preparing for the busy schedule that will begin tomorrow when school is back in session. Then, in the late afternoon/early evening, the resident children began to arrive back on campus. You see, once every other month, the children that normally live on campus return to their families to reconnect for a weekend. For those children that are true orphans with no family, they go home with one of the staff or faculty for the weekend so that every child has someone to go “home” to. When we arrived on Friday, the children had all just left for such a weekend. But today they began returning, and life here immediately took on more energy. 

So the evening was spent visiting their residential units, meeting the “House Mothers” (yes, every dorm has a resident woman who really loves the children and becomes for them a “mother” while they are here), and of course we got to meet some the kids for the first time. It was truly a “Day of Preparation.”

So as I prepare for sleep, I honestly don’t know if I am completely ready for what lies ahead this week. But I do know that my spirit feels completely filled from this day of worship, meeting new friends, and standing with the other courageous and faithful members of this Mission Team (YOUR Mission Team) on the brink of something new and different for all of us. And my prayer for all of you is that if you too don’t feel completely ready for what you are facing today, that you will take some time to let God prepare your spirit, and surround yourself with others remembering that you were never meant to do this thing called life alone.

Blessings on you all!!!

--Pastor Rusty