Lebanon Mission- 2019

Lebanon Day 7-May 24

I have a confession to make…I’ve never been good at “good-byes.”

Maybe that is because saying “good-bye” is something I don’t really want to do with people that I want to stay connected to. Maybe it’s because there seems to me to be nothing “good” about taking leave of people we have come to love. Maybe it’s because saying “good-bye” sounds so definite…so permanent…that it sticks in my throat and bores a hole in my soul when I am faced with that moment of parting from friends and family. And the deeper the love…the bigger the hole…and the harder the task.

Our final day together was filled with these difficult moments. However, the truth is that they may have been some of the most important moments we experienced all week! During the day on Friday we had a campus wide clean-up day as the school was preparing for its annual fund raiser that would happen on Saturday evening. Our team was working alongside students and faculty members sweeping outdoor areas, trimming grass, planting new flowers, and just generally bringing out the natural beauty of this place. After school, some of us played games with the resident kids, and then at 4:00 pm there was helping them with homework just like every other day. But then Friday evening came…and it was time to begin the last chapter of our time in this incredible place with these incredible people.

Friday night there was a pizza party thrown in our honor. I know…some of you are saying to yourselves “Pizza party? What kind of honor is that?” Much bigger than you might think. For the resident children who live here at Dar El Awlad, pizza is not something they get often. So when they do, it is a real treat! Therefore, the fact that we had pizza together was a testament to the excitement the kids had because of our time together with them. And it showed! We ate together, we laughed together, and we played games together. At one point, they called out all the boys who had birthdays during the Month of May and we sang “Happy Birthday” followed by cake! And at the end of the evening, they thanked each member of our team by name, and gave each of us a small “thank you” gift. But the greatest gift was yet to come.

The very last thing we did together was that all the kids, as well as the staff and their families, circled around our whole team as we all held hands, and prayed for us. It was a prayer of thanksgiving for us, it was a prayer of blessing and protection for us, and it was a prayer full of love, sincerity, genuineness, and gratitude that simply cannot be faked. In short, it was the most beautiful prayer I have ever heard in my life!

Maybe now you can understand why I’m not good at saying “good-bye”. Because in the wake of that beautiful prayer as I stood connected to both my new friends in Beirut, as well as the brothers and sisters in Christ that had traveled with me there, it was time to physically take our leave of each other…and there was a part of me that didn’t want to. Which is not to say that I didn’t want to return home! I missed my wife and my family. I missed my church and the friendship that we share together at Faith. I just felt this tension that had me saying to myself, “There is nothing good about ‘good-bye’”!

And then it dawned on me. What if it’s so hard to say “good-bye” because we are not meant to say “good-bye”? What if God’s desire for us is not only to be connected, but to remain connected even when we are separated? In that moment, I was reminded of something I have known all along and have said to our church many times. And that is that “In Christ…we never really say ‘good-bye’…it is always more like ‘See you later!’” Because that is the truth of it! Because Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us. Because we have been saved by grace through faith and given the promise of eternal life. That means that no matter what happens in this life…even if circumstances never allow us to physically see each other again in this life…we are guaranteed that this is not the end…and we will always have the opportunity for reconnection and reengagement.

I am forever thankful to God for leading me to Beirut and allowing me to connect with my new friends who are like family to me there. And I pray that, if it is God’s will, I might return to them in the future. But my real comfort…my real hope…is in the truth that we are now eternally connected in spirit…eternally connected in love…and nothing can ever change that!

I guess you could say that I am choosing to say “good-bye” to good-byes! ... and looking for opportunities to develop Relationships that Matter in order to experience “Hellos” that last forever!!! And I sincerely hope that you will join me in doing so as well.  

--Pastor Rusty