Letâ€™s see: Long good day. 4 hours of not so good sleep. Heading off at 1 am to catch our flight that will be 25 sleepless hours from gate to gate. Does that qualify as insanity?
We went downtown with Daniel and Sarah Chetti to see the center of this religiously complex beautiful city. The historic Anglican church they area a part of is more than a century old. It is in the middle of the some of the most expensive real estate in the world, right next to the incredibly expensive new condo tower built by the Saudi princess, the Four Seasons Hotel within sight of the marina full of super fancy yachts. They faithfully speak and live the gospel to the people who live in that area. Sarah is involved in one of its central ministries is in the womenâ€™s prisons where maids who are imported, shamefully used and abused, and then cast aside without papers or status end up under ground in the prison under the freeway. They do Bible studies and use their influence to shorten their torturous time.
Look closely at this picture on the right with the beautiful blue mosque in the backdrop and see if you can find the deep irony. That mosque was built by the super wealthy businessman/prime minister who was murdered in a bomb blast that has become an international incident. The world court has been conducting the trial for years but because of political sensitivities, it cannot pronounce judgment. I found it fascinating that it is built on top of Roman ruins which you can see below the beautiful building.
We had prayer with the woman who fled persecution to Lebanon. She will go to Security Monday to see if her visa will be renewed. If not she will be taken to the airport. On Thursday when her case was postponed, they kept all her papers. She talked about how scary it was to walk around Beirut without papers. Thatâ€™s how you end up in the womenâ€™s prison. We pray her visa will be extended and she will be able to get into ABTS for studies in the fall.
The stories of imprisoned foreigners without papers became more real Friday night. We were returning from dinner with Elie and Mirielle when traffic unexpectedly stopped to the slowest creep. Elie observed that there was probably a police check point ahead and casually said, â€œOf course you have your passports.â€ They were securely in our room at ABTS. I had forgotten my wallet so I had no identification at all. I wondered what prison might look like!
I just couldnâ€™t help but laugh at this building. Makes me want to go to Stumptown!
Last day of class is a sad time. I have just gotten to know the students and now itâ€™s over. Fittingly for a spiritual warfare class, we ended in a prayer circle. The last notes on the board were of the work that God has done in all believers. Most of the students had extensive experience in dealing with evil spirits but their foundation was more experience than Bible, so the instruction was very encouraging and in some cases, a major change of direction as they evaluated the practices they had seen from a biblical basis. Thatâ€™s exactly what I want.
I began the day with speaking in chapel from Philippians 2:6-7. I asked of what the Second Person of the Trinity emptied Himself. I suggested that the â€œform of Godâ€ means His divine nature, but noted that He could not have been Emanuel then. Then I looked at â€œform of a servant/slaveâ€ and suggested that meant role or way of life. That rang true, so we worked through the idea that He emptied Himself of His divine way of life and equal status with God to take on the way of life of a perfectly Spirit filled human. If thatâ€™s true, then we can really be like Him. It turned out to be a very good word.
Unfortunately, teaching entails paper grading. Ugh. Walid read the Arabic papers to me and I dictated comments for him to translate and type into their papers. It is a very long process! I was glad to see that the students did quite well in their papers. But still Walidâ€™s smile was large when we were done. Mine too!
I did have a very interesting visitor who wanted to find out about more about spiritual warfare.
Just after I came back to the room the telephone rang. It was Walid. There is one more paper to do. Tomorrow!
Our evening was spend with Elie and Marielle Haddad. Heâ€™s the president and they are great couple. The Lebanese feast down town was followed by a continuation of last nightâ€™s theological discussion with Marvin at their home. It went late enough that everyone else was falling asleep but us.
The days are getting fuller as the week winds on. Chapel, class, lunch (which is a social event), teaching the staff a 90 minute module of spiritual warfare followed by another 90 minutes very personal interactions. We had a bit of a break to do Portland work via email then supper with Rosette and Sarah, two of our longest time ABTS friends. They are the ones closest in the picture. Ironically we went to a Mexican restaurant. Other than ABTS cafeteria meals we have had only one Lebanese meal. Somehow we end up with lasagna or Starbucks â€“ though the Starbuckâ€™s here are a little different than in the USA.
Shock!! Rosette introduced her nephewâ€™s wife as we got in the car, noting that she was from Ukraine. Immediately, I asked, â€œfrom where?â€ â€œOdessa,â€ she replied. I told her Iâ€™d taught at Odessa Theological Seminary many times. As Rosetteâ€™s car moved into the illumination of the street light, I recognized Maria. She wasnâ€™t in my classes since she was in a different program, but weâ€™d talked briefly several times. What a small world that Iâ€™d come from the USA and meet a student from the Ukraine in Beirut. To build on the irony, her husband is on a business trip to the Ukraine and her work made it impossible for her to join him.
I ended up sitting across from Marvin, Rosetteâ€™s son, and Jade, his best friend. They are both avid, well read theology students so we got into it quickly. Maria, sitting next to Marvin, went back and forth from conversation with the women and theology, ending up with theology. After supper we went to Rosetteâ€™s house for tea and sweets and they got me into a conversation on what the Bible actually commands for husbands and wives. The idea that submit (following Jesus in the Garden) means give your feelings, desires and trust was almost as revolutionary as the point that husbands are never commanded to be the head but to love by giving themselves for their wives and to love by nurturing and cherishing their wives. I think we could have gone all night.
Class days are good days! Teaching spiritual warfare with Dr. Martinâ€™s 7 week old is wonderful. We are working through the biblical material with excursions onto side trials. But 12 class hours â€“ excluding breaks and lates â€“ limits severely the trails we can go down.
Mornings include breakfast where the choices are varied but quite different than the breakfast buffet in America as you can see. Sherry asked Ellie to identify the cheeses but it was not helpful. There are no western names for them. You just grab some pita, some cheese, yoghurt, Middle Eastern style olives (which I love), a cup of tea and enjoy!
Afternoon included an hour and a half with Alia who explained all the dimensions of the Lebanon Society for Educational & Social Development (LSESD), led by Nabil Costa, a most effective leader. ABTS is one of six arms and it was wonderful to hear stories of students, many of whom I got to know, doing church and evangelistic ministry all over the Arabic world. Ironically, the 2006 war was a stimulus to several of the ministries.
One story that touched deeply comes from the Institute for Middle Eastern Studies, which focuses on Christian Muslim dialogue. When the Israeli bombs began to fall on south Beirut, a heavily Hezbollah area, one of the leaders here telephoned the Shi’a sheik there with whom heâ€™d had dialogue and asked how he could help. That resulted in many homeless families living in facilities owned by LSESD. Later that highly influential sheik spoke publically of a Christianity heâ€™d never experienced before. Thatâ€™s what happens when genuine Christian concern for friendship and understanding reaches out to a friend in need and offers service in the name of Jesus.
We spent a wonderful evening with Wes and Katy, Brittany and Kyle. They are ministering here with International Mission Board, working with Rudolphe and Rana at Faith Baptist, where we worshipped on Sunday. What a great family. The common commitment to serving Jesus in culturally diverse places makes for instant friendship. That was made even easier by their wonderful friendliness and hospitality.
It is time for me to join the rush for breakfast so I will have strength for three hours of class, two hours teaching the faculty and staff and then dinner with Rosette and her family.
You would think that a Portlander would never trust the weather report, but somehow I did when it said it would rain (yes, thatâ€™s the Portland default). I cancelled the plans to take a tour to Baalback or some such place. Of course, the early morning shower was all alone in the world and the day was mostly sunny! We had tentative plans to go downtown for supper with a friend but a meeting and a lost passport in the group he was leading nixed those plans. The result was that our day off teaching was pretty normal. After breakfast I joined a Bible study with Daniel from India, Barnaba from South Sudan, Samar from Egypt, and Diana (not in the picture) from USA and Lebanon. It is a kick to hear the different perspectives but very sad to hear Barnaba telling about the rising conflict thatâ€™s killing South Sudan . . . again.
I got upstairs to see Mary in our room with Sherry. When we first came in 2002, she was running the dining room. She took great pains to be sure the food was to our liking and we were well taken care of in every way. Now sheâ€™s semi-retired and oversees the room service. Sheâ€™s still the wonderful caring person who laughs often and bring joy to everyone.
I was invited to the ABTS faculty meeting. I asked what the agenda was. Coffee, snacks and sharing life. What a great agenda! After I took pictures of them, Hikmat insisted that I join and took our picture. He loaned me his book where he did the first ever cataloging of the Arabic Gospel Documents which is a huge contribution to the world of New Testament textual criticism. Along with being a first class scholar and both NT faculty member and dean, he also pastors a local church which has tripled in size to about 200 in Sunday attendance since he took over after he finished his PhD about three years ago.
We had lunch with the woman who had to flee her country after being severely persecuted for becoming a Christian. We heard more of her faith and her love for Jesus and the Muslim people. Her tears were close as she described what a wonderful hope she had now that she has her very own Bible and can read freely to learn more about her Savior. Absolutely fascinating.
Akram, another long time member of the ABTS service staff, enjoys Turkish coffee, an after lunch is a tradition here. I couldnâ€™t get Sherry to try it.
We went to get snacks and Starbucks with Scott Keranen. Sherry and I both appreciated the unusual bill board. And we deeply enjoy the sunsets from our room.
Today was the first day of class so I was eager to meet my students. At breakfast, I wondered who they might be, as I did as we worshipped in chapel. Finally 10:00 came and the students began to arrive. A few have English so we talked directly. Most do not so translation slows down conversation. As they told their stories, I delighted in ministry stories from Iraq, Egypt, Syria, North and South Sudan, and Lebanon, of course. One of the exciting points is that there are three husband/wife teams in the class.
Walid is my translator. He is assistant librarian who teaches some classes and hopes to grow into a full professor after he finishes his advanced studies at the seminary in Prague. After introductions, we opened our Bibles and went to work. My questioning style is not normal at all, but they enjoy engaging with issues so they quickly got engaged. By the end of the class time, they were actively wrestling, almost arguing, about which interpretation was correct. I just stood back and smiled to see them learning actively and personally. Three hours went by very quickly.
After lunch, we went down to show off my portable coffee maker to Diane, one of the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies staff. She is the espresso lady but wanted to see my travel brewer. We ended up in a laugh filled reciting of international coffee stories. So like times here with the great diversity of ethnicities and cultures. We visited Marcelle to see about how to get to the airport in the extremely early hours of Sunday. The taxi will pick us up at 1:00 am. Since the taxi didnâ€™t show up last time we had that arrangement, I wanted a backup plan. â€œIt will be here,â€ Marcelle insisted. â€œIt is Trust Taxi.â€
Who is practicing a favorite activity?
Sunset tonight was spectacular as the clouds that will bring us showers for the next three days approach. Enjoy Godâ€™s beautiful art:
Sunday is for preaching which I got to do at Faith Baptist Church. We greeted some old friends and met many new ones. Alexy picked us up and and her fiancÃ©, Joe wired me for sound. Rola showed her Motherâ€™s love, Elie introduced us to his parents and grandmother, and many others came to greet us. Rudolphe prayed for the children before he introduced me. Elie was my translator. He was kind enough to ask if I wanted him to translate the nice things Rudolphe was saying about me. The sermon from Acts 3-4 seemed to go well. The audience was responsive and there were a number of nice comments after.
A woman Iâ€™d seen around ABTS came up to introduce herself. She is a Muslim from another country who decided to follow Jesus. When she told her family, they tried to persuade her to return. When she wouldnâ€™t, her brother began to beat her, but she stayed firm in her commitment to Jesus. Finally they sent her to stay with a Sheik who locked her up and tried to persuade her. Finally she was able to escape. Though she is a very careful person, she immediately found a way to get to Lebanon. She arrived with no visa, knowing not one soul, a hotel reservation for one night, and no options. God got her connected with someone from ABTS who took her to their home. Now 25 days later, she is full of joy, hoping that somehow she will be able to live openly as a Christian.
After service Rudolphe and Rana took us for an exquisite Lebanese meal in a restaurant operated by Alexyâ€™s aunt and her husband. There is no better place in all Lebanon. The shepherd herding the goats off the road added to the rustic feel. We ate for more than two hours, talking about the LORDâ€™s work and the attacks on Rudolphe and his family. Within an hour of the time he was voted into the pastorate of the church, he had a horrible pain in his back. Over a very long time and assurances that it was fine, they discovered a fast growing tumor on his vertebrae. He had surgery to remove the vertebrae and replace it with a rib. The doctors still cannot explain the speed of his recovery. Then there was a blood infection that nearly killed him before his prayer healed it just before the doctor came in for a last ditch effort to stop it. The story goes on. Through it all, Rudolphe pastored the church with diligence and vulnerability. Even with all the troubles, it has grown from a dying church of 40 to a positive church of 120 in the 18 months since his pastorate began.
We drove up into the mountains where the snow was at near record levels. There was so much beauty that could not fit into any camera. The natural stone bridge intrigued me. It also intrigues me that this is a color picture. One point of our conversation was relations between Christians and Muslims. He told us how the war time Israeli bombing drove many Hezbollah people out of their homes in south Beirut. They found that Christians welcomed them into their homes, served them, fed them and asked for nothing. Since then there has been a deepened partnership between the peoples despite deep differences in culture and religion. It is a wonderful example of the result of Romans 12:17-21. He also told of the huge difficulties it causes them when American pastors are reported as deliberately defiling the Quran or insulting the Prophet or pronouncing â€œrailing accusationâ€ (2 Pet. 2:11; Jude 1:9) on Muslims. It is a mark of a Christian to treat all people with love and respect. I need to be sure I do that.
Finally, why is it that American is the ultimate draw in place of the world with amazing culture of their own?
Saturday started with work highlighted by a most beautiful view of the city: preparing an exam for my Portland students, doing a bunch of email (still trying to get used to doing this off line as much as possible) but mostly working on final prep for my sermon for Sunday. I asked Rudolphe what I should preach on and he jokingly told me to preach that Christians should come to church! But that dropped me into Acts 4, Peter and Johnâ€™s encounter with the officials and prayer and the response of the church: They praised and prayed, praying specifically for (#1) boldness to speak the Word with boldness and (#2) to do great miracles. I realized that we donâ€™t pray either of these. Godâ€™s answer was to shake the place â€“ as Mt. Sinai and Isaiahâ€™s Temple were shaken â€“ such that they were filled with the Spirit, spoke boldly (#1) and shared everything so that there was no need among them (#2). Interesting answer to #2. The healings come but the immediate result was the sharing. Our individualism and self-protection makes this a most unlikely outcome in the modern church. I wonder what would happen if we really prayed these prayers.
After a good nap, we went to fellowship with some long time workers in this area. He came in the taxi to fetch us and later to return us. Like the taxi driver we were deeply touched by his hospitality. The afternoon and evening was spent sharing stories and talking theology/life. While I canâ€™t share specifics because of security, some lessons had me spending a lot of prayer time in the night.
In the Middle East, self is a corporate concept. One never thinks of himself other than as part of a family/clan. So when Jesus told his disciples to change families (Matt. 12:48-50) He was going to the core. When He called us to hate father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, even our own life to be His disciple (Luke 14:26), it feels like hyperbole. But is it? It made me think of the number of American missionaries who leave the field to take care of family and are usually congratulated by me and the church when they do it.
He showed us that prayer is typically done with eyes open, looking at the others, and speaking blessing on them in the name of Jesus. The others respond with unison â€œAmenâ€ pronounced in the Arabic way, â€œOmeen.â€ And it goes on for a long time. It made sense of many of the biblical prayers so that will become a part of my life.
I continue to be troubled by the richness of the American church in light of the radical call of Jesus and the example of these folk who live with the poorest of the poor to bring blessing to them. Jesus is a most uncomfortable figure. . . . but He is the LORD of glory come to live among us to show us the Father, how to live a blessed life and bring us all the family blessings of that life.
The internet keeps showing me interesting stuff. Click on the picture to enlarge it and note the right side of the Yahoo home page. Would that ever happen in the USA?
What a great day to start our time in Beirut. Jet lag was a defeated enemy for us both! We shared our first meal with Paul Sanders. Heâ€™s a long time friend and the fellow who introduced me to Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (here) back in 2002. He was provost then and working to promote theological education through out the Arabic and French speaking world. Now heâ€™s turned the ABTS reins over to Elie Haddad who is taking it to an even higher level. They are both working with the Teach/Learn project which will deliver state of the art theological/pastoral training to seminaries and churches throughout the Arabic speaking world using satellite technology. Itâ€™s ironic that the very best in web based learning may be in Arabic!
Speaking of internet, getting on here is a bit of an adventure. Iâ€™m very used to unlimited time but here it is sold by the hour. So Iâ€™m careful to log on/log off (does that sound like Mr. Miyagi?). Even more challenging is that they know where I am! Yahoo has been my home page for a long time. I thought it knew me. But alas, try as I might, it always went to this screen. I asked several people for help and Elie found the button that switches the display to English. But thereâ€™s no connecting with my Portland page from Beirut.
After chapel (with simultaneous translation headsets) and a tour of the ABTS facilities, we had lunch with Alexy Abou Rjeilly, one of my long time friends, to catch up on her life. We have talked about many things over the years including doing some counseling with her and her former fiancÃ©. I am very glad that she is now happily engaged to Joe. They will be married in September. Both are involved in the church I will preach in on Sunday.
Rola Salloum is the most delightful librarian you would ever want to meet and also a part of Strongholds, an outstanding Christian band (here). I was disappointed to find out that they are giving a concert shortly after we leave. But Rola invited us to their evening rehearsal in the wonderful new ABTS auditorium, so Sherry and I went down to join the fun. Though it was definitely a rehearsal the atmosphere of praise in their music was deeply moving. I was sad when we had to head up to bed.
Lunch was with Scot Keranen, a former student who is working with Heart for Lebanon, an agency started after the 2006 Lebanon-Israel war to bring aid to some very tragic situations. Now they are also ministering to refugees from the civil war in Syria. We went up the hill to a place where he said you can get American coffee. It wasnâ€™t true! But we had a good time reviewing ministry, politics, and the state of the Evangelical church and next generation Christians. Sherry was impressed with the price of pizza.
Finally, can you identify Sherryâ€™s mystery item?
Coming back to Beirut after six years is a joy. There are many familiar sites like the Grand Mosque in downtown. Our driver, father of one of my former students, told us that land in this area runs about $25,000 per square meter and small apartments will run $5,000,000. This is where the oil rich people live.
Tucked away among such expensive buildings are ones that are the heritage of the twenty year civil war. This one is on the dividing line between the warring factions. It is nice that many of the destroyed buildings have been rebuilt. The civil war in Syria is just a few miles away and whole neighborhoods are being destroyed. The people here in Lebanon are grateful that their country is spared this time.
Coming up the hill and turning into the seminary drive brought back many memories of great times with friends here, staff and students alike. Most are gone to other places now. Some like Hala, who translated for me in my other visits, are in the USA or Canada. Others are in ministries around the Arab speaking world. Iskandar and Mary are in Kartoum where he is rector of the Anglican Cathedral. One other is in one of the war zones in Syria. Who knows what will happen to him and the church.
Our 20 hours in transit was very long since the most I do is sink into short periods of unconsciousness. I have deep envy for those who sleep on airplanes. Wish I knew specifics about most marvelous castle we flew over as we landed at Londonâ€™s Heathrow. We had a short turn around and a very long walk there. Sherry was glad for her new knees, but pretty fatigued when we got to our gate. The â€œclosingâ€ notice confirmed the need for maximum pace.
I did laugh out loud at what awaited us as we exited the Beirut airport: