Lines in the Sand

Good Morning!

Happy to report that we’ve made it to Singapore and Tony has already preached his first sermon at the International Japanese church of Singapore, launching a two week “event” with his Anagaion Bible Study.  We’ve been excited about this for a long time and are happy to be finally able to do it.

But let’s talk today about our visit to Beruit this last week.  I’ve asked a fellow missionary friend who lived thru the whole thing to help me with the facts, so I’ll add what she has to say here also.

I guess I spent the whole week in awe and wonder, both at such a beautiful city, and the terrible destruction that has been tearing stuff up here for centuries, most recently until the late 90’s.

My friend says, “Israel attacked Lebanon n July of 2006 –bombing bridges and other infrastructure.  It was a 34-day war that Lebanon calls the July war.  Israel calls it the Israel Hezbollah War.  All Americans had to be evacuated to Cyprus during that period.  Not only were our personnel evacuated, but there was a large mission trip group there.  Not a nice time”.

Now, thankfully, there have been no serious attacks (car bombs, etc) in the city for about 4 years, and they’re only averaging one or two suicide bombers a month.  It’s never in the news because no one in the world cares anymore.  People know where to go and where to stay away from, and I believe they were watching for us at the same time, that we didn’t try to do something stupid!

When my friend was a short term missionary like we were, but to Lebanon instead of Africa,  the population was about 60% Christian and 40% Muslim.  During the 1975-1990 Civil War, many Christians left if they had the money and a way to leave (i.e. a country who would take them).

She continues, “About 100,000 Palestinian refugees came to Lebanon when Israel became a country in 1948 and multiplied.  After the 1967 war in Israel, more refugees came.  In the early 70’s, PLO leadership made themselves undesirables in Jordan and were kicked out.  They came to Lebanon.  They began flaunting their weapons and power outside the camps in Lebanon, which finally erupted in the spring of 1975 into the civil war.  The civil war was much more complicated with many more players, but the first skirmishes were between the Palestinians and the Lebanese Falangists (a Christian private army).   Really, the whole Middle East issues are almost impossible to keep straight, impossible to get a handle on, and only the Prince of Peace will be able to straighten things out.”

And she goes on to report, and she should know, having married a Lebanese missionary and living there all these many years, exactly the thing I’ve been trying to say all week:

“Like all the Middle East, there is a surface of life going on as normal, but under the surface is a cauldron of gasoline and the smallest spark could set things alight.”
For us this week, we’ve seen more different nationalities and heard more languages in one place than I can imagine.  For our last night, we went to a fancy Lebanese restaurant for one last ‘feed’ and the sweet little girl there let us guess that she was Ethiopian.  We tried to relate but she didn’t speak English.  We mentioned towns where we’d worked in Ethiopia, but were met with blank stares. Who knows? She may have been born in Lebanon, maintaining her culture, for generations.

Walking home one night (we felt 90% safe most of the time, just more afraid of falling unnoticed into a gaping hole or tangling ourselves up in rusty barbed wire), I told Tony, “I feel like this city is a great ball pit like you have at McDonalds, so many different colors and nationalities, and all mostly fitting together and getting along”.

However, The Bible more of less indicates that we’ll never have peace in the Middle East. What I saw in Beirut was what they wanted me to see, the bustling shops, the beautiful lights along all the avenues at night.  I know there’s still deep strife here and it’s so sad that we can’t hold hands and sing Kum Ba Ya.  The recent Moslem shooting in New Zealand is a tragic example of this.

I wanted to see the cities of Tyre and Sidon, mentioned often in the Bible and visited by Jesus.  We were told that it’d be safe to go there, but not to spend the night because somehow, it’s too close to the border and deemed a trouble spot. It turned out that we couldn’t organize a ride anyway, so we just stayed put.   When we were in the Galilee area a few weeks ago, we were just 70 miles or so from these places, but that line in the sand kept us away.  Damascus, which has never been a ‘tourist option’ at least in the last memorable years, is only about 50 miles from Beruit, easily walked in a couple of days.

Speaking of the ‘lines in the sand,” we had some James Bond dramas coming into Beruit by plane.  We’d gone into Israel and Cyprus on our Aussie passports , as we usually do, and once the lady caught the “Jordan” stamp from a couple of years ago.  Well, she gave me the third degree about why I’d gone there, who did I see and what did we talk about. She finally bought it that I was a dumb tourist and didn’t have any nefarious plans, but it made me nervous.

So on a whim, I suggested that we switch to flying on our squeaky clean USA passports, even though I’m not completely sure what they think of Americans in Lebanon.

Checking in at the airport to fly over from Cyprus,  the first question was, “Have you used this passport to visit Israel?” to which Tony calmly replied, “NO”.  Absolutely true, we’d been in Israel on our Aussie passports.  Then when we were clearing immigration to leave Cyprus ( a country which I believe is neutral to all this infighting,) the agent couldn’t find our entry stamp.

Again, Tony, who could double as a spy as I’m wringing my hands and thinking of fainting or confessing everything, said casually, “Oh no, we used our other passport to come in”.  Again absolutely true but necessitating nerves of steel.  The guy shrugged, looked at us with palatable enmity and slammed our passports down, jerking his chin to the exit.

I’m too old for this.

And now two weeks doing what we love in city that’s not too shabby either!

More about that next week,


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