Message from Lebanon

24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre.[f] He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir,[g] even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And when she went home, she found the child lying on the bed and the demon gone.

About me: In 2017 I did the Justice Leadership Program and came to Prospect. After that I had the opportunity to serve as a Global Mission Intern – part of Global Ministries. I served for three years in Beirut, Lebanon, with FDCD, a longtime partner of the United Church of Christ and Global Ministries.

Even before I left for Beirut, I spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a person of faith who also actively works to create a more just world where all people are treated with dignity, especially when it can feel like we’re up against enormous odds. But one of the great things about being a person of faith is that we have thousands of years of history and examples of people fighting such enormous odds.

And so we see in today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark. 

  • This story comes in the middle of Mark. Many of the miracles and teachings we know from the gospel of Mark – parable of the sower, calling of the 12, etc. — have already happened. Jesus has been travelling all over, from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee, zigzagging across the sea, etc.
  • He’s also starting to get the attention of Pharisees and Herod – John the Baptist has already been killed.
  • We’re told that he “went away” to the region of Tyre, or Tyre and Sidon.
  • We can’t know for sure but I think it looks like this:
  • Tyre is out of the way, and in a Gentile area. He also goes secretly – frankly he sounds exhausted, even burnt out – Jesus is doing self-care
  • BUT while he’s there he’s approached by a woman who asks for healing for her daughter. There are famously many unnamed women in the Bible, but I don’t like that they don’t have names, so we’re giving her one. Her name is Amal (hope in Arabic).
  • Probably, Amal is also exhausted and trying anything to get her daughter healed.


Let’s pause here – what would you do in this situation? You have been so hard at work, so much has already been asked of you, and now a stranger, who is outside of your area of care/expertise, is asking for help, while you’re trying to rest?!


Let’s go forward about 2000 years, and just about 50 miles north of Tyre, to Beirut. When I arrived in Beirut in March 2020, things were a bit unstable, but no one could have anticipated what happened next.

  • Beirut in the last few years has felt like tragedy after tragedy. In October 2019, protests around the country brought some hope as people demanded accountability and transparency from their government and increased quality of life. But this unity and hope quickly dissipated as protests fizzled or broke into violent clashes and economic concerns became many families’ main concern.
  • Thawra in October 2019 and calls for government transparency and accountability.
  • Beginnings of financial crisis – banks closed and no access to savings.
  • In March 2020, the value of the Lebanese lira had started to plummet. Then the first cases of COVID-19 in Lebanon were reported, and with the rest of the world Lebanon went into lockdown. However, Lebanon had essentially no social safety net. As the value of the lira depreciated, so too did the purchasing power of money in bank accounts. People watched as their savings and pensions disappeared.


And then, just as the world started to reopen in the summer of 2020, 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate which had been improperly stored exploded at the port of Beirut. 200 people were killed, more than 5 thousand were injured, and an estimated 300,000 people were rendered homeless in an instant. In an already desperate time, it seemed impossible that we could ever recover from this big of a tragedy.


The day after the explosion, I felt immobilized – I literally hid in my bed as I watched photos and news stream in on Twitter and Instagram about the level of destruction. I didn’t just feel at my limit – I was pushed so far beyond.


At FDCD, we met for the first time on Aug 6. Driving to the office, I saw the extent of the damage for the first time and wondered how we could ever begin to recover and rebuild. Then we got to the office and started to make a plan. What resources did we have? Who could we ask for support? Where and how would we be most effective? The coordinators for our youth programs told us that dozens of participants from across Lebanon had already been in contact because they wanted to help.


Before the dust had even settled, people from all over Lebanon started contributing to relief efforts however they could — transporting people to hospital, treating wounds, cleaning up homes , bringing water and bread. Social media was flooded with opportunities to help, and the message was clear — grab a broom, a mask, and some gloves, and start cleaning. We need help everywhere.


That weekend, youth and young adults from all across Lebanon travelled to Beirut to help in cleanup efforts. I joined them in sweeping up debris, picking up toppled furniture, and removing damaged items. In the following months, supporters of FDCD, including GM, came together to raise funds so that we could rebuild homes and small businesses, provide food parcels, and offer psychosocial support sessions to those impacted by the explosion. In this phase, too, FDCD did not work alone – we collaborated with countless organizations, including Mar Mikhael Maronite church, the Orthodox Youth Movement, and the Armenian Evangelical Church, to provide aid in any way we could.



So let’s get back to Jesus and Amal. Amal asks Jesus to heal her daughter and Jesus reacts, frankly, not very kindly. “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” It’s not his job or concern to take care of this woman, a foreigner, especially while he is trying to rest. She’s outside the purview of his ministry.


But then when Jesus rebuffs her, the woman doesn’t back down. She pushes back, reminding him that even in exhaustion there is abundance. God’s love is enough to go around, and there are crumbs from the table for the dogs. It doesn’t have to be an either/or situation.


And in that moment, Jesus changes his mind. And a miracle does occur – the woman’s daughter is healed. But here’s the thing – this would not have happened if either of them were acting alone. If Jesus had come to Tyre and this woman hadn’t approached him, maybe even if he had encountered a sick Syrophonecian girl on his travels, she wouldn’t have been healed. And no matter how desperate Amal was for a miracle, she needed Jesus to heal her daughter. And so these two completely different people, different genders, ethnicities, speaking different languages, happened to be in the same place at the same time, to share God’s love with one another, and make something miraculous happen. Together, they healed one of God’s children.


I wish that the story of the Beirut explosion cleanup had an easy, happy ending. The reality is that even in these early days, relief efforts were disorganized and confusing, egos and competing strategies getting in the way. At the end of the day, everyone involved in the relief efforts was human, many of them having experienced unthinkable tragedy on top of unthinkable tragedy.


Also did I mention that it was SO HOT?!


Then the lira rate continued to plummet, fuel crisis started, no access to medicine or essentials like baby products. As the summer ended and winter rains started, thousands of people were still living in damaged homes. Sectarian tension that have been present in Lebanon since the civil war spilled over into armed conflicts, and no one has been held accountable for the destruction caused by that ammonium nitrate stored at the port. In August 2020, the rate of the Lebanese Lira was around 15,000-20,000 lira per dollar, which already seems impossible and untenable. Today, the rate is about 65,000 LBP to the dollar. Although elections occurred last year, members of parliament still have not been able to reach enough of a consensus to put a new government in place. Electricity outages still plague the country as people await a promise of maybe 4 hrs of government electricity a day.


There have been so many times in the past two years when I have thought there was no way to keep going, no way to keep working for a better future where all people in Lebanon can live with dignity. There have been so many setbacks, so many tragedies. But what I learned in Lebanon is that these tragedies are so much easier to face when you have a community with you. Just like Jesus and Amal we don’t heal, we don’t spread the love of God, alone. We need a community of people who will challenge us and teach us and support us and believe in us to make change.


I want to leave you with one last story. About a week ago, I was at home in Pullman, with a purring cat on my lap, when I received a dreaded message from the FDCD work groupchat (which I’m still on).


“Is everyone ok?”


My stomach dropped. My heart stopped. My head spun. It’s a message you never want to receive, and I have received and sent it countless times in the past three years.


As news started to pour in, I learned what happened – a 7.8 magnitude earthquake had struck in Southern Turkey. The earthquake was so big, so devastating, that it shook windows and knocked down furniture in Beirut. In Tripoli, buildings were damaged. In Aleppo, where FDCD has many friends and partners, the destruction was massive. And I had the same thought I have had so many times – how will people possibly even begin to recover from this?


This earthquake was devastating. Material rebuilding will last years, and the psychological damage may remain for lifetimes. But already, Global Ministries, FDCD, and its partners are assessing the situation in Syria and creating plans for providing relief. Teams of rescue workers from Lebanon – some of whom were also on the scene in the hours and days after the explosion – travelled to help with relief efforts in Southern Turkey. The region and the world is coming together once again to support relief efforts.


I don’t know what will happen in Syria, or even in Lebanon. I don’t feel super optimistic, and I think that a lot more hardship will happen. But one thing I learned from being in Beirut, one thing that we are reminded by in the story of Jesus and Amal, is that in the face of exhaustion and tragedy and fear, the only way we can possibly hope to heal is by working together.

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