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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

What would Americans have to experience to identify with the world's poverty?

This past week, I read something that really challenged me! It took me on a journey of what Americans would have to experience to identify with the world's poverty. Before you read this, I'm not suggesting that everyone get rid of everything they own. What I do hope happens is that we get a shocking perspective of the plight of the poor in the world and that many of us weigh the responsibility of how we can develop lives of generosity that can help change the world. 

There are plenty of resources available to change the world. As I write, tonight is Halloween. Did you know that in 2015 total spending on Halloween was $6.9 billion, and the average American would spend $74 on decorations, candy, costumes and more? Hmm. Again, I'm not trying to ruin your fun, but let's take a look at something intriguing. 

To help us imagine what poverty means, a prominent economist itemized the “luxuries” we would have to abandon if we were to adopt the lifestyle of our 1.2 billion neighbors who live in desperate poverty. These stats are a little old, but you will get the idea.

We begin by invading the house of our imaginary American family to strip it of its furniture. Everything goes: beds, chairs, tables, television set, lamps. We will leave the family with a few old blankets, a kitchen table, a wooden chair. Along with the bureaus go the clothes. Each member of the family may keep in his “wardrobe” his oldest suit or dress, a shirt or blouse. We will permit a pair of shoes for the head of the family, but none for the wife or children.

We move to the kitchen. The appliances have already been taken out, so we turn to the cupboards . . . The box of matches may stay, a small bag of flour, some sugar, and salt. A few moldy potatoes, already in the garbage can, must be hastily rescued, for they will provide much of tonight’s meal. We will leave a handful of onions, and a dish of dried beans. All the rest we take away: the meat, the fresh vegetables, the canned goods, the crackers, the candy.

Now we have stripped the house: the bathroom has been dismantled, the running water shut off, the electric wires taken out. Next, we take away the house. The family can move to the toolshed . . .
Communications must go next. No more newspapers, magazines, books—not that they are missed since we must take away our family’s literacy as well. Instead, in our shantytown, we will allow one radio . . .”

“Now government services must go. No more postman, no more firemen. There is a school, but it is three miles away and consists of two classrooms . . . There are, of course, no hospitals or doctors nearby. The nearest clinic is ten miles away and is tended by a midwife. It can be reached by bicycle, provided that the family has a bicycle, which is unlikely . . .

Finally, money. We will allow our family a cash hoard of $5.00. This will prevent our breadwinner from experiencing the tragedy of an Iranian peasant who went blind because he could not raise the $3.94, which he mistakenly thought he needed to receive admission to a hospital where he could have been cured.”

It is difficult to obtain precise statistics, but the World Bank estimates that 1.2 billion people live in that kind of grinding poverty—trying to survive on one dollar or less a day. In addition to these 1.2 billion who live in almost absolute poverty, another 1.6 billion are very poor, living on two dollars or less a day. That means just a little less than half of the world’s people (2.8 billion) try to survive on two dollars a day or less.

Hunger and starvation stalk our world. Famine and disease are alive and well on planet Earth. Thirty thousand children die every day of hunger and preventable diseases. Thirteen million people die every year from infectious and parasitic diseases we know how to prevent.

As I write this, I'll be on my way this Thursday to Haiti to take part in a Cholera reduction study using Sawyer water filters. It will be my first time in Haiti. What will I see? What will I feel? What will I learn? Please join me on that journey as I share it with you. And if you dare, please join me on the journey towards a generosity that will change the world.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Final Middle East Stop - Amman Jordan

The flight from Lebanon to Jordan was 1 hour 25 minutes, about the same as a flight from San Diego to San Fransisco. The Amman airport was a bit isolated from the city. It was very dry and barren compared to the beauty of Lebanon, although the airport was really nice. We were met there by our driver who took us into Aaman. As we climbed a hill from the airport area, we quickly entered into a thriving, modern city. Much like Beirut, Aman was a very verticle, packed-in city.

The first stop was a hotel where we had a day room and it was SUPER nice! It was one of the nicest hotels I've ever stayed in. Talk about a soul-searching moment! Going from Syrian refugee camps to hotels like this will really mess with you! I think that may have been part of the point of this tour we were on. If it was, it was working!

After we checked in, we all walked to the home of one of the pastors in Amman. He had been a very successful businessman before he was called into ministry. His son pretty much runs the business now so dad can focus on ministry. Their house was modest but nice and we were treated to an amazing lunch! One thing about this trip I experienced was the vast amount of food everywhere we went. Chicken, rice, salad, yogurt, bread, and a host of sweets for dessert. I was pretty sure I was going to return home a diabetic! Hospitality is a major thing in the Middle East! Most of the coffee served on this trip was Turkish coffee and came in a small cup that packed a big punch! For this particular lunch, the coffee was more mellow and very good.

We had a great visit with the pastor and his wife. They are involved in many types of outreach to Syrian refugee families in Amman. Jordan has a population of 9.75 million people with 657,000 of them being Syrian refugees. While Jordan's refugee population is large, it was much smaller than the 2 million refugees that were living in Lebanon making up a total population of 6 million.

Of course, I always like finding out about the water conditions in the different countries I visit. Jordan has one of the lowest levels of water availability in the world, and the influx of Syrian refugees is stretching Jordan to the limit of what it can provide. The inability to keep up with infrastructure growth is preventing most Jordanians from having potable water. I could see endless opportunities to help improve the water quality for people living in Jordan, especially among the poor.

After our lunch, we went to the home of one of the AG missionary couples who had been studying Arabic while living in Amman. Their Jordan assignment was almost finished and they were just about to head back to the US to finish raising support for their next assignment, the desert of Iraq! As we listened to their story, I was blown away by their commitment to go to Iraq. The city where they were headed did not sound like a very pleasant place to live. It was going to pretty much be as hot as it gets on earth during part of the year! Plus there was some concern about the stability of the region as the Kurds were seeking independence from Iraq. Their commitment to go was amazing!

At the end of our day, we took a brief tour of Amman. We went to a historic amphitheater in the center of town. In the exact opposite direction of the amphitheater was a view of a famous hillside. It was on that hillside where Uriah the Hittite was killed in battle following King David's orders to put Uriah on the front lines of battle. This would end up being the low point in King David's life as his affair with Bathsheba lead to the murder of Uriah. 

Following our brief tour, we headed back to the hotel where we cleaned up and headed to the Amman airport for our journey back home. My flight ended up being delayed by 12 hours, but Lufthansa was able to reroute me through Rome and get me to Newark 15 minutes earlier than my original flight! I was grateful!

This week was eye-opening on so many levels. I got a first-hand look at the Syrian refugee crisis and the strain it was putting on those families, as well as the host countries of Lebanon and Jordan. This crisis will no doubt go down as one of the worst humanitarian crises in history! There is so much need! World Vision is doing an amazing job but in reality, there is so much more to do! 

I was surrounded for a week by people who were barely surviving on a meager food allowance while living in very bare-bones tent camps. I would be going home to the luxuries that come with truly living in a land of opportunity and vast wealth. Those two worlds collided and I was convicted that I would continue to develop a life of generosity and try to influence others to do the same. As I write these words, I am three days away from departing for Haiti on another clean water mission. This time it will be to help reduce a major outbreak of Cholera. What will I see there? What will I feel? What will I learn? I hope you will join me for the ride, and most important, I hope you will join me on the journey of developing more generosity for a world that desperately needs us to.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Breaking Down the Stereotypes in Sidon, Lebanon

On day three in Lebanon, we loaded into our van and headed south from Beirut to the city of Sidon. Sidon is a beautiful coastal town with a rich historical heritage. It is mentioned several times in the Bible and the Apostle Paul and Peter both visited here. The drive along the Lebanon coast was beautiful!

When we arrived in Sidon, we went to visit a judge who presided over family court matters. He was a friend of our host and was the Muslim Imam in Sidon. His name was Mohamed. His office quarters were brand new and freshly remodeled. It was a small room with theater-like seating. Mohamed was a major leader in Sidon! I couldn't wait to meet him!

When he walked into the room I noticed his spectacular beard, very nice robe, and Fes Sarik head covering. He greeted our host and welcomed us to Sidon. He was very kind, gentle, and very educated. He has written at least 15 books on a variety of subjects. One of those books chronicled his first visit to the USA. He told us that story and how his experience in the US was very different from what he had always been taught. Growing up, he was taught that all Westerners were the same. He clumped people from the US and the UK into the same category. Before he visited the US, he wondered how he would be received. Would he be welcomed? Would people be hateful towards him? But what he found was that most people were very kind and welcoming. He learned that people in the East were a little different than the West. The North and South had their own flavor too. What was common though was that most people were very kind and friendly.

As he was explaining this trip, I couldn't help but think of how many people in the US have their own stereotypes of Muslims in the Middle East. Our news is filled with sensationalized viewpoints of extremism. The more I travel, the more I realize that these views do not represent the large majority of Muslims in the Middle East, or at home for that matter. Unfortunately, I think we have let the polar extremes of viewpoints dominate our media thought process. It's embarrassing and it makes me sad.

I found that before my trip to the Middle East, I shared many of the same thoughts as my new friend from Sidon. How would I be received? Would I be welcomed? Would people be hateful towards me, an American? I learned first-hand, the same lessons that Mohamed did. I was very welcomed and people were very friendly. You know, loving God and loving others will become a lot easier when we start viewing people the same way that God does, as the human beings that God created in His image.

Our new friend Mohamed would end up being our tour guide for the day which was amazing. I'm not sure anyone knows more about the history of Sidon, including its rich Biblical history. I was quite impressed that Mohamed was so well versed in Biblical teaching. He quoted the Bible with an amazing familiarity and focused more on the things Muslims and Christians had in common than where we differed. I found that quite refreshing as a starting point for dialogue and getting to know each other. I realized that although Mohamed and I had a very different view of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit, there were many things we could agree on, which produced a rich dialogue for getting to know each other, something I would not have experienced had I built up a sad boundary fueled by right versus wrong or good versus bad. For anyone reading this who lives on the far extremes of viewpoints on this subject, let me say this because this is an injustice we must correct in our society. Muslim does not equal Terrorist! I shouldn't even have to say that, but the sad fact is, some people have bought into that thought and I believe that is its own form of evil and hate. We must love as God loved! Sorry, I had to get that off my chest. I get kind of fired up about injustices in the world!

Mohamed took us to the old historic part of Sidon where we got out and went for a walk. We went up on rooftops with incredible views of the ocean and walked through tight, cobblestone streets with markets, churches, mosques, and temples. I learned that is quite common for all of those things to be only a few meters apart from each other.

At one point we walked up to a church with lots of history, St. Nicholas Cathedral. Tradition says that it was here that the Apostles Peter and Paul had a discussion about the Great Commision. Peter was more Jerusalem centered and Paul's focus was more focused on reaching the whole world. Looks like Paul ultimately influenced this conversation as Christianity would spread around the world. Just to stand in front of this church was cool thinking that these two Apostles had walked these streets.

Immediately outside the church was a little "sweets" stand where a man was making "Turkish Delight." I'd never really heard of that before but we got to taste it. It was like a soft candy or taffy that was covered in powdered sugar. It was quite good so I bought a box to take home.

The tour of historic Sidon ended with a visit to the local Mosque where Mohamed served as the Imam. The inside was nice, but simple, a trait that makes up most mosques. He showed us where he would stand to preach each week. On the wall was a very unique clock board that listed several times in the day. Those were the times throughout the day when people were called to pray. If I remember right, there were six times listed on this board. I guess number 6 was above and beyond.

After our tour of the mosque, we loaded the van and headed back to Beirut. I had so many thoughts going through my head. I had experienced a wonderful day in a famous historic Middle East city, met a Muslim Imam, visited a historic Christian church, and visited a Muslim mosque. I had a deep sense that stereotypes and labels are not helping our world love each other. We can do better! I can do better and I MUST do better at loving the world God created!

As I pondered these things, the thought came to me that the only sure way to bring peace to the Middle East was to LOVE and FORGIVE. That's why I am a follower of Jesus because His ways work!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Hope for The Lost Generation of Syrian Refugee Children

They've been referred to as "The Lost Generation...Syrian refugee kids living in Lebanon growing up without an education. Rewinding the clock a bit from my visit to the Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon, we started our day visiting one of the World Vision schools dedicated to the education and well being of the Syrian refugee children. As we pulled up to the school, everything seemed very tidy. We walked inside and were greeted by a teacher who was prepared to give us a tour of the classrooms.
We received a brief overview of the school and then we were invited to go inside each classroom to meet the children. The first thing I noticed was that these children were full of smiles and very engaged in their classwork. We were interrupting their classwork for a few minutes, but they didn't seem to mind. They were eager to take some photos with us which was awesome. 
The classrooms were much like any school in the US with lots of the children's artwork and projects on the walls. This was a very nice school and the children who attended here were very blessed to receive such a top-notch education. This was my first look at the "on-the-ground" work of World Vision and it was VERY impressive! 
I can't imagine what my life would have been like had I not had the opportunity for a quality education. Because I happened to be born in a country like the USA, education was always available to everyone. This is just not the case in many places around the world. Lebanon provides a good education for their children, but imagine what it was like for Lebanon to inherit about 500,000 new children into their education system. Overwhelming to say the least.
Another challenge in the education system is transport, which regardless of how low the price, is often unaffordable. Language can be a barrier, as some subjects in the Lebanese curriculum are taught in French or English, and in other cases, parents worry about bullying. Many times, girls are expected to stay home to assist with chores, while boys are expected to work and provide for their parents.
So many challenges! But World Vision is making a difference! For much of my life, I've seen the World Vision ads on TV promoting their child sponsorship program. I often wondered where that money really went. Without turning into a big commercial, I can tell you that the work of World Vision is top notch and that they are a world leader when it comes to the lions share of their funds going directly to projects. They are legit!
As my time in Lebanon was ending, My heart broke for the Syrian children and their families who are now living as refugees in Lebanon. In just 2 short days, I saw, heard, and experienced the horror stories of those who had survived war and terror. In the midst of these tragic stories was the bright light of the work of World Vision. As we look at ourselves in the mirror, my prayer is that we develop lives of generosity that actively reflect the love of God to the poor and broken people of the world! 
Next stop, Amman Jordan!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Refugee camp #2 - Where is the hope?

After we visited our first Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon, we saw 100 families who were surviving on so little. Thanks to World Vision, these families had clean water and clean toilets which helped them stay healthy, but beyond that, there was little else. The tents these families lived in were side-by-side and provided some protection from the elements with a little privacy, but not much more than that. I was trying to soak it all in, but the more I did, the more it hurt. When I found out they did not have blankets for the upcoming winter, I was filled with a range of emotions. I think the biggest emotion I felt was anger. I was angry that these families had to live like this. I was angry at the evil that would drive them from their homeland. And I was angry that I was driving away with enough money in my savings account to buy at least some blankets for them.
As I felt the weight of the rich young ruler story in the Bible, we started brainstorming how we could get these families some blankets. Without them how would these families survive the upcoming winter? They were in the basin of a valley at the foot what would soon be the snow-capped Syrian mountains. As I write this, we are working on a blanket solution, but I must say, it's not an easy solution. Even if we gave all the money for these blankets, we would not be guaranteed that these families would receive them. As the government goes about the overwhelming task of dispensing resources to these camps, you can imagine what the waiting list is like for 1.5 million unexpected visitors. I have to say one thing...hats off to Lebanon for their kindness to these families! They are really trying!

With our eyes enlightened to the reality of this crisis, we loaded up the van and headed to our second refugee camp. When we arrived, we were greeted by more kids with big smiles! This is one of my favorite universal human experiences. We were greeted by some of the adult men in the camp who lead us on a brief tour then took us into one of their homes.
This tent had a few pillows which the family offered for us to sit on. As the family came in from the other room, they brought in their kids, one of them who was pretty severely handicapped. They shared how hard this situation was on their family. Their journey to Lebanon was tragic, fast, and scary. They left everything they had in Syria in order to save their lives from war and terror. They told us that what they really wanted most was to go back home to Syria, but could not go until it was safe.

The family shared what their resource challenges were. When they arrived, families were given a $180 stipend provided by the UN plus a meager food allowance. The $180 stipend was only temporary and this whole camp had recently lost theirs. All that was left was a very small amount of money for food. Jobs were hard to come by since there was so much competition, and way more people than available jobs. Buying medicine and diapers for this family's handicapped child was pretty much impossible. This was truly a tragic situation. What was more tragic was the fact that this was just one family, one out of the 1.5 million refugees living in Lebanon.

Another shocker that was revealed to us was that none of these children were attending school. As a matter of fact, that is the plight of most Syrian children living in Lebanon. In my next post, I'll share a bright story of hope as we visited a World Vision school in Lebanon that is full of some beautiful Syrian children!

If you can't tell, this trip really messed with me! Maybe as this story unfolds it's starting to mess with you too. That's OK. My hope is that we'll be compelled to develop a life of generosity that really changes the world!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Security Briefing in Lebanon - then off to a Syrian Refugee Camp

During breakfast on my second day in Lebanon, I was greeted by the phrase, "In a few minutes, we're going to travel to the NGO host offices and receive a security briefing." What did that mean? My first thought was..." we go!" What was about to happen?

 We Ubered to the host offices of World Vision and went into a conference room. As we sat in around the table, the security staff person came in the room. He greeted us and then pointed to a map of Lebanon. He began describing the multifaceted history of Lebanon, it's conflict and war with Israel, and the more recent attempts of ISIS to take over parts of Lebanon. He showed us the Southern border on the map that Hezbollah controls and the Northern area of Lebanon where ISIS was trying to cut a path from Syria to the coast to establish a supply line. All of this information was fascinating! He also showed us the areas that were once ISIS hot spots but now were liberated and safe to travel in. One of those areas was in the Central part of the Bekaa valley, the place we'd be traveling to on this particular day. The place that the site said not to go to!

I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking about the preparations that World Vision goes through in order to bring in a team, but let's just say that they are incredible and very thorough, and I felt very safe and secure while I was with them. You might know World Vision as the child sponsorship organization you see on TV, but let me tell you, they are WAY more than that! They are a world leader in helping and serving the poor around the world and they have ALL their bases covered! In many ways, they exceed any help you could get from the US Embassy. 

After our briefing, we boarded a van and set out for the first of two refugee camps. Beirut is located on the coast but the coast meets the mountain ranges very quickly. We were on a constant ascent to the peaks of the Lebanese mountains. As we started our descent, we went through a populated area of the Bekaa valley.
While in the valley, we were surrounded by the Lebanese mountains on one side of us and the Syrian mountains across the valley. Those were the same mountain ranges where ISIS had recently been posted up but were recently driven out.  

The Bekaa Valley is a rich and vast farmland. As we drove, our host pointed out several refugee camps along the way until we finally rolled up on the first camp we would visit. In Lebanon, it is actually illegal to have formal Refugee camps, so all of the camps are referred to as temporary. Lebanon has a population of 4 million people with an additional influx of 1.5 million Syrian refugees! Do the math on that and you will see that Lebanon is being crushed by the socio-economic impact of this crisis!

The temporary camp we were visiting was recently rebuilt after a July fire that completely destroyed the camp in 30 minutes! Imagine living in a temporary camp with minimal personal belongings and in a matter of 30 minutes, the rest of EVERYTHING you had was lost! All the people could do was grab their loved ones and make their way to a nearby open farm. World Vision has been very much a part of the rebuild, providing much needed clean water and clean toilets. There are 100 families that live in 100 "Tents" that are made of a basic wood framing, with tarp-like plastic walls and roof. The structures have a couple of rooms, most have no beds, and families might have a woven mat and a few pillows. That is it! 

As we walked through the camp, we were greeted by smiling children who were eager to have their photos taken with us, and then we made our way into one of the tents. We sat down with a family who shared their nightmare journey from the bombs of Syria and ISIS torture to the barely adequate accommodations in which they are currently living. Each family we spoke with had a similar experience, much different from the thriving lives they once knew before war broke out in Syria. Desperate for work, but with few opportunities, they felt helpless. All of them would go home to Syria in a heartbeat if it was safe to do so. With winter rapidly approaching, these families do not even own a blanket. I wondered how they will survive the freezing temperatures that are right around the corner.

I was so full of emotions while hearing their stories! Why was this happening? They went from having everything they needed in Syria to fleeing and having NOTHING! And there I sat, out of place in that context knowing that in a few days I would go home to a very different looking world. I would return to a world of vast affluence, one with so many opportunities and with what would seem like endless resources back home! My heart was being broken and tested. This felt so overwhelming as I realized I was currently with only 100 families out of 1.5 million refugees in Lebanon. I felt my heart filling with anger and resolve that somehow I would find my place to help, and I would influence as many others as I could to do the same.

As we said our goodbyes, we got in our van and prepared to go to a second refugee camp. The next one would rip my heart out in a brand new way. Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Landing in Beirut Lebanon...what would I experience?

I spent a few weeks of prepping to go on my trip to Lebanon and Jordan with World Vision. Their staff spent an enormous amount of time getting ready for us and getting us ready for what we were about to experience. I must have read 15 articles, and watched a bunch of videos getting educated about the Syrian refugee crisis. This crisis as you will discover will go down as one of the greatest human tragedies in history.

This would be my first trip to the Middle East. I have always wanted to go to Israel, but just never made it. Lebanon would be my first experience in the Middle East. As I prepared to depart my mind was racing with thoughts. What would I see? How would people see me? What would Beruit be like? What kind of Biblical history would I encounter? What would I feel? What will it be like to be in a Syrian refugee camp? What parts of Lebanon would we visit? You can see that all of these questions could lead a person to a fear-based response, but for me, this is all a part of the adventure of discovering more of the world that God created and loves. Like I said in my previous post, don't let fear rob us of what God wants to do in us and through us.

One thing I learned in prepping for this trip was the difference in how different cultures approach different topics. Our American culture has a lot of overarching themes we encounter every day. Sadly, much our own current tensions are divided over themes like right versus wrong, my way or your way, polarized political views, people being defined by the color of their skin instead of their humanity, winner versus loser, etc. We live in a very Individualist culture where every person is out to better themselves, while much of the world lives in a Collectivist culture where individuals contribute towards the good of the whole. Sadly even as I write those words, some have already decided which one is better.

As I boarded my United Airlines flights from San Diego to Newark, and Newark to Paris, everything was pretty much the same as most flights I've been on when traveling to Africa. This, however, would be my first flight to Paris. I had previously been to France with my wife, but we did not make it to Paris. I thought my 3-hour layover would be plenty of time for transitioning to my Beirut flight. Two bus rides and a train ride later, I finally made it to the International terminal where Middle East Airlines was located. I went through several security points. When I walked up to the gate, the whole flight had already boarded. As I boarded the plane, my seat was all the way in the back. As I reached my seat, I greeted the person to my right. He was from Lebanon and was super nice.

One of the things I've learned about International travel is that most International airlines are pretty nice. This particular plane I was on was from the 80's or 90's, but more than adequate. It was clean, the food was good, and the service was too. I got some sleep and then awoke as we started our descent into Beirut. I did not have a window seat but I could see out the windows as we approached the coastal city. The first thing I noticed was that Beirut was a very vertical city. Pretty much the whole city is multi-storied buildings. It was like flying into San Diego with a similar skyline as far as you could see. There were newer buildings and some that looked a lot older. As we got off the plane, I noticed that the Beirut airport was really nice! I guess I wasn't sure what I'd see. So far my experience was actually quite normal.

As I walked towards baggage claim, I was met by the VP of World Vision. I couldn't actually believe that I was about to spend a week with him. I wondered what he would be like. He actually turned out to be amazing! He was so kind, super smart, an amazing leader, and very down to earth. He had a tremendous passion for helping the poor and leading others to do the same. I could tell we shared a lot in common in that department.

We met our driver and headed off to our hotel. We stayed at a modest hotel, out of the main "tourist" hotel section of the city. That was on purpose and part of the security detail we were on. World Vision takes great care of their guests and thinks through every situation. The hotel staff knew our host and was very kind, welcoming, and helpful. We arrived at the hotel at about 4:30pm and decided to get cleaned up and then meet at 5:30pm for dinner. We Ubered to a small, simple French restaurant. The food was delicious and the restaurant owner was very welcoming. After dinner, we decided to take a walk into downtown Beirut.

As we entered the downtown area, it was just getting dark. We walked by something that I found would end up being quite common in Lebanon... a Muslim mosque right next to a Christian church. These two facilities were spectacular to behold! They were lit up with beautiful lighting and were in a very nice section of downtown. I took a few pictures and then we walked down to a shopping area. It was a bit of an eerie area, full of very high-end stores, but with virtually empty streets. It was like walking down Rodeo drive in Beverly Hills with only a few people around. Restaurants that spilled into the streets were empty and the only people around were the heavily armed guards, part of the Lebanese army that patrolled the streets to keep it safe. Those kinds of sites used to freak me out, but it's no different from the police that patrol Time Square in New York City. I was actually kind of glad they were around. It was a beautiful evening and once again, I found myself feeling quite comfortable in these new surroundings.

So where was all the drama? Where was all the tension? No doubt, there have been times like that in Lebanon, but in general, we moved freely in this part of the city, much like we would in downtown San Diego. The Lebanese people as I would learn, are some of the most loving, gracious, hospitable people I'd ever meet. This was not the city or country I read about on the US State Department website. Once again, the caricatures we read about in the news paint a picture that is way different from reality. I felt very safe and welcomed.

The sad thing about the media's portrayal of Lebanon is that it is fear based, much like their portrayal of going to Mexico, or many other countries in the world. Here is a news flash: Yes there are bad things that happen in Lebanon and Mexico. But don't forget that there are also bad things that happen in San Diego or Las Vegas. Yet, we would never apply the same logic to traveling to either of these places.

I think the real tragedy of Lebanon is what the media is NOT reporting. It's the often untold story of what will go down as the worst humanitarian crisis the world has ever experienced to date. The story of the demise of Syria and the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives to war and terror, and the millions of people who have had to flee their homes and country looking for hope... hope for their families, and hope for the future. The strain of this refugee crisis is crushing Lebanon. What I would experience in the next few days would change my life on a whole new level.

As I share my visits to the Syrian refugee camps and schools in Lebanon, you will hear of my sadness as well as experience the joys of hope as I lament over the opportunities we are missing of providing hope for those who desperately need it. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Traveling in Lebanon

Have you ever been afraid to go on a mission trip? Maybe you had someone paint a scary picture of the place you were considering going to. Perhaps news stories have tainted your view. Although there are a few places in the world where you could travel that would put you in danger, the reality is, most of the "scary" places we have heard about, are really not that scary after all. If we are not careful, we too could easily be caught up in sensationalized media that would rob us of some amazing experiences around the world. I have talked with countless people who have let fear win out, and unfortunately, miss out on a whole lot of awesome!

I have to admit, the prep work for my recent Lebanon trip was an anxious time. I had to fill out a lot of paperwork that consisted of release forms loaded with a bunch of worst-case scenarios that could happen to me on this trip. For a moment, I wondered what I was getting myself into. I visited the website for Lebanon and was greeted by the following opening paragraph...The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to avoid travel to Lebanon because of the threats of terrorism, armed clashes, kidnapping, and outbreaks of violence, especially near Lebanon’s borders with Syria and Israel. Oh boy! 

The history of Lebanon is complicated. There have been times of peace and flourishing, but also times of war, ISIS threats, and challenging borders. Up until a week or so before my trip, ISIS was literally being driven out of the last areas in Lebanon.

With all of this in mind, I knew God had called me to go and look for ways to help out in a really bad refugee crisis. I had to put my fears aside, be obedient to God's call, and go.

I sent a few emails off to our host team and they assured me that everything was fine and that they had worked very hard to ensure our safety. When I thought about it for a minute, I would be traveling with some amazing leaders that represented a pretty big VIP payload. Forget about me, I figured there would be no way that anyone would risk taking those people on a trip where their lives were at risk. At least that was what I hoped.

The more I spoke with our trip leader, and the more I did my own homework, the better I began to feel about this trip. Even Trip Advisor has tons of reviews of people recently traveling to Lebanon and feeling totally safe.

There are so many things in life that can cause fear. Fear of the unknown probably tops the list. Anytime we try something new, fear is right there wanting to rob us of a new possibility that might just be a pathway to a life-changing experience. 

When I think about it, almost anyone who ever did anything significant, had to get over fears. Think about John Glenn orbiting the earth for the first time... Neil Armstrong walking on the moon for the first time... A kindergartener going to school for the first time... and yes, traveling to a foreign country for the first time. 

Being afraid of something is a real feeling, but I have learned and vowed not to let fear get the best of me. Because of that, I've had some amazing experiences, gone to some amazing places, and been a part of some amazing God-sized stories. At first, fear was hard to get over because I'd never done it before, but over time, pushing past fears has become more of a reflex. 

My challenge to all of us is, be wise, but don't let fear rob you of something awesome God wants to do in you, and through you. You will never walk on the moon if you never strap yourself into a rocket ship!

Stay tuned as I take you through the backstory of one of my visits of a lifetime, visiting Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon.