Middle East 2013

Middle East

Ministry Partner:  GBC Global Partner Jamal
Ministry Focus:
  Compassion ministry to refugees and urban and rural poor.

We are excited to once again serve in the Middle East. Graces team will carry out a multifaceted compassion ministry to the poor. Ministry will include visitation to refugee homes and homes of the poor with food distribution to school children. There could also be some maintenance work on buildings.

All updates posted on Tuesday, August 20
Thank you for praying faithfully for our team, and for waiting patiently for news of how God answered those prayers.  We received updates as the team was serving, but chose for security reasons to wait to post them until they returned.  The team arrived home last Saturday, so we will now post those updates, the latest ones at the top and the earlier ones at the bottom.  Because they were sent as e-mails, security precautions caused our team to word the messages carefully.

The news is worth celebrating, and you can hear more at the GO Team Celebration on Sunday night, September 15, at 6:00pm.  Hope to see you there!

Update received Monday, August 19

Our journey to the Biblical land east of the Jordan River has come full circle with our return to LAX on schedule Saturday evening.  Flights were smooth and all our luggage arrived with us once again, both answers to prayer.   I imagine all of us feel like the return came all too soon, and none of us have returned the same as when we first departed after our memorable time there.  For nine people from California plus our brethren in Jordan to enjoy the extraordinary blessing of unity in purpose....sharing God's love and compassion with those in need of His kindness...was a joyful, soul-satisfying, life-changing experience.  We all would return willingly if it is the Master's will next year!  (There is a saying in Arabic...."Enshalla" = "if God wills,"  said with the hope that He does!)

We are so appreciative of the encouraging notes you have sent to us and prayers you have lifted to the Father while we were there.  We can tell you that your participation as support from home was so tangibly felt among us.  In addition to sweet unity (which is a joy!), we experienced exceptional favor from those we met.  Our local partners directed our visits with food bags to such needy homes...from sparse flats housing families freshly arrived (10 days!) from the conflict in Syria, to the home of two Jordanian widows raising 19 children after the death of their husband (he had two wives) with no resources, to Iraqi families grieving for their son who was taken at gunpoint from their church in Baghdad and never heard from again  (their inquiries to find him were met with threats so they fled with the rest of their family and grandchildren).  So many have desperate stories and they are deeply touched when someone displays care enough to visit and listen to them, weep with them, pray with them and bring a small gift of assistance.  We also had three community gatherings in local churches that were so well-attended that there was standing-room only or overflow seating outside, and response to the love shown and message shared was very positive.  One member asked "Who do you have praying for you at home?!  We've never had a day like this at our fellowship!"   Invited to have two members of our group speak at one of the other gatherings, approximately 40 people wanted to find peace with God that very night!  Thank you so much for lifting us up and the dear people whose paths we were privileged to cross.

Update received Wednesday, August 14

Every seat in the small place of worship was filled, even the benches along the sides and back walls.  A few men and many ladies from the majority population (ladies dressed in black, with black head-coverings gracefully draped around their faces) sat sprinkled among the many children of all ages.   Seventeen Syrian refugee families had registered to receive a food parcel and they sat, listening quietly, as a challenge about the meaning of life was given….men, women and children all listened to the Arabic speaker.  Afterwards, we had the joy of fitting shoes to the children…from one-year-olds in their mother’s arms up to youths of 12 or 13. (shoes were from GAIN)  Then, names were called and heads of households came forward to receive two bags full of rice, oil, beans, chickpeas, lentils, tea, biscuits, tahini sauce, tomato paste, powdered milk and other helpful staples.  One woman said that her brother had signed up for the groceries but he had just had surgery and she asked if she could take the supplies for him.  All the names were called and still the room was more than half full of mothers waiting to see if they could also receive food for their families….word must have spread that we would be bringing aid.  We asked the One who multiplied loaves and fishes if he would help us be able to help them all with the extra bags that were left.  It was decided that we would give one bag to each family and the total that received food assistance was…a grand total of 40!  After sending the additional people home with a bag, we still had one left, and we wondered if we should have given the last person two bags to carry home. At that moment, a young boy of about 11 entered the back of the sanctuary and led his blind father to the front of the room.  They are from Damascus and have been here for three months. Can you imagine traveling south, through 13 cities in a land in conflict with 5 children, and you cannot see?  He had to trust that someone who offered to drive them the last kilometers that most people walk silently, under cover of darkness at night to reach the border without gunfire stopping them….trust that the man was truly taking them to the right place.  He had worked as a porter in a gov’t factory, but now that they are here, he cannot work.  Our whole group listened as our host translated his story, and then he said, “Never in my life have I had so much attention from people who cared to hear my story.”  You must have guessed that this man carried home the last bag of food, as his son guided him!  He left with the cry of our hearts on his behalf, requesting that the one who gives peace and provision would be upon him.

Tuesday was a day visiting Iraqi refugee families.  The resources of UN refugee assistance are stretched thin with the influx from Syria, so many Iraqi families are struggling.  Our host’s assistant is Iraqi and brought us to meet his neighbors.  One family fled Bagdad after their son was kidnapped by militia who entered their church and took young men away, never to be seen or heard from again.  They sought help to find him. They were told to “forget about your son.”  They gathered their other adult children and their families (eldest son is a doctor) and they have become one of thousands of displaced people, still grieving for ones left behind that are feared dead.  We wept with them and asked father to comfort them, to guide them to their son if it is his will for him to be found and to provide for their family.  Another young woman we met who had been injured by a car bomb that killed her friend, now suffers from a disease that is progressively affecting her hands and feet…tips of her fingers and toes are gone and manipulation with her hands is difficult.  She relies on friends to open bottles and do other daily tasks for her.  She is awaiting passage to N Carolina and while she is hoping for a better life there, she is fearful of what it will be like in a place where she doesn’t know anyone.  Still, she has sensed that there is someone who cares for her and has been meeting her needs all along, and you wouldn’t believe her sweet smile in spite of all she has been through.  We asked that someone to continue to care and provide for her. 

Each one we visited was invited to an evening meeting for worship, followed by a sandwich dinner that we prepared in the afternoon.  As the meeting began, we sat in the very last row, listening to praise songs in Arabic being sung with enthusiasm.  People continued to trickle in, and soon we stood up and slipped out the back door so that everyone could have a seat inside. It was a joy to greet some of the people we had met earlier in the day…with kisses on both cheeks and smiles of recognition.   As we listed from outside the door, extra chairs were brought and people continued to come.  Soon there were about 25 people in overflow outside!  

Marianne transparently shared her life journey, from a painful childhood, separated from her parents when she was sent to a boarding school at age three, enduring abuse, and dreaming of one day leaving Britain to settle in America.   At 21 she made it to Los Angeles and quickly found work in the film industry, and yet with all the success and glamour, she still sensed something…someone was missing.  As she spoke, there was a woman who left the hall, sobbing, obviously touched by Marianne’s words.  Marianne spoke of finding peace with God,  finding healing and comfort knowing her heavenly father loves her.  Afterward, a woman passed her a small note that simply said, “You are a brave woman.  I love you.”      

Greg was able to teach from John 9 regarding the blind man, whose challenge in life was not a curse but rather an opportunity for God to show his glory.  As he spoke carefully chosen words that were translated by our friend, the people who have endured much, listened intently.  

Afterward, there were many that stood to respond to an opportunity to find peace with the one who gave the blind man his sight, including some that we had met earlier in the day.

Thank you for remembering us...we have felt it!  We are enjoying such sweet harmony and affection, and we keep saying that it will be hard to "top this day" and then the next day is just as thrilling in new ways.  We are purposely spending extra time talking to the father together.  The needs are immense, and it is a privilege to be here to see what the father is doing as we go out each day.  We are walking in such favor and can only thank him and be in awe.  

Update received Monday, August 12
“We have not seen a day like this in the whole history of our church!” said one of the lay leaders.  She was speaking of the 70-80 people who packed the neat Bapt. church in the early evening for a children’s program.  The 25-member fellowship has a kindergarten that serves children from Ch. families and a large number are from the majority faith.  About 80% of the people who came for the evening program were from the majority.  The children started the program with energetic  singing and doing the motions of some praise songs and our host accompanied them on the piano.  Then Scott relayed the compassion story of the Good Samaritan and our host translated the story while the moms, dads and children sat and listened quietly.  Afterwards, the school-aged children eagerly received blue backpacks with school supplies.  One family with 5 sons that we had met earlier in the day, came and were so delighted to get these practical gifts.  Their father said that these backpacks “lifted a large load off the family” as they did not have the budget for backpacks.    

We had met a good number of the families earlier in the day when we did home visits along with members of the fellowship, bringing food bags to families that needed them.   

We were invited in and sat on low cushions and were offered hot tea or Arabic coffee as we talked.  One of the family’s head of household had been a successful photographer who had produced the “Best Photo” of the year in Jordan and earned other awards, but after his camera was broken and he could not afford to replace it, he was no longer able to earn a living.  “Today, I cried more than I ever have before when I saw how little this one Syrian family had,” said the pastor after visiting a home where they had four walls and two cushions and nothing more.  When they were agreeable (almost every home was!) we were happy to raise their needs up to the father and ask for peace and comfort upon them.  Having had the chance to talk and get to know these families, we were all smiles and there were many kisses on one cheek and then the other as we recognized and greeted one another at the evening program.  Many had walked many blocks through narrow, hilly streets to come to the church.

As our cars pulled out of a city just outside the capitol; an ancient city with an impressive historical site (with grand Roman roads, columns, amphitheater and magnificent column-ringed circle we had traversed in the afternoon before the evening meeting – yesterday’s group photo), we pondered the silent stones that could tell such stories if they could speak, and yet we had had the privilege of meeting and hearing voices of those living today who knew the One who is their Rock and are eager to share his hope with others around them.  It was an honor and a treat to be with them on this summer day.

Sunday was another day of worship for us as we gathered at our friend’s church and many of us reconnected with brethren here that we know...more kisses on multiple cheeks!  The afternoon brought some refreshment in the form of a float in the Dead Sea, with its views across to Jerusalem!  It is rather amazing to see the locations mentioned in our holy book! 

Update received Sunday, August 11

The warm breezes in this desert land have been a blessing as they keep the warm temperatures very bearable...we feel blessed!  The people we have been able to visit have warmly greeted us and we feel privileged to hear their stories and to share with them the compassion that has changed our lives. 

Thursday, we visited Syrian families who have come here for shelter from such heartbreaking conflicts in their homeland.  We brought 50 pounds of food staples stuffed in two sturdy plastic bags as practical assistance to  each family we met...family groups struggling to live as displaced people without jobs, stretching meager UN refugee funds to pay rent and try to feed their households in the old part of town.  We met two elderly parents with an adult son who, although quite intelligent, has been plagued with fear and nightmares (post traumatic stress syndrome and nervous breakdown) ever since the shelling and explosions began near their home in Damascus. They are of the majority faith, yet they eagerly welcomed us lifting their son's emotional health needs to our father and were so thankful for our visit.  The mom's deep set brown eyes danced with thankfulness as she kissed us goodbye, one kiss on each cheek, and then a third for good measure.  In another home, the father's eyes teared up when Jamal asked how they are doing, and he shared that their son and son-in-law are in prison in Syria and they fear they are being tortured if they are even still alive, and his wife is in poor health with complications from diabetes (we helped purchase some of her meds in addition to the food bag).  They are here with their daughter and two darling grandchildren, and we were privileged to be able to hear their story and then ask father to bring peace and comfort to their home.  In another home, a Syrian widow asked us to pray for the safety of her four lovely daughters, the eldest of whom was married with a toddler son, had become widowed when a sniper shot her husband for no apparent reason.  With slim resources and no men to care for them, we could feel the urgency of this mother's request for protection over her and the girls.

The Syrian gentlemen (who we will call Mahmoud) that took our group to visit these families is a recent recipient of a development loan from our partners to begin a cottage industry using his skills making scrumptious pickles to earn an income to provide for his family - a total of 13 people...his 8 children, 2 wives and his mom and dad.  A local restauranteur was so impressed when he tasted one of Mahmoud's pickles that he ordered the entire first batch of pickles and is eager for more!  The profit helped him pay for rent and reinvest in the the next batch.  As Mahmoud continues to have income, he will repay the loan.  He also has such a heart to help the other refugee families...when Jamal wanted to leave an extra package of food for him and his family, he refused it, insisting that others who were in need should receive it.  What a joy to see the self-sustainable, transformational development loan producing such help to one family, who is in turn, paying it forward with care for their neighbors!  It was a privilege to ask father to bring continued peace and blessing upon him and his household.  We are looking forward to getting to taste a sample from his next batch of pickles in the coming week!

None of us knew exactly what tasks awaited us at the community center in Moab, called The House of Ruth, but as it turned out to be some masonry work....eager hands added fresh mortar between the ancient rocks in the walls surrounding the center  (with happy chatter about the similarities between our task and Nehemiah's, back in his day).  After lunch, it was fun to host a game and story time with the neighborhood children, with jump rope, basketball (into a bucket!) and tug of war competitions, followed by the retelling of the story of the prodigal son and the loving father who forgave and embraced him.  We then headed out, through narrow dusty lanes, to bring food bags to homes in the surrounding area.  We actually got to meet the parents of some of the children we had played with at the center, and discover some of the moms were women who have been studying English at the center with our friend, Rachel.  I was impressed by the level of proficiency....obviously Rachel is doing a great job teaching the ladies, and we could tell that the mothers have also been teaching their children.  They were proud to say as much as they could in Englesi without the help of our translator (and we were the same with Arabi, although their proficiency way outpaced ours)!  Each group we sent out (2 or 3 with a translator and/or local host) was warmly welcomed in each home visited, and we were glad to make these neighbors aware of the ongoing benefits of the enrichment programs back at the House of Ruth.  That day, the leader of the town told Jamal that in the past year, the House of Ruth has brought more assistance to their village than any other organization ever has in the years before.  

Thank you for lifting us up and for your careful communication of encouragement to us.  We can feel it and are enjoying sweet harmony and joy along with our local brethren.  

No updates will be posted until the team returns
Due to the sensitive nature of this ministry and the heightened tensions in the region, we have chosen not to name our partners or give the dates of the trip.  Information about the ministry will be posted after the team returns home, so please come back for details later this summer.

In the meantime, here are some ways you can pray for this creative and timely outreach:

Pray for health and unity of the team
Pray for peace and security in the region
Pray for hearts to be prepared to receive the material and spiritual blessings that our team will bring
Pray for encouragement for our hosts and the believers will will work alongside
Pray that "they will see our good works, and glorify our Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16)
Pray that these words from one of our team members to her supporters will turn out to be prophetic:  "Perhaps some of the people we meet will wonder at why we would come even when our embassy is temporarily closed.  Perhaps we will get to tell them that the Creator never closes His embassy and His ambassadors go to many different and even challenging places with some good news of His love and hope."