Hi, friends! Well, today was a sightseeing day to Biblos and Jeita Grotto, but not for 3 of us. Tim and I and another lady on our team got to spend the better part of the morning at the local hospital - woohoo! We took up rooms 1, 2, and 3 of the ER, and I got a picture of Tim in his room along with our awesome host couple:
They gave us IV fluids and some anti-nausea medication, and then loaded us up on 4 prescriptions. We slept most of the rest of the day and we're both feeling better - not 100% but definitely better. They told us to eat boiled potatoes and toast, so Kim told the kitchen at the convent that, and they brought us this tray:
They've been super nice and friendly here - it was a GREAT place to stay! So the team arrived back about 4pm from all the sightseeing and the kids said they had a great time - so glad for them! Nathan wasn't feeling very well, but he made it through the day and then he went with the team to meet local ministry leaders but they dropped him off right afterwards on their way to dinner and he's sleeping now. Please be praying for him! The hospital said we have to call them tonight to get cleared to get on the plane - didn't know the hospital had that kind of power. But we are definitely better so we're just waiting for the team to get back so we can ask Kim to make that call for us. And then we'll be leaving here in about 3 hours - about 1:15am to get to the airport by 2:15am for a 4:20am flight. Then we have like a 6 hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany and then a direct flight to Tampa from there.
I have so much more I want to share, but also want to be sensitive to everyone's time. Of course, you can always stop reading, right? :-) So first I want to talk a little more about the orphanage. I'll try to upload some more pictures when we get back or maybe during our 6 hour layover, but I'm just not up to the time consuming-ness of it right now. Anyway, one of the stories I want to tell you about started the week before we left on this trip. Tim saw a new client couple in his office and he let them know he wouldn't be available for the next week because we were going on a missions trip to Lebanon. The guy said, "Here - take this $100 and give it to the orphans". Tim asked the guy how he knew we were going to an orphanage because he hadn't mentioned it, and he just said God told him and wanted that money to go to the orphanage. We gave it to the director, Karim, yesterday and he was so happy - it was awesome. Tim felt like he couldn't give Karim the guy's name since he is a confidential client, but Karim wrote a thank you note and a receipt and asked Tim to give it to the guy.
Tim did some art therapy with the girls having them draw pictures of something that makes them feel safe and other pictures of emotions, and then we took their pictures and stapled them into little booklets. Some of the girls really got the idea and their drawings were very expressive - which was Tim's goal - that they would be able to get in touch with their feelings. Then the last order of business of the day was Chagy the clown, which the girls absolutely loved, and many of them accepted Christ. We then passed out gift bags we had put together for them earlier in the week, and they just loved them!
The team just got back from dinner, and I went out so I could say goodbye to Kim and David, our host couple. David's background is tech arts, and for the service tonight (again, Tim and I didn't go, so I'm just letting you know what David told me) he had Nicholas sit with him on the boards and help out. Nicholas just came in our room and said he really enjoyed that, and really loved getting to know this team. I have to agree with him - everyone had such great attitudes and were just awesome! I'm looking forward to hearing from everyone about their day today, and will hopefully have some pictures and stories to tell. Blessings to you all!
This 2nd day at the orphanage was even better than the first. However, I am not feeling well, and believe it or not, these updates take anywhere from 2-3 hours to do because of the internet going up and down and then being slow when it does work. We went to our host couple's home for dinner tonight, but I stayed in their guest bedroom the whole time with stomach issues. I started feeling sick right before we left to go to their house but I was really hoping it wouldn't last. Unfortunately, it did, and then right before we left Tim started feeling it, too. Please be praying because a few other people are also feeling nauseous. I'll try to update this tomorrow, but we've got a pretty full day and then we leave late tomorrow night (actually really early Saturday morning at 1am) so I can't guarantee I'll have time. It's been such an amazing trip, but with the way I'm feeling now, I'm looking forward to just being home and crawling in my own bed! :-) Thank you all again for all your prayers!! Blessings!
We spent all day at the orphanage first singing some songs, playing games outside in the morning, and then inside, as well as painting, putting puzzles together, eating lunch together, etc. They were a precious group of girls with bright faces and open hearts for lots of hugs! Today was all about connecting with them. Tomorrow we will do more ministry with Tim leading them in some art therapy and sharing the gospel message through our professional clown - they're going to love it! Tim let Nicholas loose with his camera on his phone, so I'll include a few pictures that he took along with a few pictures I took from today. The first picture is Nicholas with the Orphanage's director Karim - what an amazingly soft heart and sweet spirit! We fell in love with him, too, right along with the girls!
Our trip director, Jessica, is of Lebanese decent, and so one of her cousins who lives here and her husband met us for dinner at a Lebanese restaurant. Again, the food is just crazy! They keep bringing it out and bringing it out – it is so much! And they bring it out family style so you just share every plate they bring out with everyone. I didn’t even try to keep track of everything they had, but here’s a couple pictures I took to try to capture some of it. Needless to say, we had a lot of leftovers. You may remember me telling you about one of our translator’s, Timothy, and his story of conversion from Muslim to Christian after his best friend died in the war right next to him. Well, tonight he was playing soccer starting at 10pm in his soccer league so we surprised him and showed up for the first hour to cheer him on! Kim (the wife of our host couple) brought the leftovers from the restaurant to the soccer game and Hiba, one of our translators, came upon a little Syrian boy, Hamed, who was only about 9 or 10 years old. He was just heading home because he had to work contruction in the morning to help support his family of 6 and to help raise enough money this summer to pay for his tuition at his school next school year. She gave him the food to take back to his family, and I’m sure it was a treasure to that family. At the game, Timothy scored 3 goals (called a hat trick for you non-soccer people like me out there) right after we got there, and you could tell he was SO thrilled to have us cheer him on!! Check out the last picture below I took of him. Until tomorrow, blessings to you all!
Today we went to Our Lady of Lebanon (and no, I didn't take that photo - just found it on the internet). It is a big statue of Mary and people come from all over to pray there. So we joined some of the people and asked them how we could pray for them. Usually, their first reaction was, “Why would you want to pray for me?” Once we told them it was because God loved them and cared for their needs they opened up, sometimes weeping through their pain. When we first got there we visited the Byzantine Icon Museum, and the artistry really was quite fascinating. Rita gave us a lot of background information about many of the items there, and as we were leaving I felt led to ask her if I could pray for her for anything. She asked me to pray for her intentions. When I asked her what that meant, she sighed and replied, “I am not married”. Enough said – I totally understood her heart. Tim and I worked with the Singles at our former church and I’ve always had a heart for singles, so my heart was moved as I prayed for her. She was so appreciative and couldn’t believe that I would stop to ask her how I could pray for her – she said she felt like God had sent me and she was so encouraged - she asked for my email and wanted to stay in touch. It was precious. We then went out to the courtyard at the bottom of the statue and the first lady I asked if I could pray for her said that she has 1 child but has had 4 miscarriages since then. Well, Tim and I dealt with infertility, so once again I felt like I had a point of reference and definitely a heart that connected with hers. She was so appreciative of my prayers, and there was just story after story like that. Tim spoke with a number of Syrian refugees who had lost family members in the war and were praying for remaining family members in Syria for them to get out. The last group of people he spoke with was Ralph and his cousin, Mark, and Mark’s girlfriend, Ingrid. Ralph said he had everything the world had to offer – lots of money and beautiful women and anything he wanted, but he was very unhappy and unsatisfied. He knows his mother has been praying for him so he has started reading his Bible and found more of a satisfaction and joy in his life since connecting with God in that way. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of hearing people’s stories and joining them and encouraging them in their seeking for God. The first picture below is a picture is of Rita giving us a tour of the museum. The 3rd picture I took from the top of the steps of the statue of Tim and Nicholas in the courtyard, and the 4th picture I took of one of the 3 or 4 cedar trees in the courtyard. They really are quite impressive trees!
We went to lunch at a burger place and couldn't pass up a photo op with the team and our waiter!
We came back to the convent for 1 hour of free time, got back on the bus, went to a mall and got souvenirs and grabbed a quick bite there (where a couple of our guys led a guy to Christ in the Starbucks in the mall), and then went to the slum areas to a church service of almost all Kurdish refugees. There was a famous Kurdish Christian singer there so I understand the people felt very honored for him to come there. The service was kind of inside but really more outside in a broken down building, so it was pretty hot. It was entirely in Kurdish and this time we didn’t have an interpreter with nice headphones, but we were still able to figure out that the lesson was on Phil 2. After the service, we were called upon to pray for people. I remember 2 women who had boyfriends (or husbands – I couldn’t understand which), over in their country (didn't understand which one) still resisting ISIS, but they were both so afraid they would never see them again. Same thing for a mother who asked us to pray for her son. It was a little overwhelming to hear about the pain of a few of the people there and imagine all the pain represented in that service, and then all those affected by the war. I didn’t take many pictures there because it just seemed too personal or just inappropriate to do that. So here’s just 1 picture I took (that's Nicole's pretty head in front of me a little to the left)::
I don't know what else to say - other than please pray for all the people affected by the persecution of ISIS. Please also pray for a couple of our team members who couldn't go today due to a stomach bug they have. Also, Noah is fighting a head cold, so lift him up as well. Tomorrow we will spend the day at an orphanage. Thank you for your continued prayers for us - I feel like you are touching the lives that we are touching because you are with us. Thanks again!
We drove a couple hours to Tyre, and the agenda had been:
OK – today was pretty powerful. We left at 6:30 this morning and stopped for breakfast at this 24 hour Lebanese IHOP type of place where, instead of waffles and pancakes, they serve a pizza-like dish for breakfast. It was quite interesting and very good. Here’s a picture from that place, along with just a picture of some of the scenery on the way:
We were on the road for fairly a long time after that – I’m guessing about an hour and a half. We stopped at one place that overlooked the Damascus road… yep – the same one from the Bible. So cool! If you enlarge the 1st picture below you should be able to make it out, and you may be able to see the mountains beyond that, that separate Lebanon from Syria. I’m including some other pics we took there along with another bus selfie photo.
I don’t know why I’m including this one, but I just found it very interesting. The Catholic and Meronite Christians have a big influence in the region, with many small shrines visible on the side of the road and on top of buildings. Here’s one with a big statue of Mary along and a huge rosary strung across the road:
For the record, I honestly felt a little afraid going to the refugee camp today, even though I knew this was where we were supposed to go, but originally it was going to be not that far from Beirut. However, things changed over the past couple of weeks and we ended up going to a camp only about 8 miles from the Syrian border, having to pass through 2 checkpoints to get there. Our host couple go there 2 and 3 times a week every week – it’s amazing! The drive is over these mountains that are over a mile high in elevation, with lots of twists and turns. After we passed through the mountains we came to the Bekaa Valley and the location for the kids’ camp. It is run by a South Korean family and their place of ministry is called House of Love. They said they named it that because most of the refugee kids don’t really know what love is. We arrived there close to 9:00am, which was the starting time for the camp, and the kids were just pouring in. One of our team mates is a professional clown, and here’s a picture of him along with the ministry director, Paul Jung (showing us the international sign - or at least the sign he was using for this camp - to tell the campers to be quiet), and one of our translators, Mudrick. Next to that is a picture Nicholas along with our mission’s coordinator, Jessica, as we were preparing to start the camp.
The camp was split into 3 main sections. There was a craft area where Nicole, Noah, and I helped the kids put together gospel bracelets. There was a sports area where Nathan and Nicholas played soccer with the kids. And then there was Chagy the clown (one of our teammates, as I mentioned before). I was able to sit in on one of his presentations and I can’t even describe how incredibly powerful it was to see the kids respond to him showing them how much they are loved and how they can love each other. I was literally boo-hooing, and I am not a crier. Some of the kids looked pretty beat up, whether from fighting with each other or abuse at home, I don’t know (if you look closer to the girl in the orange in the 4th picture below you'll see she has a black eye), but they just soaked up all the attention and hugs we could give them. And they didn’t want just short hugs – they wanted long, and as we say in our family, bone cruncher hugs!! And they kept coming back to us throughout the day for more. Then, the ambassador from South Korea and his wife came to visit the camp! They are believers and just encouraged Paul and the team and the kids by the care they showed to everyone there. It was pretty cool! Here are some more pictures of our time there:
We stopped for lunch at another traditional Lebanese restaurant where they bring the food out family style and we just share it all around the table.
After that, we took a side trip through 2 more checkpoints to an ancient ruins called Baalbek, only 47 miles from Damascus (just discovered that little tidbit when I looked up how to spell Baalbek!). Yikes! It is in one of the oldest continually inhabited cities, showing signs of habitation over the last 8-9000 years, and it contains some of the best preserved Roman ruins. It was quite an awesome experience! Notice in the 2nd picture below Tim standing at the bottom of the columns – just to give you perspective on how huge they are! You’ll want to enlarge the 3rd picture to see Noah practically giving his mom a heart attack after climbing to the top of that structure in the middle of the courtyard! But to think of all the history here – it was pretty amazing.
On the ride back I started feeling the effects of altitude sickness, and it stayed with me until we got closer to Beirut. It was about a 2 hour drive from the ruins, so it made for a bit of an unpleasant experience. But once we were out of the high country, I was good to go! We did a team debriefing session right after we arrived at the convent tonight, and tomorrow they are taking us on a sight-seeing day to visit Tyre, so we have a bit of a day off, so to speak. Thank you all for your prayers for today – I really felt them being answered in so many ways. Blessings to you all!
This evening we went to Resurrection Church (formerly Haddath Baptist Church). We arrived early to tour the place and get a better understanding of their mission. They are strategically located with an affluent Christian neighborhood on one side, a Muslim community on another side, a Hezbollah region on another side, and they are near slum areas with refugees. Just a few years ago they had about 70 people in the church, and now they run about 1,000! The services are made up of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, along with Christians and some Muslims. About 70% are women because the men normally work on Saturdays, and in the refugees’ case, the men work 2, 3, and 4 jobs if they can. We were taken to the rooftop and shown each of the areas surrounding the church. Here are a couple pictures taken from the rooftop. The large area beyond the big hangar looking building is the Hezbollah region, and that grassy area directly next to the church belongs to the US Embassy. Not sure why our country owns a grassy area in Lebanon (maybe it was the site of the former Embassy that was bombed back in the 70’s)? The Christian area is directly to the right where I was taking these pictures, and the Muslim area is directly to the left.
By the way, thank you for your prayers for Nicholas! As you can see, he was up and looking pretty good! Check out this picture below of him sitting in a ‘hand’ chair in the youth room imitating it with his hand (I thought it was a cute picture so I have to share it!). :-) He is definitely feeling much better!
After our tour of the church we were able to visit a bit with some of the congregation before the service. I spoke with a woman from one of the refugee areas, and she was happy to tell me in very broken English that her son was now living in Detroit, Michigan. Would have loved to hear that whole story of how that came to be. The service began with worship and then the pastor gave a great message on healing. He told us later that it is very unusual for a Baptist Church to talk about healing, which doesn't sound much different from the states it seems. Again, it was all in Arabic, so we had headphones with the translator. Here's a picture of the worship team (if you enlarge the picture you may be able to see Nicole putting on her headphones on the other side of the stage), and then our family with the pastor:
After the service our team stood all across the front (alongside the Pastor) and prayed with people who came forward. Most people did not speak English and we only had 2 or 3 translators, so the translator would come and tell us what the prayer request was and we would pray in English, usually without the translator, and even then our prayers brought tears to the eyes of the people we were praying for. Noah told me he especially felt the presence of God more than ever, and there was just a very sweet spirit in the place.
We then went to dinner with the pastor and his wife, and oh my goodness, the food!! I made a note of all the food we ate, and I may not have spelled it correctly, but here's what I have: falafel, hummus, baba ghanoush, tabouli, shawarma, cole slaw, potato salad, sliced tomatoes, pickles, pickled beets, cheese rolls, kebeh, Arabic bread, fattoush, sambousek, potato fries, potato wedges, baked potatoes, lahm bajeen, mint leaves, green onions, sesame seed paste, and I ordered orange juice that as soon as I got it I realized it was fresh squeezed! They just kept bringing the food - it was crazy! Here are some pictures of us at the restaurant, sitting outside near the road. They said the weather was going to be hot, but it feels wonderful compared to hot and humid Florida!
The guy sitting next to Tim is one of our translators, Mudrick, and I will get his permission to share his testimony later. Again, tomorrow is a big day as we go to the Syrian Refugee camp. We have to be on the bus by 6:30am, which is only 6 hours from now, so I must get to bed. It takes a long time to make these updates because the internet is spotty like they said and I'll lose the connection or it will just be slow, but I will do what I can! Thank you again for your prayers!!
We made it! We arrived at about 3:30pm local time (7:30am EST) on Friday. By the time we made it to the convent we had 30 minutes to put our luggage in our rooms and freshen up and get back on the van to go to dinner. We grabbed swarma at a restaurant - chicken or beef - along with an avacado smoothie if we wanted it (I did - so good!!). Then we travelled to a local church for a 3 hour service in Arabic (after not sleeping for around 36 hours). :-) We recognized many of the songs during the worship time, and people came up afterwards to let us know how much it meant to them for us to visit. They provided a translator and cordless headphones to receive the translation, but it was still a little difficult to understand. The funniest translation was the description of an older Sarah in the Old Testament as 'saggy'. Even the translator chuckled at that one :-) Needless to say, most of us slept very well last night!!
Next is arriving at the airport (Kim is the lady standing in the middle) and then on the bus:
I noticed several fast food restaurants on our way through Beirut to the convent yesterday, including Hardees, McDonald's, and this Burger King below. How about that Sushi Burrito place next door - I wonder how that tastes?
Here is the lunch spread we had today - it was yummy! Apricots, nectarines, and plums grown right here on the property, along with salad, some type of veggie lasagna dish, hummus, and then a chicken and vegetable dish. The 2nd picture is the view from the cafeteria that you couldn't really see in the first picture - how about that?
Thank you Christy and Dianne for your comments!! Love hearing from you! And thank you all for your prayers! Tomorrow we are going to one of the Syrian Refugee camps. Honestly, I'm a little nervous as I understand we'll have to go through 2 checkpoints, but I also believe this is the main reason God led us here, so please be praying. I believe we'll be mostly with the kids there, having like a mini- kid's camp, so pray we connect with them and love on them with God's love. Thanks so much!!
We flew into Washington, DC and I tried to update this blog then but the internet at Dulles Airport was extremely spotty. The internet here at the Frankfurt Airport is amazing!! Anyway, we got off without a hitch, which is saying something when it comes to the Gregory family being on time anywhere (kind of like herding cats at times!). :-) Below is a picture of us waiting to board the airplane in Tampa, and then on the flight to Washington, DC:
Don't we all look bright eyed and bushy tailed? :-) And then here is the current state of affairs:
I had my own set of chairs staked out for a short power nap myself. :-) Well, we're getting ready to board for our final leg into Beirut! We just now met the rest of the team, so here's a picture of most of them:
Thank you again for your prayers!! Can't wait to give more updates, and will do that as soon as possible! Please comment - let me know you're out there!! Blessings!
Tim & Jodie