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!
Tim & Jodie