My leg muscle began to twitch. Sitting on the cement floor with just a few fabric fibers of the barely distinguishable woven mat between me and the cold surface, I tried to stretch my cramped muscles without pulling out of the side-seated position required of females in Lebanon. “Don’t move, don’t move!” I kept telling myself, knowing that if I did fall out of the tight-packed circle of nearly 20 people in the “house” no bigger than a 10x15-foot enclosure, that I’d upend the meager yet precious amount of food sitting mere inches away from my toes, the only food that the family would consume for Iftar on that Ramadan night. The only food that they had in the house, period.
Reeling my mind back to the translator as the father of the Syrian refugee home turned his head towards me I was reminded anew of what it meant to be overwhelmed. “We were separated from all of our family,” he said as a heaping spoonful of rice was scooped onto my plate. “A bomb leveled my home . . . my mother was inside.” His twelve-year-old son Ali poured a cup of sweet tea for me. “Eat, eat, eat.” The smiling man of the household ushered the three Americans as the canopy of the blue “roof” snapped in the wind above our heads. Happily, and hungrily, the host family then shared the remaining bits of food that they had reserved for themselves, and the room fell silent as we broke the Ramadan evening meal.
Looking about the simple abode I was taken aback by how humanity treats humanity. Syrian refugees are not the most welcomed group by the local Lebanese people or government. Support is lacking in nearly all levels: you can’t go to school unless you have your legal papers from Syria, and most do not have them because of the cost and time needed as they fled their homes. But, without the papers you’re not allowed to go to the high schools in Lebanon and graduate, or then get a good job. The housing is bursting beyond capacity. Looking about the space I realized that this family is renting the old electrical block on top of a roof, with three cinder walls, a wooden door and NO ceiling—and they are required to pay full rent or be evicted! Listening to the stories being shared around the circle, looking at the skinny arms and legs of the children, turning my head to take in the nearly non-existent amount of personal belongings the family can call their own—their plight screamed as an overwhelming sense of despair crashed over me.
Soon the sound of raging silence in my head was broken by that of wiggling, giggling little girls as they finished their food and began hedging about the room. With not enough space for the entire family to all sleep in the home at the same time, a few of the little ones went out onto the balcony to spread out as the older sisters, aunts and mother, all with hijabs in place despite the heat of the added bodies in their home, began to remove the reminders of the meal. I watched in wonder as food that we Americans had scooted to the side of our plates as trash were carefully put into a small container for the family to consume the following night. They carefully picked up each grain of rice that had landed on the floor and added it to their food offerings for their next meal. The men of the home leaned back out of the way, yet you could see their respect as they nodded their thanks and passed us the evening tea.
This past summer as I sat on folded legs looking at new faces amongst strangers turned family with the La Sierra University Missions team, I was reminded what it was like to be overwhelmed by the goodness of God. I was overwhelmed because despite circumstances I was surrounded by the faces of resilience I found in front of me. I was overwhelmed by the laughter of little ones as they played with rags turned toys. I was overwhelmed by the hugs and love that shone out of the eyes of the most innocent amongst us despite the overwhelming heart-wrenching obstacles they were still facing. As our little ones wept while we said goodbye we were able to see first-hand what it looks like to be in the midst of God’s presence. In the turmoil that surrounds that place, and the load we all individually carry, we, in that moment, were able to see God’s will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven because we were together.
I’m reminded over and over that we do not have to have the riches of the world, do not have to agree on policy or practice (as nice as that would be), nor do we have all of the solutions. What we have been called to is to love. And sometimes showing up and siting together is all the love that is needed.
May God overwhelm us with goodness as we show up for one another in all our joys and sorrows this season. Come, Lord Jesus, Come.
Linda is the Assistant Chaplain for COMS (Center for Outreach and Mission Service at La Sierra University). She is a also a proud member of the La Sierra University Church fam and believes that "It'll take my church village to get me married." If you have any ideas, give her a jingle! ;)