In late September/early October Julia Bowering joined us on a Discovery Trip as we travelled to Lebanon and Jordan to visit our local ministry partner, the Free Evangelical Association of Lebanon. Julia is the Associate Pastor for Kings Community Church, which is located in Oakville, Ontario. During our trip, Julia had the opportunity to share a Bible story with a group of displaced Muslim women at the Saturday Oasis Program in Beirut, she has shared her incredible experience of seeing first hand how the Word of God brings people together below!
I was nervous entering the tiny blue classroom. My experience in Lebanon totaled one day and yet here I was about to spend a morning teaching the bible to groups of displaced Muslim women. Good grief.
The previous day visiting the Beqaa Valley refugee camps was still fresh and spinning in my mind. Sitting on tent floors, sipping Turkish coffee, children-filled alleyways of white UN-stamped tarps, songs from Syria, cellphone photos of missing loved ones, bright eyes behind veils, tears on an old man’s cheeks and stories. So many stories.
Now I held my book of ancient testimonies close to my chest and silently prayed that the one I chose to tell would resonate. I looked over at pastor Joseph, the local director of the Free Evangelical Association of Lebanon and my translator for the morning. He smiled as if to say “We’ve got this.”
As I looked at the women’s faces in the little blue classroom I felt a giant gulf of life experience stretching out between us. What did I know about having to flee my home and country with young children in tow, knowing that at any second my husband could be taken from me? What did I know about living in this particular patriarchal culture without the protection of my relatives? What did I know about having to send my young children to work and living with the fear that my husband will commit suicide or take us back to the war that almost killed us?
Looking at them I felt that I knew nothing of suffering and nothing of life. Every face displayed hard-earned wisdom. And now I had to teach.
Before a word left my mouth Joseph launched in. The women were laughing and smiling at me. “What are you saying?” I whispered.
“I’m just introducing you! They are excited to listen.”
I chose the story of Hannah in the Old Testament. Honestly, I chose it because I love it. I love that even when everyone else misunderstands Hannah and her grief, God understands it. He hears her. Not only that but he speaks through her powerfully! Her song of praise is political and subversive and would one day resound on the lips of Jesus’ own mother. God hears women. God speaks through women to our world.
Most of the women had never heard the story before, but they jumped into it with both feet. Some of them knew what it was like to be a second wife. Joseph asked them to sound out the name “Samuel” in Arabic and their faces lit up. “It means ‘heard by God’!” they declared.
They laughed out loud and shouted affirmation at the suggestion that women are often misunderstood by the men in our lives, by our community leaders and by one another. They teased Joseph, saying that he wouldn’t understand. They quieted and nodded at the idea that God always understands us and hears our prayers.
I’m not sure who learned more about the story of Hannah that morning.
When I finished Joseph nudged me away from the chalkboard towards the women and they quickly gathered in close around me. Someone passed me a baby. They told me their stories. They kissed me on the cheeks (so many kisses!) and they asked me to pray for them.
I was aware of two things: The power of scripture to connect and the immense trust that our partners, Joseph and his team, had been slowly and respectfully building in this community. With this strong bridge stand on the gulf between us was forgotten.
Want to join Partners International Canada on one of our upcoming Discovery Trips? Visit our Discovery Trips Page to see what trips are upcoming and get involved!