Syrian refugees were introduced to the joys of Kajabi Can Can, Duck Duck Goose and so much more when a team from Emmanuel Faith Community Church (EFCC) in San Diego, California helped out at a Baptist Children and Youth Ministries (BYCM) camp in the Bekaa Valley this July. We asked four of the team what they did and what the trip meant to them.
Was this the first time a team from EFCC had been to Lebanon?
Kelli Warren: This was our first trip to a BYCM camp and Lebanon. However, EFCC has had a long term relationship and partnership with LSESD ministries.
How big was the EFCC group?
Kelli: We had a group of seven on this trip. Kalani, Justin, Cheri and myself. Cheri’s 17 year old daughter Emily also came and we had newlyweds Becca and Kevin with us as well. They were married just three weeks prior to our trip.
What did the EFCC team do at the camp?
Kelli: We were asked to speak on three subjects: faith not fear, self-control not anger, and forgiveness not revenge. We also ran the games for the kids. The games included freeze tag, soccer, Kajabi Can Can, Over Under and Duck Duck Goose. The last aspect of the camp that we did was the craft. We brought with us canvas draw string backpacks for the kids to decorate with fabric markers, coloured gems, and glue on foam shapes. We chose this craft knowing the kids did not have much room at their “homes” so we didn’t want a disposable craft but rather one that could be useful to them. When they finished their craft, we gave each of them a care package with a toothbrush, toothpaste, pencils, pens, erasers, and a couple pieces of candy.
What were the highlights of the trip for you?
Kalani Jones: Seeing how active the Lord is working in Lebanon; families coming to know the Lord and the joy that they are experiencing in Christ! My favourite story was going into the home of a family that had just come to faith a few months ago. They were living in a tiny little place with very little! However they were bubbling over with joy. They couldn’t wait to share how they came to know Jesus and how they have been forever changed. It was awesome!
Do you have any stories about the children you interacted with?
Cheri and Emily Wright: There were several children that we each seemed to connect with. One of the most moving stories happened during Kelli’s program. She was speaking on forgiveness, and asked the kids if any of them had experienced having a hard time forgiving someone. One small boy raised his hand and said that it was difficult forgiving the armed men who blew up a car, killing his uncle. That same boy spoke up several times and told of his trust in Jesus and how much joy he has in his life. It was obvious to us that despite the devastating things these kids have seen and experienced the message of Jesus’ love is getting through to them and making an impact in their lives.
What insights have you got into the plight of refugees and the situation currently in the Middle East from the camp and your visit to Lebanon?
Cheri and Emily: We were amazed at the sheer number of refugees there are in Lebanon and saddened by their living conditions. It was difficult to see these children living in such poor conditions. We were also sad to see that the troubles of the entire Middle East seem to have a huge impact on the way Lebanon is perceived. Throughout our trip, the people were kind and overwhelmingly welcoming to us. It was really the opposite of how the Middle East is portrayed in the media in the U.S.
Kalani: Being from the US, we are so far away from the refugee situation in the Middle East. I had no idea of the magnitude of the problem. Millions of people are being displaced; families being broken up; people being killed. From a human perspective it is hopeless; but the Lord is moving powerfully and reaching new believers. There is hope!
Has the visit inspired you personally or as a team to tell others, encourage prayer etc?
Cheri and Emily: It was a very inspirational trip for us both. We have continued praying and will be praying daily for the refugees, the BCYM team and for the people of Lebanon as they face this crisis. We both thought and prayed about how to tell people about our trip and what to say when we were asked how it went. We have tried to always convey a sense that God is doing amazing things in Lebanon, and that it was inspiring to be able to witness it and be a part of it. Together we composed a letter with pictures and anecdotal stories about how God is moving in the lives of the people we met. It’s our hope that this, and conversations we have, will continue to change opinions about the area and to encourage them to be supportive of future visits.
Does EFCC plan to send more teams to BCYM/LSESD and when?
Kelli: Yes, next year we are planning on sending two teams of 6-7 from our Faith Kids Children’s Ministry. These teams will come out during the summer of 2016.
Did the visit teach you anything about God and your relationship with him?
Cheri and Emily: One thing we didn’t expect to see was that God answers prayer very differently depending on where in the world you are. We felt like His answers were more concrete and definitive in Lebanon than they are typically at home. He seems to be answering them in such a way that there can be no doubt who He is and leaving them with no doubt in whom they should place their faith. We loved witnessing how big our God is and how beautifully He can reach each of our hearts in a way that is meaningful and life-changing. It was one of the best parts of the trip to be able to listen to people share their testimonies. It was the first thing they wanted to tell us, and we already miss that refreshing kind of fellowship with others believers.
What did you think of the BCYM team and what they are attempting to do with children and young people?
Cheri and Emily: When we spoke with some of the BCYM staff, the political situation and animosity that historically exist between the Syrian and Lebanese people was better explained to us, and it became even more amazing that they would be so willing to help the refugees. One of the ladies stated that it truly was the leading of the Holy Spirit that gave her the strength and will to work with them. We were so impressed by their commitment to follow God’s leading in helping so many different children. From their weekly visits to a shelter for street children, running of the camps, and work helping kids with special needs, they are doing amazing work to help them, as well as modelling and sharing the love of Christ. We felt it was a great privilege to work alongside them for a week.
Kalani: The BCYM Team is awesome; they have a huge heart for the children and the Lord is using them to reach other families with the love of Christ.
Since arriving back in the USA, what impact has the visit had on you?
Kalani: Many Americans view Lebanon as a very scary place that is unsafe. I now know that it is a place where there are strong Christians that know the Lord! The Lord is using them and we should do whatever we can to help and pray for them.
The other item that touched me was how friendly the Lebanese people were. I would go jogging through the neighbourhoods almost every day. Multiple times someone would stop me on the street, strike up a conversation and invite me to dinner. That never happens in the US!
Cheri and Emily: It has really strengthened our resolve to continue trying to help with the situation in Lebanon. There is so much that is needed, and we want to continue to be a part of any effort to help with the refugee situation.