A New Start Part 2
Unless you have been to the Middle East you have only received a glimpse of what true hospitality is. Yes, there may be “Southern Hospitality” but it falls eons short in comparison to Middle Eastern hospitality. Let me explain. A few years back several of my friends, classmates, and I had the privilege of going to the Lebanon. We went for 2 weeks to help on a service/learning trip. We were providing medical care to Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and also painting a mural on the Beirut streets. To say it was amazing comes short – it was the best trip I have ever had in my life.
One day we were invited to eat by one of our translators. She was a 12-year-old Syrian refugee and insisted that we go and eat at her family’s house. I was hesitant to say yes because we were briefed earlier that feeding us for one meal would mean not feeding the family for a week. She continued to insist throughout the rest of the morning and said that she would bring her mom to ask what we wanted to eat. I continued to ask our leader if we could go and he folded and said it was going to be the experience of a lifetime, to be able to eat in the home of someone was a high honor. He gave us a few rules and said he would be able to go.
We were ecstatic, running around to see who was able to go, and we were off. Seven girls in a taxi that was meant for 5, all squished in the back and front seat on our way to this new experience. This family was a family of 6 but there were an additional 3 people that were living in the home. They had a delicious middle eastern meal prepared, with tabbouleh and hummus. We all gathered around and sat on the floor, we ate and chatted becoming familiarized with this family that invited us into their home. After that course came another, and then another, and then a hot drink and desert afterward, we were left so humbled and FULL.
Whenever I am in large groups of people laughing, or in church, I always like to stop and look around and see the faces and emotions. I like hearing their conversations and looking at their mannerisms, I am a class-A people watcher. But when I see these emotions of joy, happiness, and love I am overwhelmed with a sense of belonging. Seeing other people happy makes me happy. As I looked around the room that day of people having side conversations my eyes fell upon the couple sitting across from me leaning on the wall. A woman wearing a hijab, side sitting, looking regally outside and her husband sitting beside her looking out the window as well. Their expressions were normal but in that instant looking outside their eyes spoke so much more. They spoke of uncertainty of what would happen here in a new country and looked towards hope. I prayed and fought back tears in that moment. I’ve never had to run away from my country for my safety and these individuals had invited me into their humble home, given me more that I could ever eat and showed me what loving a neighbor, what loving a stranger truly meant. I uttered these words in my heart “God, never let me forget this moment.”
The pinnacle of it all was when we finished and were returning home. We gathered in a circle to pray and before we did the father asked us “Do you all have a mother?” we answered yes, he followed that question with another “And do you have a father?” and we said yes, he then stated “We are also your mother and father.” We prayed and with that we left, feeling full in our stomachs and even more full in our hearts.
However, the story does not end there. Two years after this encounter I returned to Lebanon, this time with a different group of people with the same mission in mind: making friends, learning, and creating connections. I went to the location where we had practiced 2 years prior on Sabbath morning and found many of the friends that I had made. I was able to worship with them in Arabic and hear a beautiful sermon. One of the stories was given by the same man whose house I had eaten. His eyes were lively now, there wasn’t the sadness I had seen before, he smiled and laughed as he interacted with the others. At the end of the story the pastor brought me over to introduce me to several of the members of this small group. He said my name and where I was from. This man looked at him and said, “Yes, I know, she is one of ours.”
My heart felt belonging, I felt loved and accepted I thought for sure I was forgotten. My Syrian father that I had received 2 years ago called me one of their own. Two years ago, I was a complete stranger that became a daughter and have never been forgotten.
Many years ago, Jesus gave us the ultimate example of loving your neighbor. He went to poor neighborhoods, hung around the rejected and the oppressed and told them time and time again, they were not forgotten by the father—no--He looked at each of them in the eye and told them the words that their hearts needed to hear, “You are not abandoned, the Father does not reject you. You are mine.”
Chantal Williams recently graduated from Andrews University as a doctor of physical therapy, and has been involved with Enspire Productions since 2011.