1500 Olive Trees

Friends, I wrote this back in January, but I know many of us have been hurting over what is going on in Aleppo, so I am reposting.

There comes a time on any trip where you feel overwhelmed, when tiredness and lack of control of your surroundings can creep into the journey. I think it is particularly true of any kind of refugee or humanitarian work.

Yesterday was my day to feel overwhelmed. Overwhelmed and inadequate with the needs I have seen and the stories I have heard.

To summarize, anything you have ever heard or seen about the refugee crusis is true, but worse. The stories of losing everything, people watching relatives killed, babies born to moms who can’t breastfeed because of inadequate diet, losing factories, businesses, and livelihood. All of it is true.

Two days ago, we sat across from a farmer who had 1500 olive trees in a village near Aleppo. ISIS has taken over his land and cut most of the olive trees down for firewood. It is a literal loss of generations of family’s work. It is symbolic of everything else they have lost.

I have met widows and new moms struggling, men who can’t find work and mothers who lost their sons, men who are being pressured to sell their kidneys just to get money to feed their families. The collective loss is unimaginable.

I have learned that ISIS is one kind of evil–and the other evil is the people that would profit from a crisis. Those who would buy children from a desperate parent; scheme to traffic vital organs; and charge thousands of dollars so people can drown in a poorly made boat.

When people are left without hope, we must hope for them. 

It is a privilege to sit with people and hear their stories and I am so grateful for this time. It is a gift to laugh in the midst of pain; to drink strong cups of Arab coffee while sitting in tents; to ask people how we can pray.

But I also have an obligation to pass on what I have seen and learned and to ask you to remember this crisis, remember Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Don’t forget them – and pray for peace to come to these lands.

The following information comes from this site:

Preemptive Love Coalition has been working for over 10 years in the Middle East. They serve families in both Iraq and Syria. You can take a look at their website for information and ways to make a difference for refugees.

Questscope has been giving at-risk people in the Middle East “a second chance” for over three decades. Now they are first-responders, providing critical and long term assistance for thousands of families literally on the run for their lives in Syria. Just this week, Questscope is rescuing 4000 women and children from Homs, Syria. You can give desperately needed funds for those families here.

World Relief works through churches in the US as well as throughout the Middle East and Europe to provide emergency and long-term assistance for refugees. Check out their website to see how your church can get involved.

The Challenge to “Not Go Numb”

“Just numb it!” I say emphatically every time I go to the dentist. “I don’t want to feel a thing.”

And it’s true. I had five babies naturally with barely a thought of intervention of any kind — but my teeth? Just numb me up. Laughing gas, ether, even a couple shots of whiskey, I’ll take anything! I just want to go numb.

And sometimes I feel like this with world events. Just numb me. I don’t want to feel them. I can’t do a thing about these events so just numb me.

But the challenge from those on the ground, indeed the plea from those on the ground is that we not go numb. Nancy Lindborg from USAID says “Our challenge is to not go numb, to remember the numbers, to remember the faces.” 

She said this a couple of months ago during a live panel discussion on Syria. The panel was sponsored by the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a center devoted to the bipartisan solutions and insights into international issues affecting our world today.

The panel was clear and informative and served as an excellent resource on what is going on today in a conflict that daily struggles to reach the headlines, largely because it has gone on too long and lost our attention, more importantly – lost the world’s attention. The Syrian conflict is white noise in a world drowning from information overload. 

But I want to remember and I don’t want to go numb. So as I listened to the panel I frantically scribbled notes, discernible only to me, on a piece of scrap paper so that I would remember some of the key points.

Here are some of those points: 

  • Humanitarian agencies were not targeted in the past – they have been systematically attacked in Syria.
  • “Fewer clinics being bombed because there are fewer clinics to bomb” – this statement, again from Nancy Lindborg, shouted at me.
  • Polio, measles out breaks feared – so many people at such close quarters
  • Syria was a middle-income country. yet people are leaving with nothing so the need for basic supplies is huge.
  • Huge problems”water sanitation, health needs especially due to egregious targeting of civilian facilities (hospitals, doctors)”
  • Humanitarian Aid groups are continually looking for ways that not only stabilize but build resilience inside and outside the country of Syria.
  • Need to strengthen the countries who are taking in refugees, only then will they have the ability to meet the needs of the massive refugee population.
  • The number of refugees who have come into Lebanon is the equivalent of the United States absorbing another state of California. It’s a massive influx of people and resources are already slim to help with those who are citizens.

And now it’s not just Syria. It’s the aftermath of Gaza, an age-old conflict that is wearing new rags and hurting another generation. It’s the evil of ISIS. It’s Ferguson and the continued rumblings of racism and grief. It’s floods in Pakistan. It’s poverty and homelessness in Central Square, my back yard. And oh how I want to go numb.

Where is the hope? 

Hope is in “9th grade girls back in school after losing 3 years – seeing them was extraordinarily inspiring.” Hope is in 400,000 refugee children being able to start school again in Lebanon. Hope is in young Somali refugees sending letters to Syrian refugees, a show of solidarity and understanding. Hope is in surgeons who are healing in the midst of war. Hope is in those that believe, against all odds, that there is a future, a future and a hope. Hope is in my Parish – Holy Resurrection, with people who have come forward in extraordinary ways to donate vitamins, infant tylenol, and wound supplies for refugees in Turkey.

Hope is in people who don’t go numb, but continue to watch, to pray, and to act. 

18th Century Gates & Candlesticks: Restoring the Broken in Lebanon

A beautiful candlestick, salvaged and reborn from an 18th century gate

I have on my table a beautifully crafted candlestick made from an 18th century gate found in Lebanon. This candlestick is unique – there is none like it in the world. Far more beautiful than the candlestick, however, is the story behind the candlestick.

Disabled and marginalized people; 18th century beauty in the form of old gates, windows,wrought iron banisters; and the vision of a French designer are the ingredients of a Lebanese based company called [beyt] by 2b design. We had the privilege of meeting the creators of this design company on Sunday night over dinner at our home.

The idea is brilliant. Lebanon is full of the leftover beauty of what were once stunning homes. Years of conflict have left many destroyed, others were deserted and sit empty and neglected. The beauty left is in the form of old windows, balustrades, tiles, and gates, now discarded and left as scrap metal to be sold and used elsewhere. The French Designer, Benedicte de Blavous Mubarak, fell in love with these objects and went country-wide seeking out this beauty. As she thought about restoring the beauty of these objects, she was reminded of the need to restore the beauty of people, especially people who are considered unlovely by society and swept to the side, left without purpose, much less any concept of worth or beauty. Those people who are disabled and marginalized with limited job skills.  What if you could marry the two?  What if you could bring back beauty and purpose to people by creating a company that hires them to skillfully restore these pieces to beauty? A company that pays a livable wage and treats all employees with respect and dignity. The marriage began and one phrase describes the mission:

Restore the Unseen Beauty of the Broken

This company is remarkable. It’s vision is continuing to grow through the wisdom of both the designer and her husband, Raja, who helps with the business side of the company. Along with developing a workforce that includes those who are at the fringes of society, they look to hire a diverse staff that traditionally have been in conflict. In doing so they bring about a different type of restoration, that of reconciling people to each other and to peace. They are looking at expanding to the United States, keeping the same ethos and integrity for both people and designs.

[beyt] by 2b design’s work is not going unnoticed. In August of this year at a design fair in New York City the company received several awards. One was a “Best of the Best” award for social responsibility and ecological sensitivity from the American Society of Interior Designers New York chapter.

I love this inventive way of restoring the beauty and dignity of people while salvaging old objects and making them new. The candlesticks, lamps, pillow covers and more are pictures of God’s redemptive process and restoration of beauty. Even more so are the stories of people working in the company, salvaged and restored to dignity. In Him, author of all beauty,  there is worth.

Our guests gave us the candlestick as a hostess gift. I am in awe of their generosity, but even more so, I am grateful that I have this daily reminder of redemption and people who live out God’s vision for restoring our world.

[beyt] by 2b design will soon be selling through abc carpet & home. If you are, or know, an interior designer, let them know about this wonderful company and the unique vision communicated through their products. Also, be sure to check out their Facebook page by clicking here. You may not be able to buy one of their products but clicking the “like” button and posting their page on your wall is an easy way to bring awareness to this company and spread their vision. They can’t do it without others coming alongside them.

Bloggers Note: Raja and Benedicte are now partnering with Habitat for Humanity to restore the homes of those who work for the company. One more step of restoration.

Another view of the candlestick