I’ve been traveling 9 hours. There are another 7 hours before I arrive in Beirut, Lebanon. I carry all of the items that make me somebody: passport, cash, tickets; possessions of all kinds. While I wasn’t warmly welcomed at the airport lounge (Is it the running shoes and hiking pants?), at least I was granted admittance and received the free wifi service provided to American Airline customers in Chicago.
Now, sitting and drinking a cappuccino in the striking arrival hall of Heathrow airport, I’m thinking of how my journey to Beirut couldn’t be more different than those I am soon to meet. The ones I’ll see tomorrow are those who have lost nearly everything in a desperate bid to stay alive. They have traveled without documentation, sold what possessions they could and traveled in a shadowy underworld of smugglers and traffickers; shuffling between darkened minivans and vacant apartments as they try to find a place to start their lives again. They are refugees looking for a home.
They didn’t start out that way. The refugees flooding out of Syria were once rug dealers and restaurant owners. They had homes – some had two. Some speak multiple languages with multiple degrees. Others lived simple, unencumbered lives, tending their farms, raising their children, practicing their faith, planning for weddings and birthdays. They were like you. And me.
Now they are squatting in abandoned construction projects, sleeping in alleyways and squatting in the public parks. The lucky ones who haven’t yet run through their savings are paying upwards of $500/month to rent delapidated one-bedroom apartments around Beirut. According to the U.S.State department report, as refugees continue to pour into Lebanon wages are plummeting (as competition for jobs increase) while rents and prices are soaring.
Here are the numbers – fresh from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees:
- More than 4,835,000 people have left Syria
- 51 % of these refugees are under the age of 18 (40% are under the age of 14).
- Turkey has taken in the largest number of Syrian refugees to date(1.6 million) followed by Lebanon (1.2 million) and Jordan.
- Right now, one out of every four people in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee.
I’m no political junkie, but I have to wonder how long countries like Lebanon and Jordan – already stressed by fragile governments, Hezbollah violence and dismal economies – can hold up under the weight of these humans.
So why am I going? you may ask.
I’m going because in the face of the greatest migration in human history there is no doubt where Jesus would be. I’m going because wherever Jesus is, his people –the church! — are there too, though sometimes we have to strain to see her and listen closely to hear her.
I’m going because I don’t think any of us can “sit this one out.” I’m going because there will be a future day when someone – God? or maybe just my kids or grandkids – will ask me what I did to follow Jesus in the midst of the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time. And I want to answer with integrity.
And I’m going because I know I’m not going alone. I’m going on behalf of a lot of people who can’t go personally but want an onramp by which they can follow Jesus by loving their neighbors halfway across the world.
Keep reading in the days ahead. I’ll share everything I see and hear. We can learn together.