I Choose Compassion

By Tony Rodarte | March 08, 2019

Melody and I had the opportunity to attend a service trip to Lebanon with our church last week.  Our purpose was to provide health screening assessments to Syrian refugees.  A small group of health care providers made the trip with us.  Everyone paid their own way over and took vacation time from their jobs to be able to participate.  We teamed up with a Lebanese non-governmental organization (NGO) that caters to the needs of all refugees.  Due to the complexity of the work being done, it is best not to identify this specific NGO.  Just trust that this organization is doing amazing work and having massive impact in the region.  I hope to be able to highlight this organization in the future.

We were able to see patients in several parts of the country.  We provided very basic health screenings.  It was the only health care access that many of the Syrian refugees had received in a very long time.

During half of our trip, we provided care to refugees in Eastern Lebanon.  We were focused in the Beqaa Valley.  We could see a massive mountain range to the east.  Syria was located just on the other side of the mountain range.  To put it in perspective, it would be about a 75-minute drive between Zahle (Lebanon) and Damascus (Syrian).  We were that close to Syria.

I also want to be clear that this blog is not an attempt to fully explain the refugee crisis in the Middle East.  I’m not in any position to attempt such a task.  This blog is simply my attempt to share what we did and the stories we heard.  I want to give a voice to the families and share their stories.

Syria has suffered a violent civil war for almost a decade.  Millions of Syrians have been displaced and fled to surrounding countries.  I’m not even completely sure how many Syrian refugees have fled to Lebanon.  I have heard differing accounts.  It is probably closer to the two million mark.  I’m not even sure if there are exact numbers kept anywhere.  The feeling I got was that country of Lebanon does not want the refugees.  They just simply tolerate them.

At one point Syria occupied Lebanon for decades.  Bad things happened during this occupation.  Lebanese were often times the victims during this occupation.  So, as you can imagine the tension between both countries runs really high.  This really makes for a hot topic.

We choose to look at what we are doing through a Christ focused lens.  We will not simply discard a people class in desperate need of basic human rights due to the actions of others.

We choose compassion.

Everywhere we went we had translators with us.  However, I found that in most tent communities there were a hand full of children that could speak English fluently.  I would find myself seeking out the children to have conversations. I would then ask the children to introduce me to their parents and give them the opportunity to share their story.  Every single family I spoke with did not want to be living in a refugee tent community in Lebanon.  They all wanted to be back home in Syria.  They fled violence and were frustrated that they were in a country that did not accept them. They felt like they had no value.  These were painful stories.

Many of those we met were professionals from various walks of life.  I spoke with physicians, teachers, skilled trade workers, etc.  They were saddened that they could not work in Lebanon and use their skills.  They just wanted their voice to be heard.  I would find myself leaving our makeshift clinic to go interact with families and just spending time being present and listening.  Often in our culture, we talk way too much and listen way too little.  I intentionally tried to just be silent and listen to the stories.    When I did speak it was very short and precise.  I made sure they knew that they had value.  I made sure that they knew that they mattered.

These tent communities consisted of makeshift tents with no running water.  They had limited heating sources and very limited electricity.  The bathroom was simply a hole in the ground.  Multiple families were often times living in a single tent.  They were very cramped spaces.  Yet they would offer us anything they had as a show of appreciation for coming into their communities and offering help.  It was both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.  Lots of emotions.

Although this was my second service related trip to this area, it was my fifth total trip to the region.  When I return home, I always find myself processing the service trips differently.  It’s the little things like going to the grocery store that have a whole new meaning. I also find myself mildly impatient with gripes or complaints that I hear about that involve the most mundane issues back home.  I wish more people would take a moment to appreciate what they have and everything they have been afforded back home.  There are so many people from around the world that would love to have a very small percentage of what so many have in our country.  Appreciate what you have.  But don’t take it for granted.  There is always someone, somewhere that has nothing.

I get that not everyone can travel so far to offer help.  But we all have an opportunity to help in our own communities.  I challenge you to find something you can do that has impact and lean into it.  Get uncomfortable.  Go outside of your normal routine.  It will fill you up more than you realize.

There is still so much good in this world.  Find that good or be that good.  Make a difference.

In closing, I just want to send a heartfelt thank you to the amazing team we traveled with. You absolutely made an impact.  I’m a better person from spending a week with all of you and seeing you interact and show love with no boundaries.  You represent the good.  You represent His hands and His feet.  You represent compassion.

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