Monthly Archives: May 2016

Numbers and Humus

Posted By Scott Campbell
May 3, 2016
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We’ve arrived in Lebanon. A short drive to the hotel, check in and soon we are meeting in a small conference room on the top floor of our 8 story hotel. Our hosts, MCC Representatives (who for security reasons will not be named in these posts) are sharing with us an overview of what we can expect over the course of the trip.

What strikes me immediately is just how many statistics one can get lost in. Allow me to pull out a few for you:

– 9 million people live in Lebanon with over half considered “in need”

– 5 million displaced Syrians and 320,000 Palestine refugees currently in the country

– 1 in 3 people in Lebanon is displaced from Syria or Palestine

That gave me some sense of scope and it’s big. Of all those in the last 90 years, the Syrian refugee crisis is MCC’s largest humanitarian response. These kinds of numbers can quickly become overwhelming. So where to start entering into what is taking place in this country which is no larger than Cape Breton Island?

– MCC is working with 14 partner organizations and a total of 38 active projects

I’ll learn more about these partners in the coming days, but for now I can say that MCC partners are organizations, mostly in-country, that MCC works with and supports in order to increase the partner’s capacity and impact.

– Among the refugee population in Lebanon, there is a 70% poverty rate, which means the vast majority is living on less than $6/day

– 80% of refugees are in debt

Years of conflict and instability in Lebanon has meant that core infrastructure is in disrepair. You should expect 3-hour, scheduled blackouts each day. The country is also taxed by the influx of displaced people, which Lebanon’s infrastructure is not able to support. What can the government do in this situation? A discussion about Lebanon’s government is likely a whole other post, but let me say for illustrative purposes that municipal elections in Lebanon are taking place during our visit. These are the first democratic municipal elections in 6 years. Stay tuned for the results.

If you’re like me, I start to zone out when the numbers get to be too much. I have a similar response when I hear the news alerting the viewing public to the number of citizens killed in some attack or bombing. Or the number of people trying to float across the Mediterranean for help. The numbers are important, but they can get to be too much.

Tonight, I focused on a single number: One. One dinner in Beirut. My first authentic Lebanese meal. We walked a block from our hotel to a restaurant that we were told serves authentic Lebanese food. Well, I’m a fan. Of course the humus is outstanding, but so is the chicken and these fried cheese rolls whose name escapes me. Speaking of cheese, for dessert we ate some kind of sweet, soft cheese wrapped in pastry. So good.

A city of contrasts
A city of contrasts

In the book I’m reading, “Beirut Noir,” the first line of the introduction reads, “Beirut is a city of contradiction and paradox.” Tonight that manifests as some amazing food set against a backdrop of poverty and generational conflict. Tomorrow, I’m sure this theme will emerge again. We are spending time at a seminary. We’re going to hear stories from Syrians. I’m not sure how to prepare to enter into these stories of despair and hope. Perhaps I’ll enter in as I did tonight – I’ll be overwhelmed one moment and less than an hour later delighted by treats. Perhaps this is how I live my everyday, in tension, pulled between the good and the bad in life. Maybe the only difference is that this reality is amplified here by the extremes of the situations.

At the end of the meal I thanked our waiter by saying “shokran,” meaning “thank you.” I could have said “Kill shee tamaam,” meaning “everything is perfect.” Knowing some of what is happening in Lebanon, it seemed like an incongruous response.

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Beirut Noir

Posted By Scott Campbell
May 2, 2016
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Several years ago I was working for an organization that was doing development work in Swaziland, Africa. Within the first two weeks of starting in that role, I was on a plane to visit the work first hand. As I write this I’m sitting in the lobby of an airport hotel in Frankfurt Germany, hours away from getting on a flight to Lebanon to experience firsthand MCC in action. Our group of 11 will witness both the front lines of the Syrian refugee crisis and the development and peace making work that has been taking place for years in this country before the current refugee crisis hit the headlines.

On my initial trip to Swaziland, I brought along a book to read titled, “28: Stories of AIDS in Africa” by Stephanie Nolen. At the time, Swaziland had the highest HIV/AIDS rate in the world. This crisis was the impetus for the development work being advanced in a small town called Bulembu. I found that reading the stories and first person experiences of those most affected by this crisis amplified the experience for me. Not only was my own story unfolding but it was being informed by a narrative that was the undercurrent of my interactions with the people I met and worked with in the country.

“I hope to bring back with me stories and messages of impact for you as an encouragement and as a “thank you.”  Those of you who choose to live generously through MCC are not merely a partner or a donor… You are living out the MCC vision to share God’s love and compassion to all in the name of Christ…”

So in planning for this trip to Lebanon, I sought out a companion book. When it’s time to call it a night this evening, I’ll start in on “Beirut Noir,” edited by Iman Humaydan Younes. This book is an anthology of 21 Lebanese writers from different neighbourhoods in Beirut. I’m hopeful this book will do for my experience of Lebanon what Stephanie Nolen’s book did for Swaziland.

In the days leading up to my departure, my wife Margaret pointed out that “not everyone gets to visit Lebanon.” True. Though the country and the surrounding regions have been very much top of mind for those who follow the news, I don’t think it’s been a prime vacation destination for most since the most recent round of conflicts. So I feel a little like a proxy for all of you who have given so generously of your resources to support those in great need in Lebanon, Syria and the Middle East generally. I also feel like an ambassador for those who have been such faithful givers for the years and decades previous. I hope to bring back with me stories and messages of impact for you as an encouragement and as a “thank you.”  Those of you who choose to live generously through MCC are not merely a partner or a donor, though these titles are appropriate. You are living out the MCC vision to share God’s love and compassion to all in the name of Christ, and therefore, really are so much of the heart of this organization.

The time change is starting to affect the weight of my eyelids. Tomorrow will come more quickly than I expect I’m sure. Time to try to get a good sleep so I can be ready to take in whatever is in store.

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