Beauty From Ashes: Us And Them
In April 1996 Lebanon again was faced with tragic conditions. A new war erupted on the Southern boarders, and as a result thousands were displaced. Within few days, west Beirut schools turned into refugee camps. World Vision, as usual, was fast in responding. I was in the team that worked on the ground with other NGOs to release relief to the refugees. World Vision staff, the Red Cross and other many international and local NGOs worked together packing boxes for the refugees. Although the majority of the displaced were Muslims, World Vision decided to add small New Testament books in Arabic. Thankfully, the committee didn’t object, but they thought it was thoughtful to do that in mid of this terrible situation.
After two days of intense work and packing, the committee asked us if we can spare some staff to go with the Red Cross for the relief distribution. I volunteered not knowing that this trip would change me for good.
The war in Lebanon is not something new. It started when I was very young, around age 8, and lasted for almost 13 years. During this time, Beirut was separated by demarcation lines between East and West, Christians and Muslims. There was always “Us and “Them.”
Sadly, the environment that we grew in created this fear from “Them.” “Them” are the enemy; they are after to destroy us. On the way to the schools where most refugees were, thoughts were rushing in my head. This will be my first time I get close to “Them.” I didn’t know what to expect. They knew we were Christians from East Beirut, what if they attached us? What if, what if.
We got to the school and a woman by the name Iman introduced herself. She was taking charge of the situation, although she was a displaced herself. Then Iman took us to the rooms where the refugees were staying. The rooms were dirty, the windows broken, and kids running around. No utilities, no running bathrooms, even writing this after so many years makes me cry. I stood there and I saw “Them” are exactly like “Us.” The same pain, the same worries, the same faces. Their smiles and tears showed how grateful they were. I went in and sat with the ladies on the floor, talked with them, cried with them gave them big hugs. There were no more “Us” and “Them.” I told the ladies that with the soap and shampoo there were small gifts of the New Testament and asked if it was ok. Iman gave me another big hug, and said it was Allah’s word and it is a gift to accept with pleasure.
The assignment ended, but the work in my heart didn’t end. I went back to packing with new attitude. Now, I knew how much these boxes will make a difference, and I could relate to their fear, pain, hopes, and worries. The most important thing, in my heart there was no more “Us” and “Them.”
by Hilda Kernc, WOV Chicago, IL and former staff WV Lebanon (1988-2003)