Unreached Network

Insights into Cross-Cultural Mission – Part 3

Insights into Cross-Cultural Mission – Part 3

This blog was first posted as an excellent and insightful three part series at Insights into Cross-Cultural Mission

You can read parts 1 and 2 here:

Yes and No (Part 3 of 3)

“That’s it. It’s time to move on.” As I took one last look around the now empty apartment it hit me. This was it. We weren’t coming back again. After more than 5 years in Lebanon, it was time to go back to the UK and restart our lives all over again.

I shut the door, turned to walk down the stairs and then stopped, my heart hammering…. I’d left my wallet on the side and shut my keys in the apartment with no way of getting back in! Memories of our first day in Lebanon, all those years ago, flooded back! How were we going to break in this time!? The balcony. Yet again the balcony was the answer! If I could somehow get onto it then I could get back inside as the door never locked properly. I quickly apologised to the taxi driver, who was waiting to take us to the airport and hunted round the back of the building for a ladder. No ladder was to be found. Who could I call? It was the middle of the day and most of our friends were at work. Suddenly, I thought of my friend, Abdul (not his real name), who was the handyman in a building nearby – and ironically the brother of the man who had tried to climb onto our balcony on our first day in Lebanon! – He would have a ladder.

I found him and quickly explained the situation. After a lot of laughing (on Abdul’s part), he got the ladder and set it up. Immediately, we realised that it wasn’t going to be much help as both Abdul and I are quite short and there were at least 7 or 8 feet between the top of the ladder and the railings around the balcony. We needed another plan! At this point, the taxi driver came and said with a smile, “You need someone taller.” When we agreed, he continued, “Someone like me!” And that’s how we ended up with our taxi driver balancing on a ladder and hauling himself onto our balcony so that I could retrieve my keys and wallet on our final day in Lebanon.

Not only did it seem like an appropriate ending to our time here (given what happened on our first day) but it also highlighted what we would be missing when we returned to the UK. That sense of community where everyone is looking out for each other and where people expect the unexpected to happen. There in Lebanon, although we always felt like outsiders, we felt included and part of a community that was bigger than just us. I knew the names of the shop owners on our street. The men who worked at the petrol station on the corner of the road said hello to our son when we walked past and the old man who lived opposite loved to come over and have a chat when he saw us on the balcony. That’s not what life in the UK was like. We knew that when we lived in the UK, everything would be different. Not necessarily wrong or bad, just different. And that ‘different’ would take a lot of getting used to!

“I bet you’re glad to be back aren’t you?” Someone asked as we walked into church a couple of days after landing in the UK. While I knew that he meant well and I could understand the heart behind his question, that here in the UK we had family, electricity, stability and many other things that we didn’t have in Lebanon, in reality, I could see that he just didn’t get it. “Yes and No.” I replied quickly before turning to be greeted by another well-meaning well-wisher.

Yes and no. Here and there. Lebanon and the UK. These were all phrases that we were having to try to explain to people as they asked us questions in those first few weeks of being back. Yes and no it is good being back. Here and there are both the easiest place to live. Lebanon and the UK are both our home. We were now living in a world that was full of shades of grey and not the nice, simple, black and white that most of our friends in the UK experience in their normal lives. Don’t get me wrong, we were glad to be back and to have family close by rather than on the other end of a Zoom call. Glad that our children would get to play with their cousins and see their grandparents. But then, on the other hand, our hearts were also breaking over the fact that we had good friends, friends who we had shared life with for 5 years, who we may never see again so no, we weren’t glad to be back. Yes and no.

Life in Lebanon had been so different to life in the UK that it’s hard to put into words how different. Even seemingly simple things like traffic lights mean something different. Here in the UK, green means go and if they’re not green you should be slowing down or stopped – even my 3-year-old knows that. There in Lebanon, it’s a bit different. Green still always means go but red doesn’t always mean stop. Before the serious power outages, red used to mean that a couple of cars could go through and then you’d have to stop when the oncoming cars got too impatient to wait any more. Now, where traffic lights might not even have power, drivers can’t wait for a green light before they go because they don’t know if there is any power or if the red bulb has simply broken so they go anyway, slowly nudging into the middle of the road and hoping that other cars slow down! Do you have to stop if the traffic light is red? Yes and no.

We had spent 5 and a half years learning to live in a world of grey and strangely, that understanding was proving helpful in returning to life in the UK. Not because the UK had suddenly changed from a ‘black and white world’ to a ‘shade of grey world’, but more because we were so used to living in that type of world that moving back just added an extra layer to that already normal feeling of ‘both and’.

‘Bayna khubz wa mileh’ translated literally means, ‘Between us is bread and salt.’ And is an expression used to speak about friendship. Between friends, there is always food. You can’t eat with someone if the relationship has broken down because you only share food with friends. We have been privileged to share food with some amazing people. Whilst they didn’t have a lot of material possessions and, more often than not, couldn’t really afford to feed us, so many of our friends honoured us time and again by sharing their food with us.

During our time in Lebanon, we lost count of the number of meals that we ate with local friends. Sometimes these were lavish parties with mountains of rice and lamb where the whole community was coming together for a wedding or other celebration and other times, they were simple meals of chips, fried cauliflower and tomatoes sat in a little hut at the entrance to a carpark with a refugee friend. Each time though, we knew that we were building relationships with the people that we were eating with. Food is something that is enjoyed among friends. It’s also a way to say goodbye. In our last few weeks in Lebanon, we had a lot of last meals with people, sharing food with them for what might be the last time.

Seeing the importance of food reminded us of the story of the last supper. Jesus sat, eating with his friends and sharing food with them. Then comes the moment where Jesus announces that the one who will betray him is the one who dips his bread into the same bowl! This is shocking! There is ‘bread and salt’ between Jesus and this man and yet he is planning to have Jesus killed!

It also reminds us that when John writes in Revelation he speaks of a wedding feast that we, as believers from many tribes, tongues and nations, have been invited to. Not only did Jesus sit and eat with one who would later betray him but now, because of him, we are invited to sit and eat at the wedding supper of the lamb. We, and all those who have come to know Him from around the world, are included as friends. How amazing! Whilst we may not see our Syrian and Lebanese friends again on this earth, because of what Jesus has done we know that we will sit and eat with them again. Between us and them and God there is bread and salt.

You can read the previous two blogs in the ‘Insights’ series here:
“What are we doing?” I asked myself as I sat in the toilet onboard a British Airways flight to the Middle East with tears rolling down my cheeks. “What on earth are we doing?”
“We all tried to convince him that there must be another way but he insisted so I found myself, a day after moving to Lebanon, holding on to this man’s belt, praying that he wouldn’t fall to his death as he tried to break into our apartment! “