Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Making progress in Arabic

AS has been on our team for a month. She studied Arabic in college and has been studying with a tutor since she arrived. She shares the following story.

I have had one successful time of sharing truth in Arabic, and it was with a Palestinian girl. I am so thankful to God because He definitely gave me the words that I didn't know that I had. Drawing on words that I knew from another language and also a word that I had read in a book and happened to look up, I pieced together the Gospel message in Arabic!

Pretty exciting even though there was zero interest. I was happy because it was the first time I got to do that in Arabic, and how cool that it was with a Palestinian girl? Also, her family has relatives in the camps in another country, and they're going to give me info so I can meet them.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I Don’t Drink Tobacco Any More

Smoking here is part of the culture, just about everyone here smokes, I have even seen small children smoke in the streets on their way to school. Even if you don’t smoke, you often end up smoking someone else’s cigarette by inhaling their second hand smoke. There are no “no smoking” sections in this part of the world. You can smoke in restaurants, taxies, government offices, and just about anywhere. There are even restaurants that specialize in people who what to smoke red hot ambers through a tall water pipe and a plastic mouth piece, which in the west I am told, is called hubbly bubbly. There are a few names for it in Arabic but I just call it annoying and nasty.

Often while traveling in taxies I am asked if I would like a cigarette. I of course say no thank you, but I feel like telling them that they can save money by not offering me a cigarette because I am going to smoking half of theirs through second hand smoke anyway. I have recently learned that one way to say “I don’t smoke” in Arabic is to say “ma bashrabsh dukhkhaan”. This is literally translated as “I don’t drink tobacco”. Well I thank Jesus that by his grace I do not drink tobacco any more. Maybe this phrase comes from the hubbly bubbly water, but I do not think they drink the water, but I would not be surprised. I do not want to sound very negative because there are some things to be thankful. I am thankful that I live in a part of the world where alcohol consumption is rare so the temptation to use alcohol is not present because, I don smoke alcohol any more either.

Now I have to admit I am an ex-smoker and they say that ex-smokers are the worst when it comes to complaining about smokers. But maybe that’s because we know better now that we don’t smoke anymore and can feel the difference. When you quit smoking you can breathe better and actually taste things when you eat them. Oh and we don’t smell like an ashtray anymore either. Well at least not before we get into the taxi. Sometimes I wonder why I take a shower or wash my cloths.

However, I do want to take this situation and bring glory to God. I recently read a book where the author had the same problem when he was in this part of the world. He says that when the taxi driver asked him if he wanted a cigarette he would refuse and then use it for an opportunity to witness to him. He would start by telling the driver he did not smoke because God gave him two things, time and a body. He would also tell them that one day we will all have to answer to God how we used them. Both the author and I do not want to have to explain that we wasted any of the good things He has given us. I think I will try this next time someone offers me a cigarette instead of complaining to myself about it.

posted by LR

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Situation in Lebanon

The situation in Lebanon is almost incomprehehisbly complex. The issues that led to Lebanon's civil war have never really been resolved. The following article published earlier this week explains some of the background of the problem as well as the current crisis.

One fact to remember: Lebanon’s 400,000 Palestinians remain among the most downtrodden refugees in the Arab world, enjoying few rights and facing strict restrictions on the kind of work they can do. Most are limited to menial, low-paying jobs and face significant prejudices.

Dozens Slain as Lebanese Army Fights Islamists
New York TImes
May 21, 2007

TRIPOLI, Lebanon, May 20 — Fierce clashes erupted between Lebanese Army soldiers and Islamic militants in the vicinity of a Palestinian refugee camp here on Sunday, leaving 22 Lebanese soldiers and 17 militants dead and dozens injured in one of the most significant challenges to the army since the end of Lebanon’s bloody civil war.

The confrontation with the Islamist group, Fatah al-Islam, raised fears of a wider battle to rout militants in the rest of Lebanon’s 12 refugee camps, where radical Islam has been gaining in recent years. That, in turn, raised the possibility of a deadly conclusion to the crisis, placing strains on the embattled government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

While anxious not to seem weak in the face of the militant challenge, military experts say, the government and the military also want to avoid any scenes that might draw comparisons to the Israeli attacks on Palestinian camps in the West Bank and Gaza.

Many of the complex crosscurrents of Lebanon’s politics were on display in the crisis. The army, under an agreement with the Palestinian leadership and Arab countries, was not allowed to enter the camp. Lebanese citizens, who hold the Palestinians responsible for sparking the civil war in 1975, cheered the army on the streets of Tripoli and outside the camp.

Syria, which Lebanon accuses of backing Fatah al-Islam, closed several border crossings in the area. And the fighting broke out just as the Security Council had taken up a resolution to try suspects tied to the February 2005 assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri. Syria has been accused in previous investigations of ordering the killing, but vigorously denies any connection.

Tensions rose further late Sunday night when a car bomb exploded in a nearly empty parking lot in a Christian section of eastern Beirut, killing one person, wounding 12 others and sparking fears of an orchestrated terrorist campaign. Last month, Lebanese authorities charged four members of Fatah al-Islam with bombing two commuter buses carrying Lebanese Christians in another Christian district.

Fatah al-Islam has been a growing concern for security authorities in Lebanon and much of the region. Intelligence officials say it counts between 150 and 200 fighters in its ranks and subscribes to the fundamentalist precepts of
Al Qaeda.

The group’s leader, Shakir al-Abssi, is a fugitive Palestinian and former associate of
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia who was killed last year in Iraq. Both men were sentenced to death in absentia for the 2002 murder of an American diplomat, Lawrence Foley, in Jordan.

In the six months since he arrived from Syria, Mr. Abssi has established a base of operations at the Nahr al Bared Palestinian refugee camp on the northern outskirts of this city, and the scene of the fighting on Sunday.

What began as a raid on several homes in Tripoli in pursuit of suspected bank robbers connected to Fatah al-Islam quickly escalated into an open confrontation with the group at their stronghold in the camp.

Three soldiers and four militants were killed in the early morning confrontation, said a Lebanese security official, who was not authorized to speak publicly. Hours later, they said, militants tied to the group attacked an army patrol in the Koura region south of Tripoli, killing four more soldiers. The gunmen also attacked soldiers who were passing by unaware of the fighting, said Lebanon’s information minister, Ghazi Aridi.

The fighting raged throughout the afternoon at the camp, home to about 40,000 refugees, as army reinforcements rushed to the scene and tanks began shelling targets in the camp. Militants who had taken positions around the outskirts of the camp fired back, keeping the army at bay.
Four children and three women were injured in the shelling, said one medical official, who requested anonymity because his organization forbids members from speaking to the news media. But residents inside the camp, reached by telephone, said at least two civilians had been killed and more than 45 had been injured in the shelling. There was no independent verification of the residents’ claims.

By nightfall, the army had regained control of several outposts surrounding the camp, but the siege of the camp continued. Soldiers manned checkpoints in the area and filled the streets late Sunday night and armored personnel carriers rumbled through the city.

Many residents of Tripoli welcomed the army into town, and onlookers clapped whenever tanks fired shells into the camp, bringing to the surface longstanding tensions between Lebanese and Palestinians.

“This should have happened from the start,” said one man, who stood in a crowd of onlookers as the tanks fired into the camp. The crowd shouted, “God is great, and God protect the army,” with each shell fired.

“We wish the government would destroy the whole camp and the rest of the camps,” said another in the crowd, Ahmad al-Marooq. “Nothing good comes out of the Palestinians.”
But military experts said a direct assault on the camps would be a grave mistake. “We cannot afford to have that here,” said Elias Hanna, a retired army general, who warned against a direct assault. “This is not a question of the army’s capabilities or its professionalism. You simply can’t send the army into the camps to arrest 200 people without paying a heavy price in civilian casualties.”

Residents of the camp said that water and electricity had been cut off, and that an effort to convince the militants to hold their fire to allow the Red Cross to evacuate injured civilians collapsed because the Lebanese Army said it could not guarantee the medics’ security.

Lebanon’s 400,000 Palestinians remain among the most downtrodden refugees in the Arab world, enjoying few rights and facing strict restrictions on the kind of work they can do. Most are limited to menial, low-paying jobs and face significant prejudices.

Some refugee camps, in turn, have become fertile ground for growing militancy, especially focused against Israel.

In recent years the ranks of religious militants bent on a broader jihad have swelled, as some have traveled to Iraq to join the insurgency there and, more recently, have returned to establish movements of their own within the camps.

“The army will not be able to defeat them,” said Ahmad Skaff, 20, who lives near the camp, and who said he watched the militants gather outside the camp early Sunday, carrying rocket propelled grenades and other heavy weaponry, ready for a fight. “They are fearless; they will slaughter the army.”

The bomb in Beirut exploded just before midnight on Sunday in a parking lot behind a towering shopping mall called ABC and next to a multilevel garage. There was no clear target, though it may have been aimed at moviegoers who sometimes leave the mall around midnight. But the lot was relatively empty at the time of the bombing.

The explosion shattered the windows of apartment buildings and stores for blocks around. Fire trucks and police vehicles inched their way through the crowded, narrow streets toward the site. Lebanese soldiers in berets and green camouflage fatigues pushed back hundreds of people trying to shove their way into the area, many snapping photos with their cell phones.
“We thought the building had collapsed because it was so strong,” said Hamid Saliba, 39, as he and his wife gingerly stepped through the debris of her mother’s apartment, just a few hundred feet from the blast site. A painting of Jesus Christ hung askew on a wall.

Edward Wong contributed reporting from Beirut, and Nada Bakri from Tripoli.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Thoughts from a friend in Gaza

We received this last week from a friend living in Gaza. He has some deep things to say about the situation in Gaza and our response. Take a few minutes to read and pray - both for the Palestinians in Gaza and for your self!

As I write these words today the streets below my apartment are rather empty. The Palestinian Interior Minister resigned just hours ago and the situation is once again taking a turn for the worst. When the situation becomes too unstable I have the option of leaving here, I can leave Gaza and never come back. I can run from this world of discomfort, of poverty and lack of security. But I can’t and won’t, because it is for the other, rather than for my-self that I believe I exist.

It takes a re-shaping of the habits of my mind and heart to reach even partially this world-view. Today fear fills the hearts of Gaza’s people. A fear that they may one day return from their perpetual search for charity and donation empty handed (80% of Gazans are receiving international food aid); a fear of waking to another day of hopelessness (70% of Gazans are either unemployed or largely unpaid government employees); a fear that the economic disaster they are experiencing today may overcome their lives (60% of the population live under the poverty level of $2 per day); a fear is that this economic crisis will divide the entire population in inter-factional feuding and result in a lawless chaos as factions and political parties vie for the little power that does exist in Gaza.

All this could be prevented, but it takes a perspective of the conflict that includes a memory that goes back further than just a couple years, one must go back to the start. Prior to 1948 and the creation of the state of Israel the Gaza Strip did not exist. On that fateful day nearly 60 years ago a majority of the ancestors of Palestinians living/imprisoned in the Gaza Strip today, walked the dusty paths to this plot of land. On that day their future was determined to be confined in this space, which only then was renamed, the Gaza Strip, a prison with borders to keep in an unwanted people. 200,000 refugees were added to the 70,000 living in Gaza City and its surrounding cities at the time. Life began in UN tents and over the course of these 60 years those rows of tents have become overcrowded and inhumane refugee camps, where families listen to their neighbors’ conversations and private interactions, where sickness spreads with ease, where children play in sewage that runs down narrow streets. I have come to find that the injustice of this world exists to maintain the status quo of the ease of life of the upper class, to keep comfortable those already living in comfort, to keep wealthy those living with wealth, to keep secure those living in security.

The root of what is considered a social or political sickness is a matter of interpretation. My perspective as either oppressor or oppressed, whether I am aware of it, will determine how I see the world around me and may well determine my social and political views until I am shaken awake to reality, somehow. This explains the saying that one person’s terrorist becomes another’s freedom fighter. The great women and men of history are those that have been able to step out of their perch of comfort and identify with the one that is colonized, the one who is deprived of human rights, the one that is abused, the one who is forgotten by the mighty of the world. From a place of comfort it is always easy to consider the oppressed, a victim of her own lack of perseverance, his inactivity or her idleness. From the eyes of the individualist where one is always considered able to “make one’s self”, the fault lies with the victim. It takes an awaking, a metamorphosis to be able to place oneself in the shoes of the other, and there staring at death to gain new eyes that condemn one’s own inactivity and idleness in the face of the oppression that one’s very existence executes on the oppressed. Some of the worst evils we commit are the ones we are unaware of. My heart burns for these, the oppressed.

Recently I have been challenged and consoled by a prayer of St Francis’ of Assisi. Francis was a man who chose to leave behind the splendor of a bourgeois life to serve and live among the poor, no doubt he was familiar with the suffering of the oppressed. These words are powerful in a world that is more prone to raping, economically, politically, sexually, than to giving.

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon;Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;Where there is sadness, joy;Where there is darkness, light;
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
Not so much to be understood, as to understand;Not so much to be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.