Often her petite feet are simply wearing a pair of flat ballet like shoes. Practical. Inexpensive. Slip-on, slip-off. Easy. Yet, I learned over the Christmas break that there is nothing easy about filling her shoes for even a tiny fraction of what she does. She may be petite, but her work is huge, as she leads our refugee school. I had the honor of trying to take two steps in her shoes, while she stepped out of country. I stumbled and I fumbled, as there is nothing petite or dainty about my feet, but it was my first true taste of hands on humanitarian work with the refugees and trying to meet a fraction of their needs.
It all started back in November when dear State side friends offered to send some money for a need. They asked where it needed to go. Knowing that the money crises in Lebanon was seriously taking its toil on the refugee’s I asked if they could direct it to help feed refugee families. There are 25 identified families, in our refugee school, that have no income coming in. NONE. When I told our school leader, Alexis, that money was on the way, she rejoiced, and asked if I would help get the food boxes ready for distribution while she was away on the school holiday. What a great opportunity to engage my attention over the break. I eagerly accepted, wanting to learn and start to help in a meaningful way.
An outstretched hand is not an uncommon sight in Lebanon. Often children are begging on street corners. Many times, they are selling tissues, or single roses, or simply they are there with the saddest faces and outstretched hands. I vacillate about what is the right response, knowing that often they are being forced to work by an adult. One boy knows our van and comes running up to it and beaming with a smile before he even arrives knowing that he will get a bit of money. The other day we were doing the same for some pre-teen girls when suddenly, one flung herself on our open widow, screaming words we didn’t understand in Arabic. All we understood was the desperation. It was the most conflicting experience I have ever been through as I had to brush her hands away and drive on. I share this with you in contrast to preparing the food boxes for the Syrian refugees. The children on the street corners, we question if our helping really helps. Where with the families, their situations are known by the teachers as they do house visits each week. We know that this is life giving food.
Part of the preparation for stepping into my friend’s petite shoes included going on an evening grocery trip with her. Learning where she purchased food, how much she paid for different items and how she got around the recent food limits (4 of each item). I was amazed at her frugalness. Every third of a Lebanese pound was important to her and within myself I questioned why this was so important. I mean, wasn’t ease of shopping, convenience, and unlimited supply more important than saving a few cents? I quickly learned that those little bits quickly add up into much when you are multiplying times 25. This was probably the biggest lesson I learned, as my ambitions and mercy were big, but the budget only stretched so far. My petite shoed friend, Alexis, is well versed in how far a Lebanese pound will journey.
As we prepared the food baskets, phone calls were made to the families to come and get the food. Within an hour, they were all there to pick up their allotment. No excuses made. No, “I am too busy”, responses. Many asked for food for their friends. Its hard to say, “No, this is all the money we have for these 25 families.” That was the second biggest lesson I learned. That if I want to continue stepping in my friend’s shoes or even walking beside her in my own shoes, I will have to toughen up and recognize our limitations. That compassion must have boundaries.
I gave out cooking oil when I shouldn’t have. I gave away food to someone who was only supposed to get diapers. I messed up the cycles and made more mistakes than I am even aware of, despite most of the shopping being done for me by a guy who had access to cheaper food in a far away town. Yet, despite my clumsiness I will always remember the two steps I took in her shoes.
It was life giving. It was humbling. It had purpose. It taught me more than a 2-credit master’s class could. And it left me in want of more opportunities to squish my feet into uncomfortable places and to journey into sections of town that the poorest live and to speak their language and to press into hard places.
Perhaps you long to help? If so, feel free to message me and I can give you more information. Maybe you are part of the people that have already given and if you are please know that your generosity has made me weep. And if this is the time that you cannot give, it’s ok, just pray for God is not limited by human resources. He is faithful and He will provide.
Whether we live far or near to the refugees, we all have the option to step beside my friend and journey with her. One step or two. Clumsy or graceful, but not easy. Thank you Alexis for all you do.
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