Audio: Sadness and gladness in Lebanon

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When Phil and Sylvie Good set out for Lebanon as new mission partners, they began working with a church and serving Syrian refugees. “The scale of what happened to them became more apparent as I got to know them,” says Sylvie. “Total lack of future.”

In the face of this seemingly overwhelming situation of despair, Phil and Sylvie took the attitude of “do what we can”. Jenny Muscat found out what this means on a practical level, and how some people even say they are glad to have become refugees. To find out why, listen to the interview.

Reflection questions for groups

If you are listening with your small group, you may like to reflect on some of these questions together:

  • What was the one thing that most struck you when you were listening?
  • What phrase or thought found an echo in your own experience or spiritual journey?
  • Were there any common threads that linked the mission work of the people you’ve listened to and the needs of your local area?
  • Does what you’ve heard inspire you to do anything in particular in response?
  • What one prayer need will you commit to carry with you over the coming month and regularly pray for?


Jenny Muscat: Hi, this is Jenny, and I am with Phil and Sylvie Good, who have come into the CMS offices while they are on their first home leave after heading out to the Middle East a couple of years ago. So welcome back. And could you tell us a little bit about what you’re doing?

Sylvie Good: Well, we started off to go as administrators, which we are doing, but everybody did tell us just to, you know, just do what God brought along. So he brought along some administration and some other things. I mean, Phil’s mainly involved in administration and I am half involved in administration and I do little bits with the life centre church in Beirut and I help them with their children’s work as well. And Phil works for the second church, Resurrection Church, Beirut. And you can tell them what you’re doing.

Phil Good: Yeah, we’re in Beirut, in Lebanon. We live in amongst the – what you might call the slums of Beirut, the poorest part of Beirut. And we work with a church in – that’s based in there. And another church slightly further away. So I’m working with the two areas of the church, working one – with the partner relations, helping to do communications with the supporting churches in the West. And I’m also working amazingly on a process flow analysis of all the processes going on in the church. So you can tell by this that it’s quite a big church doing a lot of things and got lots of processes. So, yes, they’ve wanted some help to try and document those processes. So I’ve really enjoyed that because I’m actually meeting people who are doing lots of interesting things in the church.

Jenny Muscat: Right. And are they aiming to kind of make sure they’re not duplicating or make processes more efficient or are they just get a handle on what’s happening?

Phil Good: I think they’re worried about people leaving and not being, not knowing what they were doing. So, because I think in the church in Beirut and with many mission churches, there’s quite a high turnover of people coming and going. And so the – if someone leaves, if they take all the skills with them, then they don’t know how to replace them. So, yes, so then trying to document it.

Jenny Muscat: Always good to hear that people’s gifts and skills are being used in new contexts, and so in terms of the news, what people kind of perceive over here when we think about Lebanon, refugees is obviously a huge topic that comes to mind. And just the numbers in Lebanon are huge. How, how did you find it when you first went out? Kind of just the scale of the refugee crisis.

Sylvie Good: Yeah, I think when we first went to Beirut. In a way you half don’t notice for a while because you’ve gone to a completely strange context and then you begin to work out that this group of people dressed in this way are Syrian and this group of people dressed in this way are Lebanese. And then you begin to notice, gosh, there’s so many of them, so many people here trying to live their lives. And I think for me anyway. I think the scale of what has happened to them became more apparent the more I got to know them, and the more we went past the, the normal things of meeting and greeting and actually sitting down and seeing what went through their minds and hearts and what their total lack of future. Total lack of future. They have no hope because they’re not allowed to be in Lebanon. Their husbands aren’t allowed to work. How do you, how do you get enough money to feed your family, let alone raise them? And that’s, this long term issue is what really burdened me.

Phil Good: Yeah initially the, especially, it just seemed like everybody you met, you would receive more information about how hard it is and how many obstacles there are to living a normal life. And it just seemed like one need after another. And then you’d meet another family and it would be another set of needs. And everybody you met was needy. And that was very difficult. It was like a sea of humanity all in need. It was quite overwhelming.

Jenny Muscat: So how do you kind of, work in the face of that? How do you deal with that?

Sylvie Good: What you feel? For me, I sort of split it down into doing what I can do. And I end up ended up doing a lot of work with the children. Children tend to – there’s so many of them, but they tend to skull around in the Middle East. And we gathered them together and started a play group. And this was for the children to keep them more productively learning during their play rather than just skulling around, as I said. So now they have toys to play with and things to think about and get a little bit of food. They have interaction with each other, with adults, and they love coming. And it’s mainly for the children, but the moms come and help me. And it’s been such a benefit to them because they have some productive work to do. They have somewhere to go each day. They’ve got more of a routine to their lives and they come together and talk together and share together as well. So what benefits the children also benefits the mothers. And so it’s breaking down to the things that you can do that helps because you just can’t do everything. Oh, yeah.

Phil Good: In many respects, you can’t, you can’t do anything at all. And for me, the living with that was initially very difficult. But then you began to find that the people we know have all become Christians in this situation. And so they have a faith. And you discover that their faith is the same as your faith and you find that you have a love for them, which is independent of the circumstances. And that is, and you recognize this love in yourself as the love of God for people, for people, whatever their situation. And that became quite exciting to go and meet with people in need, but not to see them as people in need, but see them as people who are receiving God’s love. And to that very overused phrase, being a channel of his love, you do find that actually that is quite a good description of what’s going on. Even though we don’t have very good language, so we can’t express it in words just by being in the room with them while the – while the smell and the noise and the damp is around you. Just this sense of God being in the room with you makes it so different and you realize that you’re bringing something into that room that is transcendent, that is above the apparent despair that you would naturally feel. So it’s a great privilege to be a bearer of such good news.

Jenny Muscat: Right. And yes, I think the way you put it earlier, I think you’re sort of bringing God’s love on the one to one level on the individuals you meet rather than attempting to deal with an international crisis.

Sylvie Good: Yes, I think that’s God’s job.

Jenny Muscat: Yes, absolutely. Are there any particular stories that have stuck out or where you feel like you’ve, particularly, you’ve just been struck by God at work.

Sylvie Good: There’s one little story from a lady who’s actually gone back to Syria now, but they struggled to get food, to buy the food, because they where they get their income from, I don’t know sometimes. This lady, her husband was out of work. She didn’t have – she’d run out of food and she went to bed and she said to the Lord, I have not, there’s no food for the breakfast in the morning. There’s nothing. I know. And she just left it at that. Lord, I’ve got nothing to feed my children with in the morning. They went to sleep. As she got up in the morning and in her little kitchen area, there was enough bread to feed the family. She asked and asked and asked, and she doesn’t know where that came from. I don’t think it came from anybody. I think it just appeared. Yeah.

Phil Good: Yeah. There’s lots of stories really. A lovely story I think was a new disciple. Christian, Muslim convert was um, had a dream. And in the dream, the, Jesus appeared. No, this isn’t unusual there. This happens quite often. And Jesus was talking about this word that she didn’t know what it what it meant. It was it was baptism. So the next morning, she goes to the Christian says, what is this word? And I thought that was just beautiful because you didn’t even know what baptism was. It was a word she heard in a dream. And yeah, God was challenging her about going the next step in her faith. And I loved it. It was just in a dream overnight. There’s many phrases that you hear. One of the very telling phrases that you hear from the refugees is we’re glad we, we came to Lebanon as refugees because we have found Jesus in this place. And you know, that idea of being glad that you became a refugee because of the good news that you received. It’s amazing.

Jenny Muscat: It’s very humbling. I think the other think people might be curious about having seen Lebanon in the news over here in recent months as obviously there’s political turmoil, there’s protests and revolution going on. Yeah. What is it like living amidst that?

Sylvie Good: It started off being a bit scary. Then it calmed down, but it  and, in a sense, it was, strangely enough, quite wonderful because as everybody will recall, the Lebanese civil war was between Christians and Muslims. But this time, all the Christians and the Muslims are together. They are all agreed that they need to change their ruling elites, as they’re called, who have done them no favours. And everybody has come together as one nation for the first time, really. So that’s wonderful in itself. But after we got over the, that time of feeling together as a nation, then it’s it’s, it’s got to the stalemate stage where we’re now just wondering what’s happened next. Because as, I’ll pass over to Phil on this one, the economic situation is crumbling, absolutely crumbling. And the knock on effect of that is day by day, you wait to see what’s going to happen. But the price of food has already gone up a third of what it was. And as I just said, the refugees couldn’t manage it before. So how in the coming months they’re going to feed themselves? I don’t know. I don’t know, I really don’t. How do you think the economy is?

Phil Good: The economy is getting worse by the day. And that is having the biggest impact on people’s lives. The cost of food, the cost of anything, really. So you go to the shop and you buy something and the price on it is no longer relevant. You don’t know the price until they tell you. But typically, it’s 20 percent or 30 percent up. And that, that will cause more of a problem, really, than the actual political, the political problem is that they don’t have a government and they’re finding a solution, is a long journey, but regards to daily life. People are amazingly adaptable. You see pictures of life in Lebanon during the civil war where people trying to live a normal life and carry buckets of water from the stand pump. And it was a bit like that when it started off for two weeks. Everybody was almost in hiding. The banks were shut and the schools were shut. But then gradually everything returned to sort of normal. But life is less predictable. So there’s always a threat that the roads might be closed in the morning, so what we planned for tomorrow might not happen. The schools might have to shut suddenly and so the mothers won’t be able to get to work. And there’s just that sense of unpredictability and uncertainty that I think has changed the way people view everyday.

Sylvie Good: I mean, we work mainly with the Syrian refugees and the impact on them is that a lot of them have lost their jobs because they weren’t supposed to, but they did work in construction. But that’s just crumbled and stopped. And a lot of businesses are shut. So even the little work they were doing, they’ve lost their jobs. And for the Lebanese, they got on. A lot of people are on half salary and some people they can’t afford your rent on half salary. So they’re moving in with relatives. And this adds to the tension in the country because you’ve got a lot of families living on top of each other now, which tempers rise even more. So it’s always been a tense place, but it’s getting tenser. I think that’s what we feel.

Jenny Muscat: So how can people be praying for Lebanon and for the two of you in the coming months?

Sylvie Good: I think for Lebanon, that they would find a stable government that would get an interim government which is going to be more stable than the current one. That’s quite hard to explain. They need to find a new government anyway of people that everybody will trust. That is an important thing to pray and to pray also that the Hezbollah don’t take this to a violent situation. At the moment, it’s peaceful. If it stays like that, they’ll be fine. I think, they will sort it out eventually. For us, more Arabic. Yes, we need to learn to speak more Arabic. I can speak a bit, I can say [speaks Arabic], very good. Which means Lebanon very hard, which you hear every day. But we need more Arabic in order to better communicate more easily. Do a lot with Google Translate and mime at the moment. Yeah.

Phil Good: Yeah. I think praying for Lebanon, really, it’s that there are men of violence around in the Middle East always. And so it’s to pray that they, they would be frustrated and that the peace would continue. To pray for us, I think our health and our vision would, would maintain that we would stay healthy and we would have a vision of what we should be doing on a day by day basis. Yeah.

Jenny Muscat: Great. Well, thank you very much for taking some time to talk to me today.

Sylvie Good: Thank you Jenny.

Jenny Muscat: And we’ll be praying for you as you head back out.

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