FAITHFUL WOMEN ON THE ROAD: Beirut, Lebanon July 24, 2015

Three of the eight women who make up our team arrived today in Beirut after making their way from Atlanta and Omaha, landing on a beautiful sunny and warm day at 3:30 p.m. local time. Nine (or eight) time zones from home, we are settling in and waiting for the rest of our team to arrive in stages over the next few days.

First things first: hotel check-in, cool beverages and pizza!

Sitting there getting acclimated to the Hamra neighborhood where our hotel is, our very first bit of God's grace rounded the street corner we occupied: Dr. Mary Mikhael, retired president of the Near East School of Theology.

Retired is an adjective that only describes the noun president before Dr. Mary's name. Her days are filled with service to the kingdom as she acts as a liaison between the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon and the churches therein.

Dr. Mary Mikhael, retired president of the Near East School of Theology in Beirut, and Nancy Gatzke of Omaha, Nebraska, meet for the first time.

Dr. Mary Mikhael, retired president of the Near East School of Theology in Beirut, and Nancy Gatzke of Omaha, Nebraska, meet for the first time.

Mary's news for us as we shared this precious time together was hard to hear on our first day, but that is why we have come. And we offer these stories to our Lord in prayer tonight and ask you to join us:

Assis Suheil, the pastor of the church that meets at the seminary each Sunday, reported as he preached of the personal tragedy their own family is dealing with just this week. Daughter Grace, 19 years old and a university student, suddenly stopped breathing last week. An emergency visit to the hospital and four days in the ICU show a tumor growing on her lung. Nineteen years old and cancer should never be in the same sentence, and yet there they stand. Grace's message to her family and to us is that her faith is in the Lord and he will walk with her.

Mary spent time visiting her 92-year old mother in Mashta Helou, Syria, this past week. The refrigerator was empty as electricity is so spotty that food cannot be kept there. Mary went to a store to gather some shelf-stable foods like processed cheese, canned meat and vegetables to feed her mother, a caretaker, and her brother's family who share the home, maybe a week's worth. The cashier said, "5,090 Syrian pounds. But I will round off the 90." 5,000 Syrian pounds is the monthly salary of a civil servant in Syria. How are these families able to provide for themselves with the crushing weight of wartime inflation and lack of supply?

Mary was contacted by a European agency to write a story of the environmental impact of so many refugees in Lebanon. "Where do I start?" she asked, and then went on. "Let me tell you of a man I visited in Syria this past winter whose garden contains a tree. He told me that he had to apologize to the tree because he needed to cut it down to provide warmth for his family."

Apologize to the tree...

"But I do not want to tell you only sad stories," she said. "I want to welcome you and to tell you good news!"

And then she went on to tell of another project that she and her committee are working on. It seems there is a church building in the Bekaa Valley that will (hopefully) soon be transformed into a school for Syrian refugee children. Nearly $125,000 of the $230,000 project cost has been raised to equip the building, find teachers and gather the Syrian curriculum books for 200 students, so that one day they can return home and be up to speed in their home educational system.

And through all this conversation, Mary reminds us that God is faithful, and he asks us to look in his eyes and walk out on the water and trust him.

He is here. He is with us. And tonight we find him in Mary's stories and Mary's words and in the faith of nineteen-year old Grace.

And that is enough for the first day.

Julie Burgess