Lebanon/Syria Day 2: Confronted by Grace
Mark Mueller, for the team
On day two of our trip to Lebanon and Syria we made a stop at Our Lady Dispensary, established in 1983. Housed in a small Beirut apartment provided by the Syrian Orthodox Church, this organization has done and is doing incredible work with those less fortunate in Beirut.
Our team met with Grace Boustani, the director of Our Lady Dispensary (OLD). She provides care for the poor of Beirut as well as the tens of thousands of refugees living in Beirut from Iraq and Syria.
Grace and her staff often meet families that have been displaced by war. These families, many using any form of transportation to flee Iraq and/or Syria, simply show up on the steps of OLD needing assistance. These refugees have only the clothes that they wear. The fortunate ones have found living quarters with relatives. Most have no access to doctors. Many have no source of income since jobs are not only hard to find in Beirut, but it is illegal for non-citizens to be hired. Almost all of them gladly accept food and helpful suggestions about how to survive these difficult times. OLD helps everyone in every imaginable area from every faith tradition and background.
These people that show up at OLD and that we call refugees need most everything. In addition they have been traumatized by war. Their homes have been destroyed. Loved ones have been killed or separated from each other. Most report not feeling human.
And then they meet Grace Boustani. I simply call her Grace because she lives out her name. She has been providing grace since starting work for OLD in 2000.
The work of OLD is quite compelling by any standard. Last year this tiny 800 square foot facility provided support for nearly 1,200 families. The families were able to visit one of four volunteer doctors. Depending upon the situation, OLD might provide a vaccine, a medical consultation or trauma counseling sessions for children. Maybe the family needed a $30 food parcel. Whatever the case, Grace found a way to distribute grace.
Grace has a degree in social work. She came to OLD hoping to help people. What makes her work so compelling for me is she is Lebanese. She serves many Lebanese at any hour of the day, but Grace also serves many Syrian families. The Syrian army destroyed her home and her way of life in Lebanon during the civil war of 1975-1990. I really don’t know how Grace is able to do her work day after day in this place. How does someone keep their sanity in a land with so much suffering when you have suffered as well? But Grace does the work with relative ease. She loves people. She lives out her faith trusting God each day to provide the necessities of life to those in desperate need.
Our delegation listened to one story among millions while we were at OLD. We listened to Reem, a young woman who fled from Iraq in 2015. Reem had a nice life in Iraq prior to then. She had a good home, a wonderful husband and two beautiful children. Then the Iraq war moved very close to her home, and she and her family fled north to Mosul, Iraq. It was in Mosul that Reem found a teaching position in the school system. She taught math and adjusted to this new life in Mosul. Then ISIS showed up one morning. ISIS gave her family fifteen minutes to gather their material belongings and leave. Reem was pregnant with her third child at the time. The family left immediately and walked the next day to a village controlled by the Kurds. It was a church that opened its doors to Reem and her family in that village. Reem’s family and fifteen other families stayed at the church for seven months.
Reem had tears in her eyes as she told her story. This experience would be forever etched in her mind and heart.
Eventually, Reem had a chance to get her family out of Iraq entirely. They came to Beirut. They had no material possessions. Like others, they arrived on the steps of OLD where they met a woman by the name of Grace. Grace met them there. She gave the family medical aid and a food parcel.
Reem now had a smile on her face as she finished her story. Reem works with Grace at OLD. Her children (ages 3, 6 and 9) attend school. Her husband works as a welder.
It was into this setting that I found myself today at OLD. I was confronted by Grace. I felt privileged to simply be in the same room with her and others that have pulled alongside those who have suffered mightily. Naturally I was overjoyed to bring vitamins and medicines from the U.S., as did my other colleagues on this trip. Grace was speechless as I opened my suitcase and displayed fifty pounds of medicine. My medicine that survived immigration and customs inspection will now be given to help those whose lives have been shattered by war. They will be given as another means of grace offered by a woman named Grace.
Today was a great day to visit with Grace because today was a day that I felt we expressed tangibly our love and support of the refugees and of the ministry of Our Lady Dispensary.
Rev. Mark Mueller
First Presbyterian Church, Valparaiso, Indiana