Lebanon #9: Mourning into Dancing

by Rev. Kate Kotfila, for the team (Cambridge United Presbyterian Church, Cambridge, N.Y.)

“You have turned my mourning into dancing” Psalm 30:11

I always thought that the Psalmist was describing a linear experience. First comes mourning at loss, calamity, or heartache and then through the gauntlet of grace, mourning is transformed into joy. First mourning, then joy. Today I learned that each can overlap; not first and second but both at the same time.

Our team heads once more up the mountains surrounding Beirut. The scenery competes with my morning drowsiness – but the beauty wins. Magnificent hills and valleys are covered in the deep green of summer. Pines, crowned at the top with branch and needle, reach high into the air only to give way to homes perched precariously on mountain ledges. We travel through villages of sandstone punctuated by flowering bushes of vibrant reds, pinks, orange, and purple.

Our destination is Hamlin Hospital, a home for the elderly. We will host a group of Iraqi women who depend on the support and love of a ministry partner of the Outreach Foundation. These women lost everything in the deadly expansion of ISIL in 2013-2014. They lived in communities whose names we know through the newscasts at the time, Mosul, Baghdad, Basra. Some were rushed out of their homes without notice, simply because they are Christians. Others watched their neighborhoods leveled by bombs. They arrived in Lebanon with very little, and even less hope that they would ever be able to return to Iraq. Since then, they have waited. And waited. Filling out form after form, receiving the good news that they are fully vetted, still, they wait. While in Lebanon they cannot be legally employed, they live in cramped quarters meant to be temporary. Life continues to be a daily struggle.

Today will be different, we hope. Today these dear sisters will spend the day in lovely Hamlin, and we will do our best to be “skin-on Jesus.” They pile off the bus and immediately feel the beauty and restorative peace of Hamlin (just like we did.) Sana Koreh, director and chief visionary for the center, ushers them onto a shaded terrace where we greet one another with smiles and handshakes. Soon we are at tables making beaded bracelets, mostly replacing language with smiles and lots of oohs and aahs as we appreciate one another’s work.

Then later, as we gather in a circle, someone starts singing and soon others join her and start dancing. Others, including the Americans, are drawn into the dance. Arms raised, hands clapping, simple footwork, lines formed and dissolved, everyone giving themselves to the dance. Later in the evening, Lois Andrews led a Bible reflection highlighting the word – ‘wholehearted’. Our dance is wholeheartedly full of joy.

Amid unremittingly difficult circumstances these women dance with joy. “You have turned my mourning into dancing,” the Psalmist said. These Iraqi women are living witnesses that “suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope” in God’s realm. They en-flesh Paul’s benediction, “May the God of all hope fill you with joy and believing so that you may abound with hope.”

After a typically lavish meal together, the time draws near for these dear sisters to return to their complicated lives. Our parting is filled with four-cheek kisses, some tears welling up, and a new connection of hearts to each other. This taste of paradise will not soon be forgotten by any of us.