Lebanon #10: Opening the Eyes of the Blind

by Julie Burgess, for the team (West Hills Presbyterian Church, Omaha, Nebr.)

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. (Mark 10:51-52)

I have arrived safely home in Omaha, but have the great privilege of wrapping up our series of blogs for the 2019 faithful women trip to Lebanon. Our last visit before coming home closed a circle that Susan Parker began when she led her devotion about starfish with the story of blind Bartimaeus, the end of which appears above.

This last visit was with the Blessed School, which began life in ministry as a school for the blind in Beirut, established by Presbyterian missionaries in 1868. With the development and teaching of Arabic Braille, the ministry of this amazing place has shifted to those on the autism spectrum and those with Down’s Syndrome. There are still a few blind students here, who also fit the new mission. Most amazingly, the elderly man who developed Arabic Braille, now in his 90s, still lives and teaches here!

With around 85 students, this is a place of bright colors, led passionately by Linda Maktaby, a graduate of the Near East School of Theology, the reformed seminary in Beirut and longtime partner of The Outreach Foundation. Given the chance to take it on for one year and leave if it wasn’t a fit for her, she is now in her sixth year of leading with love. Love is everywhere, in every person who serves. Blessed takes only the hardest cases, those rejected by others, and the transformation of lives is evident.

Her theme for this year is “I deserve and I can.” It is not “I deserve so help me,” but a statement of the abilities, the worth and the gifts of each and every student. This is not a place where donations are made to help those who cannot help themselves, but a place where skills are learned to be used. There is a bakery, and the students here make baked goods (seriously great brownies!) to sell to other schools. They learn carpentry and weaving, to create products to sell so that they, too, can buy things for themselves. We were introduced to two upperclassmen who are soon to begin jobs in banks in Beirut. And music. Oh the music! They have their own band led by a teacher who has himself lost his sight. Even though only Lebanese students get government support, Linda accepts Syrian students and staff as well, because no one else will.

As I sit at home writing this for you on behalf of our team, I circle back to Susan’s devotion about starfish and the story of blind Bartimaeus. Thirteen women from the U.S.A. have been on a journey for almost two weeks, walking along the shores where there seem to be so many starfish in need of flinging back into the ocean for new life. Here we have found many little girls in the form of ministries like Blessed School, Hamlin Hospital, Our Lady Dispensary, and the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon who have looked beyond the overwhelming number of starfish to one-by-one offer new life, as Jesus offered sight to Bartimaeus. We have had a front row seat to see and even to join in. We have been the flingers of starfish and we have been starfish flung into the ocean of life by those we came to be with. We are humbled by the gift.

Having now returned home with a new vision, we continue to follow Jesus on his way, sharing this good news. Thank you for traveling with us.