Refugee/Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Appeal - September 2017

The Outreach Foundation celebrates your continuing generosity to our Refugee/IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) Appeal. Your gifts have allowed us to undergird the ministry of our partners in the Middle East as they work to renew hope and healing in Christ’s name. The following story was written by Julie Burgess, a member of West Hills Presbyterian Church in Omaha, who has traveled often with The Outreach Foundation to the Middle East.

The Gift of Grace

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 1:3)

We know that grace is a gift of God and it comes through Jesus, as Paul so aptly reminds us when he begins his letters. 

Grace to you

There is a ministry in Beirut, Lebanon, where those words are not only lived out, but they are lived out literally by a woman named Grace, who is a gift of God to the thousands of refugees who have found their way from the war zones of Iraq and Syria to Our Lady Dispensary. Our Lady Dispensary is housed in a nondescript building supplied by the Syrian Orthodox Church whose bishop is in the church across the street. It is one of those places where the phrase, “you can’t judge a book by its cover” comes to mind. Walking up the steps in the dim hallway to the second floor makes you wonder what good could possibly be in this place, and then you arrive and the door is opened by a woman with a face made to smile: Grace Boustani.

Grace is a social worker by training and a woman who understands the ravages and theft of war as she grew up in the middle of the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-1990. She knows that God has called her to serve and she finds joy in answering, obediently, that call. She leads this small ministry (which is under the “umbrella” of the Middle East Council of Churches) that does great deeds knowing that God is her strength and without him all is impossible.

Over several visits in the past few years with The Outreach Foundation to this Spartan second floor flat, I have met a number of women who can testify to the gift of God’s grace and peace in Grace:  Shmouney, Wafa, Nawal, and others, have come to Our Lady Dispensary (OLD) seeking resources for medicine, food, rent assistance and clothing, as all they owned was left behind in Syria and Iraq. With the kind of seven-loaves-and-two-fish-feeds-5,000 miracle of Jesus’ day, Grace and OLD have been able to provide the needs of many on a postage-stamp sized budget, with help from gifts like yours. They have provided days out for women who are overwhelmed with the needs of family so that they might have a bit of rest. They have run trauma healing workshops and camps for women and children, reminding them of God’s grace and peace in the midst of trauma. This is the ministry of grace and peace that Paul writes of in those letters.

On our recent trip in July, while part of a team led by Marilyn Borst, the Rev. Nancy Fox, Outreach’s board chair, and I had the opportunity to step out of the second-floor OLD office and get in a taxi with Grace to have two visits with two women who have received this grace – and Grace – in their temporary homes in Beirut.

Afaf and her husband fled Aleppo with their three daughters in 2012. A middle-class family like many of us, they had a business and a home. As extremists came to Aleppo, they really had only two choices: stay and most likely be killed for their faith, or flee. Taking nothing with them, they chose the latter and left their store and all they owned behind. They dressed their daughters in full coverings in case they came upon insurgents on their perilous journey. Traveling from Aleppo to Latakia, they eventually came safely to Beirut, where Afaf and her husband live in a tiny one-bedroom apartment with an even smaller kitchen/bathroom. For these meager accommodations, they pay the princely sum of $300 per month. This is difficult to manage since it is illegal for Syrians to find jobs in Lebanon, and Afaf’s husband has a back injury. Two daughters have since married, but their youngest is studying math in a Beirut university. Afaf suffers from severe rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes. Her $1,300 per month meds plus daughter Gisele’s school fees have exhausted the meager savings they had access to. Afaf met Grace through a medical awareness session at OLD, and Grace and the ministry have been able to help with some rent assistance and some minor medical expenses. Sitting with Afaf and hearing her story, it is hard not to break down but… grace and peace to you rings loudly in our hearts. Through God’s grace and peace provided through gifts to the Refugee Appeal of The Outreach Foundation, we could provide the $800 Afaf needed so that her daughter could enter her third year of university. And even in the midst of this life far from home, Afaf can give thanks to God as she sees her situation as so much better than others around her.

We leave Afaf’s house with Grace and walk just a few steps across the street and up another flight of stairs to Nasra’s house. Nasra and her family fled from another one of those places you have heard of in the news: Mosul, in Iraq. Nasra and her family are originally from the Baghdad area of Iraq, but the war in 2003 forced them to flee to safer places, if that is how you could describe Mosul in 2003. They left Mosul because their 14-year-old son was killed in 2009 for $200 because he was Christian. In 2015, their other son died in a traffic accident, leaving a wife and three children, one of whom never met his dad. Their flight from Iraq took them through Erbil and eventually to the neighborhood of OLD in Beirut. This extended family of about fifteen lives in three bedrooms with kitchen and bath that costs $600 per month. Nasra’s husband receives about $200 from a pension as a retired government worker. Their daughter-in-law works cleaning bathrooms at a school for about $300 per month – one of the only jobs available for refugees. Her daughter Sarah has been to a trauma camp run by OLD. Here comes that grace again… She was described to us as a child who came to the camp uncommunicative and unable to relate to others. The girl we met ran into the room with a friend, fresh from school where she is excelling, laughing and ready to play. This family also benefits from monthly food coupons through OLD. Nasra’s response to all the loss, chaos and trauma of her life? Thank you for all the graces you gave me.

It is a privilege to represent The Outreach Foundation on days like this. For every bit of tragedy and loss that we share in these brief moments with families, we are given the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ in their responses to what life has brought them. We are privileged to share those moments with Grace, whose love for God’s people and whose peace in the chaos of these visits is palpable in our midst. We join in prayer together for them and for this world, that grace and peace would flow again in their countries and in thanksgiving for the work and witness of Our Lady Dispensary.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus.”
(I Corinthians 16:24)

Julie Burgess    
West Hills Presbyterian Church    
Omaha, Nebraska

Gifts for the Refugee/IDP Appeal may be made by clicking HERE or by sending a check to our main office.

Read more about the Refugee/IDP Appeal by clicking HERE.

Nasra (back row, left, wearing black) and her family – from Mosul to Beirut via Baghdad. A journey from despair towards grace and peace...

Nasra (back row, left, wearing black) and her family – from Mosul to Beirut via Baghdad. A journey from despair towards grace and peace...