Thursday, June 30, 2016

He Has Been Good To Me

I can't believe I've already been here 4 1/2 months! As I look back on my calendar, I see the weeks getting progressively fuller and fuller with appointments. Each day has been packed with adventures and I'm certain the ones ahead will be also. God has been good to me. Here are just a few highlights of my adventure thus far.
  • Tutoring students
  • Choir trip to Mouseitbeh church, which is linked to one of two elementary schools in Beirut
  • Birthday celebrations, farewells, baby showers, and baby dedications, usually involving a surprise cake and dessert
  • Move night with Sound of Music and singing along to old favourites
  • Staying up til past midnight to watch the Sharley wedding livestream in Washington
  • Preparing a program for prayer meeting
  • Camping at Baskinta, the church-owned property, and coming home at midnight because my friend got sick
  • Going to the airport to pick up the Jackson family & making sure they felt at home
  • Visiting Jeitta Grotto after 18 years
  • Sitting on many endless committees
  • Helping coordinate a campus-wide Bible game for about 60 kids and adults
  • Signing up to do laundry, as we get 2 times to wash laundry per week
  • Sitting on the roof in the dark, talking to God, as I see the lights of nighttime Beirut
  • Trips to Cheesecake Factory, Mr. Cocktail, Kurkouge, Zaatar w Zeit, and dipndip
  • Taking my laptop multiple times to be fixed
  • Visiting the Blue Mosque in downtown Beirut and wandering all over the place
  • Visiting Byblos & clambering up and down a tricky bit of rock to take selfies by the Mediterranean Sea
  • Visiting Harissa and taking the telepherique (cable car) to get to the top of the mountain
  • Hiking in El Chouf area two Sundays in a row, one over goat trails and the other by Niha Fortress and through a cedar forest
  • Teaching Advanced Writing in spring and then teaching an Intermediate Writing intensive in the summer
  • Changing jobs in June to be executive assistant to the president
  • Celebrating my birthday with a fundraising meal that raised nearly $500 for a refugee child to go to school
  • Learning how to order a fruit cocktail and manaeesh sandwich in Arabic

The Life of a Teacher

I don't think I'd make a very good teacher. I'm not patient enough, I don't know how to motivate students in a positive way, and my mind goes blank when I have to think of examples.

When I was growing up, people always told me I should become a teacher one day. To this day, I'm not sure whether they said it because I had several teachers in my family, because my mom home-schooled us, or because it was a good career that could help in the mission field. I always adamantly vowed I would not become a teacher and managed to avoid it both in college and after. The extent of my teaching was a computer class and a couple of modules for a leadership class.

Then I came to MEU and not teaching wasn't an option. I was assigned Advanced Writing in the ESL program the first semester. Thankfully, I also received a book that I could follow step by step and supplement as needed. My 7 students and I made it through the semester relatively unscathed and emerged with grades reflective of the amount of effort they put in. As I contemplated my teaching methods, I realized that I was not someone who teased out knowledge or asked students to think in a way other than they had before. I relied on their innate ability to motivate them and if they chose not to be motivated then I didn't push them. I didn't know how to. I'd spent my educational years breezing through simple classes or responding to teachers who challenged me. I didn't know how, though, to motivate students beyond the reward of a good grade.

Yesterday, when I was asking students to respond to questions about the reading assignment, one of them kept saying things that were not related to the answer. I finally said, I don't want you to just shout out anything. Take a moment and think about it. The student went silent.

Today, the students were in a giggly mood, not unusual if it would have been a bunch of teenage girls, but it was several guys and some of them appeared to be amused by a classmate's accent, unaware that they too sported accents of their own. I was frustrated because they weren't paying attention to the debate assignment and I do not tolerate making fun of someone in front of them so I insisted they stop laughing. I made eye contact with the offending students and spoke in a very serious tone of voice. I felt bad about taking a stand but I knew if I allowed them to push the boundaries, they would continue to do so and lose all respect for me. At the same time, a thought kept whirling in my head that I should have disciplined them with a soft kind tone of voice.

So there you have it. I'm teaching Intermediate Writing in ESL as a summer intensive and I have no teaching background, no ESL training, no textbook to follow, and precious little time to prepare as I'm also working as an executive assistant. But strangely enough, I'm excited about the class. As much as the students frustrate me, I love their personalities and how they express themselves. I finally finished putting together the course outline that will serve as a mini lesson plan and we're going to have fun playing Mad Libs and Balderdash, writing a group play, creating a comic strip narrative, and possibly even going on a field trip. And this is part of the adventure.

Whenever I find myself feeling like I'm paddling just to stay above water, I stop and take a breath and remind myself that I'm not indispensable, the world won't stop turning if I miss an appointment, and I'm here doing what God has called me to do. As long as I am faithful to His call, I need never be stressed or worried. I can have peace and contentment because He is holding my right hand and guiding me with His counsel (Psalm 73:23-24).

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Celebrate Life

At last! After wasting 30 minutes trying to log in to my account only to keep seeing a page with Arabic writing that made no sense to me, I switched browsers on my phone and was able to log in, still through an Arabic interface but this time I went by memory, as I typed in my username and watched it appear on the screen from right to left. This is one of the realities of living in a different country. It's funny how I easily get frustrated but then why shouldn't the default computer language in a Middle Eastern country be Arabic? As you've guessed by now, yes, my laptop is once again in the shop. I hope he can fix it but it may be time for a new one.

This week was my birthday week. To celebrate, several of my friends and I were planning to go out to eat but then I thought it would be nice to do something different. With the help of friends, I prepared a meal on campus. Instead of presents, I asked everyone to bring a donation for a very special project. There is a school nearby for refugee children but it only goes till grade 6. The director is planning to send 8 kids who've finished the highest grade there to continue studying at another Christian school. It costs about $1,000 per child. I was so pleased that the 25+ guests were able to raise $467 at the lunch! It was an enjoyable day but also very full with 5 hours of cooking and cleaning up after.

This week I also celebrated 4 months here. I have now passed the 1/3 mark. I'm surprisingly still not apprehensive about the future though this is only a1-year contract. I'm trusting God to clearly guide and intrigued to see how His plan will unfold. I can see looking back that He has been leading to this point. I'm also amazed at how much has been packed into these 4 months. I'm thankful for the experiences as they have helped me grow and filled my heart with joy.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Exploring the Beauty

This weekend has been full of activities. Friday I got a message saying three friends were going to see the Blue Mosque and did I want to come. I said of course, so after work and a farewell potluck lunch for a staff, I rushed and got ready to go. We took a service down to Dawra Square, it's sort of like grand central station and from there you can get buses or mini-vans to go wherever you'd like to go next. We found a mini-van and piled in. This one took us downtown and we just knocked on the window when we wanted to get off. It was the equivalent of $2 one way for both taxi & bus combined which is really handy. My friend & I didn't go inside the mosque since we peered in and didn't see any ladies inside so the two guys went in. Then we wandered all around downtown and took pictures with the must-have, the sign that says I Love Beirut. We ended up in Pinkberry where I tried the watermelon flavour which is really delicious.

We weren't sure where to catch the mini-van to go back to Dawra Square, but we started walking in the right direction. Sure enough, before long a min-van passed us and honked, we missed that cuz we didn't realize they'd do it but we were ready for the next one which slowed down, we hopped on, and soon enough we were back at Dawra. We got a taxi-driver and off we went, me wanting to stop at the ATM to get some cash as I was getting sorely low. I told the taxi driver I wanted to get out when we were coming up to the ATM, and he gestured towards the place and I still don't know if he said, see I remember you wanted to stop here, or if he said, see I understood what you were saying, but regardless, I got to practice a little!

Last night I picked up the book my brother gave me for Christmas and started to read some phrases out loud. I was surprised to see how much more made sense than 4 months ago. Now I'm starting to put things together. This morning Ana gave me a lesson on how to say, "I want, you want, she wants, he wants, they want," and now I can practice that. For example, I can say, "Ana badi wrouh al Dawra" which means I want to go to Dawra.

On the side, all the Brazilians/Portuguese insist I must learn Portuguese and so far I know noun and siin (no and yes) and hoy (hey) and lindo/linda (beautiful). My mind can't handle multiple languages though, so I think I'll focus on Arabic for now. Having a background in Spanish is slightly helpful, but the Brazilian Portuguese adds a lot of soft sounds to the words so you will hear "ch" while the Portugal Portuguese will say "c". So if I were trying to understand Portuguese, I'd do better with the one from Portugal.

This morning we were off a little after 8:30 in the morning. Four of the group went by taxi to Dawra Square and caught a different bus going to Byblos while the rest of the group went by car. We had a lovely time in Byblos, walking around town, seeing inside the castle, eating lunch, buying souvenirs. When we sat down to eat, we were given expensive menus with burgers and things inside. We immediately asked for the Lebanese food menu and that was 1/3 of the price! I loved eating the babaghanoush, hummus, potatoes with fresh coriander, and other local staples. 

Then part of the group went home but two of the guys and I wanted to go to Harissa so we took the bus, then walked for ages following a nice couple with a small baby who got off the same bus and knew where to go because they were going there too, and finally got to the cable car or telepherique as it's called here. It's quite a ride up, apparently a mile long, so it took at least 15 minutes to go up. A bit daunting to see how high up we were and of course the guys kept joking about what would happen if it were to break. At the top we saw the Lady of Lebanon, went up a bunch more steps, popped inside the church where they were having a service, and then went back down again.

Thankfully we could catch a bus right outside the telepherique and didn't have to walk ages back to the highway and before we knew it we were home. We did have to pay a little extra for the last taxi home because we were going all the way up to the university, but I paid a little less than $7 today total which I think is an excellent value for the amount of traveling I got in! I'm super pleased to be learning the public transportation system though I won't travel it by myself because I'm a little wary of that.

I love getting off campus and exploring this beautiful country. It's a wonderful excuse to walk without feeling bored, see new things, hang out with friends and get lots of sunshine.I'm looking forward to next weekend already and planning what I will do!

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Best Day

Today was such a busy day! After work and a farewell potluck for the person I'll be replacing, four of us hopped in a taxi and headed to Dora (pronounced Dowra) square where we caught a minivan to downtown. We saw the Blue Mosque (but only the guys went cuz we didn't have scarves and weren't sure if we could even go in), surreptitiously took pictures inside St. Georges Cathedral, and unfortunately didn't get to go in the synagogue because it was closed. Quite amazing to find all these religions within a few blocks of each other.

After a good walk around downtown and frozen yogurt at Pinkberry, we headed back by minivan and taxi to do some grocery shopping. We weren't sure where to catch the minivan but thankfully one goes by every 5 minutes and all you have to do is walk in the direction you want to go. Then they honk as they pass and if you give the slightest indication that you want to hop in, they swerve over to the side and you pile in. It only costs the equivalent of 67 cents to go one way which is really handy. Of course the seats are old and often there is a strong smell of body odor and there are no seatbelts, but we just hang on and push the window open a little further.

We were so thankful to find a staff member in the grocery store who was heading back up the hill so we didn't have to flag a taxi or walk up. Then I had supper (the caf makes a little bowl of soup for me each evening that isn't heavily seasoned so I can season it myself, which is quite nice), sent out the e-newsletter, and rushed to home vespers.

My calendar says, write it in your heart that every day is the best day in the year. I like it. I'm intrigued to see how God will continue to write this chapter of my life.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Loose Memory

I'm back and oh how happy I am to be writing again! Yes, you guessed it, my laptop had problems again. This time, when I turned it on I heard several loud Morse-code like beeps and then saw a black screen with instructions. The only problem was, my keyboard was once again on the blink so I couldn't do anything with it.

It took me about ten days to find time to make it down the hill to the repair shop. A man was repairing the mechanism that swings open the door, the metal arm at the top of the door, so I stood outside watching rather bemusedly until he stepped away to get another part. Then I knocked on the glass, he opened it part-way, and I squeezed inside.

The computer repair guy was lounging behind the counter as usual, on a stool so low I could barely see the top of his head. I hurried to tell him all about my problem. Not being technically savvy, I gave him some vague explanation about black screens and everything going dead. He calmly took the battery out and unscrewed the back cover. After poking around for a minute, he closed everything back up and turned on the laptop. It was fixed.

So what was wrong? I asked, wondering if it was something I needed to be aware of for the future. Apparently the RAM had come loose though I don't remember dropping the laptop. I was so thankful it was fixed though! So now I'm back in my room, happily typing away as fast as my fingers will manage while I think about the lesson one can learn from a simple thing like this.

I rely on my laptop for many things. I rely on it to check online accounts, order birthday gifts for family and friends in other countries, blog, write emails, and save pictures. While I can do most of that on my phone, the small screen is rather limiting and I can't Swype as quickly as I type. Besides, I'm old school. Just like I'd much rather read a paperback than an e-book (and I prefer paperbacks to hardcovers, much friendlier!), I'd rather type than Swype.

Not having my laptop for several weeks has been rather trying. Yet each time I got it fixed, it was a simple thing that didn't take too long or cost a lot. If I hadn't procrastinated the first time, I would have been able to use my laptop much sooner and be connected.

Using a laptop is like being plugged into God and having a real relationship with Him. Just like I stay connected to the world virtually, I stay connected to my source of spiritual strength. God has wisdom so I know what decisions to make, strength so I can make it through the tough times, joy to fill my heart, peace to be assured that I am in His will, and love to validate me, among many other beautiful qualities. When my laptop is dead, I am frustrated because I can't get things done as efficiently and effectively. Similarly, when I don't have a strong relationship with God, my ability to serve in ministry is limited.

Sometimes it's easy to make excuses. In my mind, if I have staff worship and prayer meeting or vespers or dorm worship in one day, I've had plenty of worship for that day. I'll find time to spend quality time with God in the beginning of the week and then coast on that for the rest of the week, bringing out the verses I'd studied to share at different occasions with different people so they don't realize I'm reusing the same thought.

I'm not saying it's wrong to share an encouraging thought with more than one person. What I am saying is that I'm becoming more and more aware of the need to have a constant connection that is kept alive with new understanding. This may be stretching it somewhat, but perhaps we can apply the new wine in old wineskins concept. If I have a new understanding about some facet of God's character, that understanding needs to be applied in a fresh new way. If I try to force that understanding into my old habits of doing things, it's likely that it won't be effective. But if I allow the new understanding to change my heart and be open to a new way of seeing God, then I can keep growing spiritually which will strengthen other areas of my life. As I regularly spend time learning about God, the Holy Spirit will bring new understanding that will keep the connection vibrant.