Catching my Breath
Greetings. Friday, June 28 was Commencement—156 graduates. Three days later, summer session began. For myself it has been the first time since arriving in Lebanon that I have been able to “catch my breath” and reflect on the past year as well as make plans for the upcoming year. It has been a challenge to review books online, looking for something that is more appropriate for my context. I invite you to think about the criteria: progressive yet respectful of the more traditional, academically responsible (this is a university) yet not so deep that one loses the stories themselves, be appropriate for an international context, current, and have English that is appropriate for people who speak it as a second language.
Planning off campus activities for next year involves respecting current realities about security. The zone of what is perceived as “safe” in this country has shrunk: in large part by Syrian conflicts spilling over the border, especially in the Shiite/Sunni communities. Lebanon needs to be kept in your prayers. Sadly, almost every outing I want to do next year involves destinations outside the currently perceived “safe zone.” This is a part of the world where such can quickly change. It means developing two and three plans for each activity: one hoping for things becoming safer and one if things change or become worse. Many would suggest, be practical and only plan for what is guaranteed safe. I confess that I am uncomfortable with such limitations. The world in which we live gets smaller, and a part of education is about stretching. One might also suggest this is part of our Christian faith, turning outward rather than turning inward. I also note, the more I am in this country, the more I identify and learn about some of the places with interesting Christian connections—many of which are in those areas that are perceived as unsafe, and yet appear to be safe. Many are also places not commonly visited by the Lebanese. It is a dilemma.
Lebanon continues to be overwhelmed with more than its share of problems: political, social, economic (the economy is shrinking and tourism is minimal), the military is respected but weak (historically it has been kept weak by its neighbors and the US) and many groups have a supply of military grade weapons. Lebanon has not completely rebuilt since its own Civil War and the 2006 war with Israel.
As you are aware, Lebanon has an ongoing influx of refugees. There are the obvious tent villages and the less obvious–living with family and friends, or simply moving into the “second home” of a family member. As many of these relationships became long term, corresponding issues have developed. Family members stop talking to each other. Some have been thrown out. The following example from a recent conversation is common. She talked about her family’s three bedroom apartment which has been hosting her family and one other for almost a year. Her parents have a bedroom, she and her siblings have a bedroom, and the other family has a bedroom. Her father covers most bills related with the household. Fortunately, the father of the second family is able to work a little and covers his own children’s student fees and some additional expenses. What is togetherness in the short term becomes a source of tension as it stretches on indefinitely. Many such situations exist—the not so obvious refugees.
Starting next week, I will have two weeks filled with interviews of students seeking financial aid. These interviews each last ten to fifteen minutes. We may talk about goals, family, money, anything. The goal is for me to get a sense of the student, who they are, and their circumstances. I then give a verbal report at a Financial Aid meeting on each student and am part of the final decision.
Spiritual Life—my main responsibility. Haigazian students have a deeper religious connection than the average American of the same age. There is a belief in God and a respect for religion that is broader than in the US. It is more complex than this as many are also aware of how fanatical some religious leaders and their followers can become. I feel blessed by the number of students who are intentionally a part of Spiritual Life. One needs to remember that this is a commuter campus. Students only come on campus when they have classes and remain on campus between classes. Getting to campus is not always easy. The students who are involved in Spiritual Life for the most part live at home, attend their churches on Sunday, and are involved in their youth groups. These youth groups are age 30 and under and usually meet weekly. In other words, they are being taken care of spiritually off campus. Being involved on campus is an extra layer of spirituality. Thus the challenge is to be respectful and supportive of the ongoing home connection while at the same time offering something for campus that is both about creating community AND something that is unique. I continue to learn how best to fulfill this need. It is a gift to be in such a situation.
Grace and Peace,
Bruce Schoup serves at Haigazian University, Beirut, Lebanon as Chaplain.