Short-Term Gifts, Long-Term Needs in the Middle East

Sarah, one of our US staff, shares about her experience with outreach during a recent short-term trip to the Middle East.

We spent an afternoon traveling to a disadvantaged neighborhood where some of the team’s partners have been working to engage a poor community of children. We were warned that they were not an easy crowd. In preparation, we had a detailed list of activities and a plan to tell a story and teach art through interpreters. On arrival, we realized the supplies we needed were not in our bin. Nothing planned ahead of time was going to be feasible. While we scrambled for a new plan, the police and neighboring guard arrived and wanted to know why were there.

While the police were questioning our leader in the classroom a few feet away, the rest of us gathered and tried to engage the kids in some meaningful activity. We had planned to teach origami, but we had no paper. Someone offered up a small notebook that we ripped thin pages out of, and I dredged up my middle school fortune teller box folding skills. I think I made twenty of them without stopping before children stopped snatching them from me.

Arabic, French, and English words were flying. Everyone wanted to know my name. In a moment of desperation, I pulled my hair loose. Girls were pushing into me and cursing each other in Arabic and it was happy, frenetic chaos as six dusty small hands combed through my hair. One girl cupped my face, another pinched my cheeks in admiration of her own braiding skills. I was handed some sugar cane.

By the end of 45 minutes that felt like hours, we were being told to leave. I picked up a small boy, he had curly hair and wanted to be in the middle of the group. Girls hugged me, everyone wanted a high-five. I didn’t want to leave.

We didn’t really do any of the things we had planned to do. We rushed, children pushed, someone ended up crying. It was really messy. I was the cliche white American woman in a group of brown kids. And I kind of hated it.

Many people describe a feeling of contentment that comes with meeting a need. I didn’t feed those kids, I didn’t provide clean water, or a better future for them. But I was able to watch them stare in each other’s faces and draw. I got to see an older sister quietly give her folded box to a younger one. They gave me a gift by helping me see and feel the importance of continuity of relationship with them. I’m grateful for the long-term team who are committed to doing that.