Today, September 18, 2018, Gary and I had the privilege to go visit N.E.S.T. (Near East School of Theology). This was a place that I always wanted to visit as a child. I had heard of this theological school and wondered what is it? What kind of school was it? What do they teach there? I was told it was “Asdvadzapanagan”, that’s “Theology” in Armenian. A place where individuals learn about God, a place where they prepare ministers. However, all the students, the graduates I had known, at that time, were men. I remember wondering, was God only accessible to men? Were women not allowed to learn about God? But according to the stories I have heard in Sunday School, God can use all creation and creatures alike. If God can use the donkey, the rooster and many other animals, I do know that God can use women as well. Why was there this separation of gender and distinction of sexes?
Now at the age of fifty (50), by God’s Grace, I am visiting N.E.S.T. from Canada as the very first ordained Armenian female minister of the United Church of Canada (possibly all of Canada). The vision that God had for me became a reality because of those who saw this CALL in me when I did not. Starting with the late Rev. Hovhannes Agnerian, in 1986, the Rev. Wendy Wright-McKenzie, in 2002, and my life partner and husband, Gary Petro, in 2004. I am so grateful to God, not only for Calling me but for equipping me and sending me on this path of life to be a witness for Love, Peace and Joy.
I met wonderful people at N.E.S.T., had a great visit to their building, the chapel, the library, the students’ lounge, etc. I also met an amazing minister from the U.S. who has been in Lebanon for four years serving the refugee children with his wife who is also a minister and creating safe spaces of emotional care and support with all these traumatized children.
After N.E.S.T., I asked our driver to take us to Raouché, a natural landmark which is also known as the Pigeons’ Rock, one of the places in Lebanon that I have hardly been because of the war – But NOW, an opportunity of a lifetime, literally.
After finding a parking spot right in front of these historical rocks, and taking the pictures that I wanted, two men approached us. One was in traditional Druze clothing and the other was dressed casually. Something in me pushed me to greet this Druze in the traditional Arabic greeting of “Salaam Alaikum” (Peace be upon you), just like my mother did on the way to Damascus on September 10, 1983 (that is a whole another blog), and I did. He responded, but he also continued asking if he may see my camera (Nikon SLR) that I was using as he was going to purchase a camera and wanted to know how good this lens was, etc. That little voice in me cautioned me, “Do not hand over your camera, keep it around your neck” – So I did… He tried to look through the lens and he realized that there is no luck here. I told our Armenian driver to get going to the car, signalling to Gary that we need to go now. By this point, Gary and the driver already had realized what was happening and we left unharmed with all our belongings.
As this was happening, I remembered that I had dreamt about some scary situation that night, but I had no idea what was that dream all about. However, when this was happening to me, to us, I realized that I had already been warned in my dream and told Gary in the car that – “I had a dream about this but I was not sure what was the dream all about, however, when the conversation was happening with the Druze, the little voice in me reminded me that “This is it, be wise as a fox and do NOT fall in this trap”. The Druze man tried but God’s wisdom prevailed.
With all this rush of “running away”, we ended up at a beautiful restaurant (Burj El Hammam, at the Movenpick Resort) and enjoyed a lovely lunch with our driver Mr. Zaven Parseghian, and we found out we have so many people in common – The world has truly become smaller as we keep on meeting people and finding out how we all know people in common.
Streets filled with traffic gave us the opportunity to see new builds taking place in the heart of Beirut next to old and destroyed buildings. The remnant of war is still oppressing people with dilapidated and abandoned buildings; reminding everyone of the past and looking enviously to the new expensive hotels and apartments that are built and are still being built. We passed by Hotel Phoenicia, which was a hotel I had heard about but had never seen. Built in 1953, a five-star hotel, still standing and carrying on the art of Lebanese hospitality for the last sixty-five (65) years.
What a day it has been, a trip of a lifetime taken in a few hours. As we crawled through the streets of Hamra, Raouché, American University in Beirut, and many more recognizable names, where only my elder siblings used to go to hang out and talk about, I was giving God thanks for giving me this opportunity of a lifetime, literally.
Today was a day of seeing, experiencing, and living what I had always heard about. Today I went places that people had said, it was impossible for me to go before; Yet God said, “When people say, ‘it is impossible’, I say, ‘I’m Possible’”. Dreams that God has planted in us, the desires that God has blossomed in us, become a fruitful time of preparation, of Joy, Hope, Wisdom and Grace. These are the ONLY things certain in life, and to this, I say, “Thanks be to God today and always”. Amen.
Signing off… Tuesday, September 18, 10:59 p.m. – Cinema Royal Building, Nor Marash, Bourj Hammoud.