Heaven on Earth

One of my top projects upon arriving to Beirut has been to take on the annual Kingdom Fiesta that our church puts on.  The Kingdom Fiesta is a 3-day multi-cultural festival that features 10 or more different nationalities and people groups worshiping Jesus as Lord in their own language with their traditional dress, song and dance.

I had a vision of such an event several years ago based on the verse from Revelation 7:9   “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb….”   When we are in heaven we will witness every tribe, tongue and nation is worshiping in their own tongue, tribe and culture. Our nationality, language and culture are gifts from God reflecting how He celebrates our uniqueness and individuality.

While I had the idea of having such an event here on this earth, I never thought that I would really get to work on such an event because the fact of the matter is that I hate event planning.  In fact, I think I might enjoy getting my toenails plucked off in torture before I enjoy or desire to do event planning. Give me a stack of budgets to review and I am happy, just don’t ask me to do event planning.

Yet, when I found out that the Life Center put on this Kingdom event every year and how it so closely matched my vision, I was eager to be a part of it.  And when they were in desperate need of someone to coordinate, I gladly joined them to help do something that I consider quite painful.  I had to plan the event.

A few of my friends and my family could tell you that I stated on multiple occasions throughout the past few months how I was never going to be roped into such event planning again. Not even for a birthday party!  Abadan! (Arabic for never.)  I don’t remember ever feeling such stress or losing so much sleep, at certain times, over even overseeing a portfolio of 33 hotels as an asset manager and frequently sitting in a room with a dozen hotel execs having to quiz them on a hotel’s performance.   Event planning coupled with not speaking the language fluently and trying to cope with the “fly by the seat of the pants” reactive culture here in the ME that typically shuns planning and organization for spur of the moment ideas and running around to put out fires.  I was also dealing with various groups from 10 different nationalities and their own cultures and issues.  Indeed, you definitely see the worst side of every person, tribe and tongue and it tried my patience time and time again.

Yet, the event finally arrived and it was only on the last day as I was standing in the back of the church sanctuary, packed with 500+ people that my mind slowed down enough to be present in the moment and absorb everything I was seeing.

I am an American in Beirut, Lebanon watching 10 different nationalities perform and glorify Jesus as Lord in their own language, dance and song.  I was watching 16 different nationalities and people groups from all over the Middle East and the world coming together to watch and participate.

To some, it may have just been a hot, cramped, crowded room packed to the hilt with way too many people (no fire codes here).  But to me, it was not just a crowd of nameless, faceless people. If you peel back the layers, you will see hundreds of stories. Each person as valuable as the next and each person with their own story. Stories worth telling and stories you will not ever likely hear on the news or perhaps even could comprehend existing.

Among the crowd, we had Lebanese, Syrian, Iraqi, Iranian, Egyptian, Kurdistan Kurds, Iraqi Kurds, Syrian Kurds, Armenian, Christian, Catholic, protestants and evangelicals. We had Muslims, Sunni and Shia. We had refugees legal and illegal. We had those that had once fought with the Shia Syrian government and those that had fought against the government with the opposition. We had Lebanese military and police. We had foreign ambassadors alongside domestic workers from their nations.

We had current Hezbollah members watching the performances and then also former Hezbollah that had cut up their membership in front of the leaders and had  vocally pledged their allegiance to Christ.  We had those who had fled from their Daesh family members that were worshiping “Yesua” along with those who were former Muslim brotherhood.  We had those who had been imprisoned and tortured hugging and greeting those who were on the side of the torturers.

We had Christians pastors from Aleppo that had stories of enduring sieges surrounded by Daesh. Ultimately, almost everyone in the room has been greatly impacted by the war in some capacity or another.  Most of the people were coming from the working class, densely populated neighborhood surrounding us.  Their homes aren’t more than a small dilapidated room in which maybe 10 people have to fit in and sleep in. They are used to cramped spaces and they were packed together to watch the performance as tight as sardines, shoulders smashed upon each other to fit one more person on their row.

The man who handed me some water with a gracious smile on his face had been healed in the past from broken knees after his family ordered a hit on him due to him being an apostate.

There are many in the room that have been persecuted for being an apostate.  Many have lost their homes, their inheritance and their families and many have been on the run for their lives from the places that they used to call home. These people can never return to their countries, even if there was no war. The people that I know have endured things almost unfathomable but the love and joy they have is priceless and here they are sharing this love and joy with others, maybe even ones that have done bad to them or that would condone the evil done to them. But no one was even thinking of this. Everyone was just thinking out they could serve and love.

We had Ethiopians, Ghanaians, Nigerians, Madagascar, Cote D’Ivoire, Sri Lanka, Filipino & Armenians, Americans and UK dancing together, trying the Lebanese Debke and the Kurdish Debke, singing with some American rap or just simply supporting each other by getting out of their seats, dancing in the front, swaying along with their brothers and sisters of a different nation.

Later, even after the performances were over, many people didn’t want to leave!  The night was just that good. The Armenian worship team kept going and there was still several hundred people hanging out and singing and dancing and crying tears of joy.  The father of Jiwan, the young boy that tragically died only about a month ago was there. I saw him getting ministered to, dancing, crying and worshiping, soaking in the beautiful words of love and joy that rippled with contagion among the audience.

This barely even scratches the surface of what I saw. Some things I just have to be careful about talking about or I would share more.

This weekend was an incredible reminder of all the reasons why I am here as I reflected on a dream come true.  Indeed, it felt like heaven come down to earth.