The Spinneys refugee camp houses dozens of Syrian families who’ve relocated to Tyre, Lebanon. Packed tightly together, their shelters are planks of wood draped with bags and tarps. In one of these homes, Chris Todd sits cross-legged on a pile of flat cushions, praising the lavish and unexpected meal set out in bowls on the floor. It’s cobbled together from the family’s slim earnings and timed for the celebration of Eid al-Adha, an Islamic holiday that commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son. The meal also honors Todd for the school he established in the camp.
Todd was a pastor and chicken farmer in Alabama who, along with his wife Kim, began praying about full-time mission work. An Arabic translator for the U.S. Army in the 1980s, he had a burden for the displaced people who’d been caught up in the Lebanese Civil War. Kim also developed a heart for the nation when God brought a dear Lebanese friend into her life. The couple and their four children moved to Lebanon in 2013.
As Todd appreciates the delicacies of the Syrian meal and socializes with his hosts and their friends, the head of the family peppers him with questions about the Christian faith. And while the man’s guests worry their friend is making the American uncomfortable, Todd only smiles, happy to talk about Jesus.
In Lebanon, Todd’s humility and genuine interest in others have opened many doors to opportunities and friendships, not only among Syrian, Palestinian, and Egyptian refugees, but also with Kurdish families. Yet when Todd offered them a Bible in their language, he learned they couldn’t read it. For generations, the Kurds lived in societies where reading and writing their native tongue was forbidden. That’s when Todd began using the In Touch Messenger to share Arabic audio recordings as well as biblical content in Kurdish with all of his new friends. And so the Messenger quickly became an integral part of discipleship for new believers, regardless of their heart language.
As Todd made friends and earned the people’s trust, residents from two refugee camps began to ask for schools. The family hosting him for this special meal is by far the most dedicated. While the mother works the field and her husband seeks day labor, the children learn math as well as reading and writing in Arabic. They also hear Bible stories that are familiar from the Koran yet point to a lamb. The lessons end on cliffhangers—which the children are invited to ask their father about—and will ultimately introduce the children to Christ.
To so many hurting people removed from their family and homeland, God is speaking. And whole families are listening. “I’m humbled to be here when the harvest is happening,” says Todd. “So many of my friends worked here for decades, and they might have seen one person come to Christ. Now we’re seeing the beginning of a great harvest. I just can’t believe I get to be a part of this.”
Photographs by Ben Rollins