By Dana Negro
On August 4, a huge blast struck the Lebanese capital city of Beirut, killing at least 135 people, wounding more than 5,000, and leaving more than 300,000 people homeless. On the other side of the world, Pacific Union College students Alex Nelson and Gilund Fayard were spending their summer working as guides for an outdoor adventure company. When given the opportunity to join relief efforts in Beirut, both young men jumped at the opportunity.
What made you decide to travel to Beirut?
Gil: I decided to go based on my personal connections, my skill set, and my flexibility. This summer, I worked as a guide for an outdoor adventure company called “Way to Moab” in Utah. My employers have connections to a nonprofit organization called Gideon Rescue Company, which has responded to nearly every domestic and international disaster for the last several years. They invited the Way to Moab guides to go to Beirut with them.
I knew I would get to use my skills in emergency medical care and technical rescue. Additionally, as a full-time student, I don’t have flexibility most of the year; because it was summer, I could leave for a week to serve. The final factor in my decision to go to Beirut was that I felt a calling to risk my comfort and security so I could show God’s love through service to a struggling nation.
Have you responded to other disasters?
Alex: Not exactly, but my family was living in the Dominican Republic at the time of the massive Haiti earthquake in 2010. We felt it where we lived, and my dad, who is an orthopedic surgeon, was on the ground in Haiti (which borders the D.R.) just a few days after the quake. When I came over a few months later, the country was still in ruins. As an 11-year-old I wasn’t very helpful in the disaster recovery operations, but that experience piqued my interest in disaster relief.
You’re in the emergency services program at PUC. Do you have any other training/certificates?
Gil: Through PUC’s emergency services program, I’ve been training as an emergency medical technician (EMT), along with technical rope rescue, swift water rescue, search and rescue, and emergency vehicle operations. I’ve also been trained as a firefighter through Napa County’s CALFIRE volunteer fire academy. I’m an active member of the Angwin Volunteer Fire Department as a firefighter EMT during the school year.
What were your days in Beirut like?
Alex: Almost every day was different. The first two days we worked in the mobile clinic with Makassed General Hospital. On Friday I worked with AlMakan, a grassroots relief organization that was started immediately after the explosion and is run mainly by Muslim women. They assess community needs and help families by providing aid such as clothing, hygiene supplies, rubble cleaning, repairs, and financial support. Sabbath we spent at Middle East University, an Adventist University in Beirut. Sunday, we worked with Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) to clean up streets filled with rubble and broken glass from the explosion. On our last day we made food bags for families and handed them out in the neighborhoods.
Can you share an experience that made an impact on you?
Alex: When we booked our tickets to Lebanon, we didn’t have a place to stay in Beirut and we had no idea what we would do when we got there. The philosophy of Gideon Rescue is to respond quickly and trust God to work out the details, and that’s exactly what we did. When we arrived in Beirut at 1:00 a.m., we slept on the floor at the airport for the first night. After that, we stayed in an empty apartment owned by a friend of a friend of a friend. We still needed help with transportation, food, and logistics. On the morning of our first day in Beirut, God provided these things through a kind woman named Soulaf. Throughout the week, Soulaf drove us around whenever we needed, let us use her Wi-Fi and washing machine, bought and made us lots and lots of food, and even worked with us to pack food bags on our last day in Beirut. She was such a blessing to us, and it was amazing to see how God sent her to provide for all of our needs.
Was there anything you learned in your classes at PUC that you were able to utilize?
Gil: I was able to use multiple skills I learned in class, such as wound care, pharmacology, and patient assessments. When working with the Lebanese patients, I had confidence in my decisions regarding their treatment. Confidence is a quality taught to me by my EMT professors, Jeff Joiner and Matt Russell, through hours of lectures, studying, and training.
Alex: We certainly used our EMT training as we worked in the medical clinic, and all of our training in disaster management and team management was valuable. It was also very educational to see how the relief response was organized and which parts of it worked well. It was like a field trip to observe all the things we talk about in class.
You responded to a disaster overseas during a worldwide pandemic. What necessary precautions did you take to ensure your own safety as well as that of others?
Gil: Responding during the pandemic was challenging. In order to board the flight, we had to present negative COVID-19 tests to the check-in attendant. Once we landed in Beirut and passed through customs, we were immediately tested for COVID-19 again. We made sure we always wore face masks and plastic face shields as we worked and traveled in Beirut.
Do you feel your experience changed you at all?
Gil: Serving in Beirut was exciting for me. I enjoyed using my skills, meeting people, and doing God’s work. Because of my experience here, I know I’ll definitely be open to more disaster relief in the future. I saw God work His blessings right before my eyes.
Alex: Going to Beirut was a great spiritual experience, as we were forced to step out in faith and trust God to provide, which He certainly did. From an educational perspective, it was fantastic to be part of a disaster response and put into practice all of the things we learn in class.
“We certainly used our EMT training as we worked in the medical clinic, and all of our training in disaster management and team management was valuable.”