Thirteen current students, two recent graduates and one teacher from Mar Elias High School in Ibillin spent 2 weeks in the US in July, discovering America (well, the Upper Midwest) and winning hearts and opening minds all along their journey. They came as Ambassadors for their school, sponsored by Pilgrims of Ibillin —picking up from Abuna Elias Chacour the call to share how Peace is being built on Desktops in Ibillin.
For all, it was their first trip to the United States, and they especially loved arriving in time to celebrate the 4th of July. (Cedar Point rollercoasters and fireworks! Shopping, boating, bike-riding, and picnics!) But they also gave 2 excellent presentations July 5th at Grosse Pointe Memorial Presbyterian Church, and large audiences came to hear them, despite the major holiday weekend.
The group was selected by their teacher, Emil Haloun, as students who would represent the values and unique gifts of Mar Elias, have good English skills, be outgoing enough to enjoy meeting lots of new people, and be positive members of their group. Emil could not have found fifteen more compatible, wonderful ambassadors. They were a well-balanced group: 8 guys, 7 girls; 8 Muslims and 7 Christians (but not the same 7 and 8). They came from 4 different villages. Several started attending Mar Elias as 3-year-olds, a few transferred in as 6th graders, and about half transferred in from other schools as 9th graders. Half of the group ride a bus for up to 45 minutes one way (past other high schools) in order to attend Mar Elias. The other half are from Ibillin.
As Pilgrims’ executive director, I had the privilege of working with local pastors and hosts to plan the trip, and got to lead/accompany them from their arrival July 2nd in Detroit to their departure from Chicago on July 14th. It was the most fun (and the most work) I’ve had in a long time. HUGE THANKS to some special organizers who made the tour fantastic for all:
- Rev. Peter Henry mobilized host families, drivers, picnic providers, boat owners, and teen companions for the first five days of the trip in Grosse Pointe.
- In Ann Arbor, Harris and Margaret McClamroch and Nancy Oliver organized a wonderful dinner and overnight for the students with their church’s Pilgrims of Ibillin supporters.
- After a ferry ride across Lake Michigan, Rev. John Hobbins in Oshkosh, WI, picked up the organizer mantle and kept the group breathless with fun activities — including connecting with the Oshkosh IBC (International Book Club).
The trip ended with 5 days in Madison and Evanston. For details, check out their blog website: www.mareliaspeacetour.org/our-travel-entries/.
On their last afternoon together the students spent time reflecting on highlights of the trip. They were overwhelmed with the hospitality of thirty host families(!), the warmth of everyone’s interest, and the positive connections they made between new American friends and the school they all love. — jcd