Well…no. In Lebanon, there appear to be layers of paradoxes, clothed in dichotomies, wrapped in secrecy, all in the contexts of shifting relationships. One new friend told me: “If you understand the Middle East, then it has been explained poorly to you.” There is, however, one rock-solid thing I saw during my time in Lebanon: God is moving people, cultures, and communities to show His glory and His power.
Wait--I’m getting ahead of myself.
For about 30 years, Syria occupied Lebanon. After they pulled out, there were battles between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, particularly in Beirut, the capital. Shortly after those battles ceased, the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, and thousands of Syrian refugees began fleeing into Lebanon.
As families sought refuge, Lebanese Christians were faced with a difficult question: how would the Body of Christ respond to those from a country that had occupied them for so long? A common sentiment came to mind: “God, and history, will judge us poorly if we don’t help.”
And so the churches helped - in the Bekaa Valley, in Beirut, in many other parts of Lebanon. They organized themselves to distribute blankets and food, anticipating needs right when the first Syrian refugees started arriving in Lebanon. With the help of CFGB and World Renew, through our partner MERATH (Middle East Revive & Thrive, https://merathlebanon.org), churches distributed resources to family after family, and the resources were given quickly and unconditionally.
Fadia, the mother of one such refugee family, recalls:
A few months after our arrival, we heard about the local church helping refugees with many different things. So I went, and they met with me and put our family on the waiting list to receive food assistance. After a while, people from the church contacted me and visited me. From then on, I have been receiving every month a food box. The food box makes a real difference, even though it does not cover all our needs. At least we don’t need to buy many basic food items like sugar, tea, flour, beans, and lentils. Also, we are finally debt free toward the local store market and can go there with our heads up.
In many ways, the Syrian refugee crisis has drawn Christ-followers into a new kind of community with each other. A pastor of one of World Renew's partner churches began his work with local gangs in 2005, spreading the gospel throughout his community and rapidly outgrowing meeting spaces. Just as his church starte to construct its own building, Syrian refugeees began arriving. In response, church members began to buy food and give it to them. Soon donors were found to donate food, milk and diapers, and teams came to help in the refugee effort. Pastor Jamal remembers, "We didn't look for them, they just came."
Since then, the Christian community has helped to establish The Feeding Program (3 centres with 30 paid and volunteer staff feeding 750 families per month, three times a week), non-formal schools (serving about 600 students), micro-enterprise, and job training in mobile phone repair. The church rents shipping containers to act as community centers, classrooms, and laundry facilities. This is all assisted by MERATH, who helps with the organization as requested.
When I look around Lebanon, I see the people of God helping to establish learning centers for Syrian children because there are no schools for them, helping to provide medical assistance because there is little healthcare for them, helping to teach sewing to women who need a skilled trade because there is little support for them.
It’s extraordinary love, birthed from deep sacrifice, and it astounded us as visitors.
Clearly, these Lebanese women and men have an amazing belief in grace: even as Christ forgave and accepted them, so they accept Syrians as people in need of support. Unconditionally. Overwhelmingly. Inspirationally.
These churches, in partnership with MERATH, serve the refugees in the Bekaa Valley as the gracious feet and hands of Christ himself. God is here, inviting his people to participate in an incredible story. The Christian NGOs, the churches, the Christians themselves all say they are simply doing what the love of God compels them to do. For my colleague and me, bearing witness to the work was a form of catharsis.
What started as a trip to get stories turned out to be a trip of stories getting us: stories of resilience, of faith, of hope and of staring down evil.
God is doing amazing work in Lebanon. And as donations to this work continue, the relentless message of salvation comes to Syrian families in tangible ways through vouchers and boxes of food, through “Child-Friendly spaces,” and through women learning to sew blankets
God is good
If you would like to join in the work of World Renew for Syrian families, we invite you to give. $60 feeds a Syrian family for a month.
With your generous gift and with a 4x match from the Canadian Foodgrains Bank to multiply its impact, mothers and fathers will have one less worry by knowing that their children will eat.
Peter has been living justice, loving mercy and serving Christ throughout his 40 years of teaching and school administration, and 6 years of involvement with Church Relations at World Renew