By Wissam al-Saliby, first published by the European Evangelical Alliance
I have never seen this much hopelessness in Lebanon.
In recent years, as the economic and financial situation was worsening, I repeatedly heard Lebanese from my parents’ generation saying that “even during the civil war [1975-1990], we were better off.” Mid-2019, as the Lebanese pound began to lose its value, in November 2019, as the Lebanese lost their savings in the banks, and in March 2020, as the pandemic settled in, the situation worsened exponentially.
Then, on 4 August 2020, a massive blast killed 190 persons, injured thousands, and rendered 300,000 people homeless.
Today, my friends and relatives, as well as Lebanese on social media and interviewed by traditional media, are all expressing one desire: to leave the country as soon as possible. And they are actively looking for jobs and university programs outside of Lebanon, in order to buy their one-way-ticket. The English and French language proficiency programs needed for immigration visas are fully booked till end of 2020 (with no schedule open for 2021 yet).
And a few day ago, four boats arrived in Cyprus from Lebanon, illegally, carrying Lebanese and Syrian migrants and asylum seekers. Lebanon was not part of the migrant route in the past. However, the economic collapse could make Lebanon an export country. One fifth of the population of Lebanon – around one million – are Syrians, Palestinians, Iraqis refugees, and are largely dependent on international humanitarian aid.
On 28 August, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food appealed to the international community to step up its assistance and support to Lebanon to prevent people from going hungry as a result of the 4 August explosion at the Port of Beirut.
Half the population going hungry in Lebanon? Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese determined to leave the country? Such a scenario would have been unimaginable one year ago, especially in October 2019 when massive demonstrations emboldened the Lebanese, gave them a sense of belonging to a nation, and gave them so much hope in political reform.
Amid such hopelessness, what does it mean for the Lebanese to read and contemplate on Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future? And how can Lebanese churches embody the everlasting hope that can be found in Jesus Christ?
On 5 August, the day following the explosion, Heart for Lebanon sent 60 staff to the field to clean up the streets, homes and churches. Heart for Lebanon, whose mission is to make disciples for Jesus Christ, was established to respond to the humanitarian needs in the wake of the 2006 wars, and expanded to include relief and witness to Iraqi and Syrian refugees, and had begun in 2020 to help the Lebanese who were unable to afford food.
In March 2020, with the pandemic depriving the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) from visitors, the seminary opened its guesthouse to medical workers and first responders responding to the COVID-19 crisis. And by early September, 70 persons made homeless by the Beirut blast were living in the student dorms – because the pandemic sent all seminary residential students back to their home countries in the Arab world. This is not a first-time scenario. In summer 2006, as the devastating war with Israel unfolded, families from South Lebanon filled the ABTS guesthouse and student housing.
ABTS is one of six ministries of the Lebanese Baptist Society (also known as Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development – LSESD). MERATH, another LSESD ministry, works through the churches, and supports their relief efforts. Dozens of churches across Lebanon had benefited from MERATH-channeled aid to Syrian refugees. And in recent weeks, MERATH provided to churches responding to the consequences of the Beirut explosion with ready meals, water, food supplies, mattresses and blankets, shelter, hygiene items, and masks.
Many Evangelical churches received support via the international denomination with which they are affiliated to help them in repairing their damaged facilities and in providing aid. Ten Evangelical schools in Beirut were damaged and, due to the economic collapse of Lebanon, can only fix their buildings through international support. Samaritan’s Purse airlifted supplies to Beirut to distribute via its partner churches. My organization, the World Evangelical Alliance, has launched a donation page for those who wish to support local ministries that respond to the many needs on the ground.
Since 2006, the repeated humanitarian crises and the international partnerships led many Lebanese churches and ministries to establish relief outreach programs, and provided them with the experience to share the Gospel and to witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ while setting up the structures that maintain the unconditionality and impartiality of their relief and aid efforts.
Local faithful leaders, coupled with international partnerships, have enabled the small Evangelical community of Lebanon – less than 1% of the population – to have an impact on society that is significantly larger than its size. However, today, the pandemic is impacting giving to churches all over the world, and, consequently, their missions budget and global giving. As more than half of the Lebanese population suddenly faces poverty and hunger, Lebanese churches and ministries need more than ever international funding and partnership, in order to provide hope. “Not the hope of a better government or a better life socially or economically, but a hope that is bullet and blast-proof, a hope that is everlasting. A hope based on the Truth that ‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed’ (1 Peter 2:24),” wrote Wissam Nasrallah, Chief Operations Officer of LSESD.
If you feel led to financially support Lebanese ministries during this crisis, please get in touch with relief organizations in your country or visit the WEA’s dedicated donation page.