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Lebanese Christians face big challenges


The Christians of Lebanon are facing significant challenges during these days of intense Israeli bombardment and military advancement into their country.

First of all, there is the obvious challenge of staying alive amidst what can only be described as full-out war. At the time of writing, the total number killed as a result of the bombing is close to 1000, according to the Lebanese Government. Many of these were civilians who were trying to find shelter in the basements of buildings or attempting to escape by car to the north. Many more are injured, both physically and emotionally.

For those who lived through the 16 years of Lebanese civil war, these last few weeks have rekindled terrible memories and shattered all hope and dreams of a normal future for their homeland. “It is catastrophic,” writes a church leader from one of the most devastated towns in Southern Lebanon. “We had lots and lots of bombs around us. The bridges are all destroyed and most of the hills around our town were bombed.”

Another church, closer to the border with Israel, is in even more serious danger. Twenty families along with the pastor and his family are hiding in the church building. There is no access to them except by phone. “The Israeli airplanes have even thrown flyers to warn people here to leave and evacuate the area…but how, if all the roads are closed and bridges destroyed,” reports the frustrated pastor.

Those who can escape are doing so and quickly. This mass exodus posses a second challenge to the Christian community, albeit one whose real impact will be felt more in the future. Christians were once the dominant majority in Lebanon. Not any more. The numbers began to drop during the civil war years and most sources tend to agree that the current figure is likely to be less than 40 per cent of the population.

That percentage is likely to be dropping as you read this. “We have serious concerns that we will witness another heavy wave of emigration,” the church leader laments. “Already we had many people without jobs here.” The members of this particular Christian community in Southern Lebanon were refugees for seven years and had only recently returned home. “Psychologically speaking, we do not see enough emotional strength in our hearts to handle another displacement [in Lebanon], and many people are already trying to leave the country for good,” the leader adds.

The future looks bleak for the Christians and churches in Lebanon. Some suggest that up to 70 per cent of the Christians that are still left in Lebanon are ready to leave as soon as Beirut airport reopens.

One has little time to dwell too much on the future though. There are more pressing challenges today. “If this continues another week, most of the people here will run out of money and consequently of food supply,” the pastor in Southern Lebanon reports.

Unemployment is rampant, and even those who are employed will probably not get their salaries any time soon. Churches are doing their best to care for their members, but their benevolent funds are running out.

Then there is the challenge of coping with the constant tide of refugees flooding the schools, halls and churches throughout the country. He continues, “There are thousands and thousands of refugees, but we do not even dare to think of doing something because it needs lots and lots of funds to offer such help. We have the will, but we just do not have the means.”

In Beirut itself, many of the churches and Christian schools are trying to act in a positive way to be a help to the swelling population of the city. “It seems that we will be working with refugee and poverty issues for the foreseeable future,” one leader reports.

His church and school are focusing on a group of around 300 displaced people. “Some of the needs are basic, like food and bedding,” he says. “Some are social, like providing activities for the children, who are bored. Some are health-related concerns.” More and more people are showing up for the daily prayer meeting, which he refers to as “a balm for weary souls.”

Emotions are running high. There is much anger and hatred. According to another church leader, the biggest challenge is to overcome these feelings with love and forgiveness. When he was speaking to his congregation during the Sunday service, he asked them to raise their hands stating who they think is responsible for the war, Israel or Hezbollah. Then he asked those who raised their hands to stand up and pray for the side they blamed. “It is only by love, forgiveness and grace that we can overcome anger, hatred and bitterness towards those who cause us to suffer,” he preached.

Lebanese Christians are crying out for consolation and hope. The pastor from the south pleads – “We are in an utmost need of encouragement and prayers so that we faithfully hold fast as a witnessing community where we are.” His colleague in Beirut echoes similar sentiments – “Keep praying, especially that we do not become discouraged.”

Copyright Arab Vision