Lebanon is one of the better places in the Middle East for Christians to safely and legally practice their faith. However, they still do not experience the freedom of the USA.
My first evening at the church was encountered with a trash problem. Recall the trash issue that I mentioned before? Where they literally had no place to put their trash and stopped collecting trash for months? Well, part of that resolution was apparently to dump in the quarters of poor, impoverished Bourj Hammoud. This has gone on for some time and has gotten out of control. At gunpoint, trash collectors were threatened if they dumped any more trash in the neighborhood. So, the trash of Beirut was ending up piled up in an intersection under a highway overpass and right next to the church. Then, someone had the brilliant idea of torching the trash, under the highway and in a populated neighborhood. This did not rid them of the trash problem, but it did smoke people out of their homes and ensure all buildings, including the church, were filled with a putrid smoke. Brilliant! The 8 month trash crisis that saw Beirut streets and suburbs overflowing with a river of trash was only just resolved earlier this year. This trash problem has been resolved for now, but is constantly threatening to become a problem again. Google images for “Beirut Trash” to understand what I am talking about.
The pastor has cautioned to please not take any pictures during service because it could be too risky for many of the parishioners. You see, 90% of the congregation is Muslim or former Muslim converts that attend their services. In many cases it is the women attending, however their husbands do not. If word gets out that they are at church, they may get beaten. It has happened before. Pastor also may get threats from the husband. Therefore, they are careful to try to protect the identities of the people who attend who may be at risk. Special care and consideration is given to this group of people, including arranging service times so that the women don’t get home too late from evening services.
This church sees attendance come and go as many Syrian refugees end up passing through there for a few months to a year as they work on getting a permanent location. I met some orphaned siblings who are young adults, but barely old enough to be on their own. They should be in in school and university, not scrapping for work with no papers. The church supports them and keeps a roof over their head while they wait for a more permanent solution.
There are many Syrian refugee families only surviving by the church’s support. For every family that they help, there are hundreds of others in need of help. It must be a devastatingly difficult job to mete out the limited funds only to some that need treatments. I know this weighs heavily on the minds of the Pastors and others serving here in this community.
We are getting ready to bid goodbye to several families. One is leaving to Italy this week. They don’t speak Italian or English and I cannot imagine how scary it is for them to leave the very humble, but safe and familiar surrounding of Bourj Hammoud to head to a new place with hopes that the 7 children can go to school or find work. The reality is that the teenage boys will probably have to find work to support the family and may never even get to finish a high school education.
The church does weekly ministry and evangelism out on the streets. The first week that I went, my partner and I got the chance to pray with 4 Muslim ladies, refugees from Syria, and invited them back to church that night. They showed up and marched to the front of the church to sit right next to me. The girls freaked out at one point when they saw a camera man taking pictures and they covered their faces. They invited me back to their home, but I have not yet been able to go. I haven’t seen them since and I have to wonder if it is because they have men at home keeping them from church. They had 2 little girls with them, orphans, they told us. The youngest, may 3-4, had a mouth full of rotten teeth. My heart broke for her.
Many people come to the church just wanting a hand out and the Muslims know that the Christians will help them, give them food, some financial support and will pray for their physical ailments. They don’t go to the mosque for that as their god is responsible for both blessing and affliction. If you have affliction, you don’t pray for it, you accept that God gave it to you and you suffer. Many of the people in the church and other Muslim converts that I have met came to believe in Jesus after receiving a miracle when the Christians prayed for them and discovered that God loves them and doesn’t want them to suffer.
The church here is part of a ministry that is providing invaluable support to the refugee community. Between their programs and a partnership with World Vision, they have over 800 refugee children attending schools that would otherwise not be getting the opportunity. They do community outreaches where they are feeding hundreds and hundreds of hungry people. They frequently bring volunteers over to help for a few weeks or more at a time. I couldn’t even begin to do justice to the work that they have done in this part of the world in just a few short paragraphs. I will wait and expound upon it at a later date when I can be as detailed and specific as possible.
The ministry frequently helps Christians who are running for their life, escaping persecution from countries all over the Middle East. I was told of a story of a couple who they helped just this week after they ran for their life from Egypt. Their baby son was boiled alive in front of them by the Muslim Brotherhood. This is real, folks, and this is the reality for many in this part of the world. It is for people like this that I want to be here and I want to serve. It is also for the people that have lost everything and have no hope because their own religion offers none that I want to be here.
The refugee family that is moving to Italy? The wife was on a large number of prescription medications costing $800 a week. It was draining all their income. Many of the drugs were for the depression she was in because she had no hope in life. When she found Jesus, she was healed from her medical issues, got off all her medications and is now a pillar in her community, supporting and ministering to other women in similar situations. I promise I will also share more of her story later. I actually recorded her sharing her story through a translator and hope to upload it at some point.
Did you ever get to read, Elisabeth Elliot’s, A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael? Perhaps you would enjoy it if you have not read it.