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FIRST-PERSON: A pastor’s journal from Lebanon

BEIRUT, Lebanon (BP)–In just a few minutes I will watch as beautiful of a sunset as you will see anywhere in the world. I’m not on a tropical island somewhere. I’m in Beirut, Lebanon.

The sun will set in all its glory over the Mediterranean and then the lights of the city will shine by the thousands. It is amazing that so much beauty can intermingle with such pain. This is my first time in this country, and I am deeply moved by the hearts of these people. They have suffered in ways that most of us in America rarely even think about.

I am here with a team from New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga., where I am pastor. What a joy to watch the people you love boldly take the love of Christ to people who most of the West ignores or even fears!

The openness here is surprising and exciting. Our church has adopted a neighborhood in Beirut and we are going to every resident and giving them a New Testament, building a relationship and sharing Christ.

Some people chase us down the streets to ask for Bibles. They welcome us into their homes and share their deepest hurts and their hopelessness. They have little but serve us the strongest coffee you have ever thought about drinking.

And then they listen, really listen to the story of the only One who will be hope for them. And this is the Middle East! All over the world people are hungry, if we will only care enough to go.

Last November, the wife of a missionary in Lebanon was murdered by a terrorist. Her husband has become a good friend. A few of us quietly journeyed to the place where she died. I knelt on the floor where her blood flowed just six months ago. We prayed that God will break through the hate of evil men and use the martyrdom of this gentle woman as the seed of the church, not only in Lebanon, but everywhere her story is told.

But I found myself wondering what has become of the New Testament Church. This country is one of the few in the Middle East where the Gospel can be openly shared. This country should be the gateway to take Christ to the Arab world. When the early church was persecuted, they used it as an opportunity to show Christ’s power. They shared more. Today it seems that most simply stay away if it is not “safe.”

God, deliver us from comfortable safety and let us see your dangerous power. Southern Baptists are needed here.

There is a Baptist school here where almost anyone with a college education could come and teach for a year or for life. The students are mostly Muslims, but they want a good education. But there are not enough believing teachers so they have to hire Muslims. As I walk through this city, I am overwhelmed with the opportunity — and the possibility that we just won’t care at least enough to obey Jesus and come.

But you should be proud of the Southern Baptist workers who are here. They are incredible. They are the cream of the crop. They could serve any church in America. But they are here because they love Jesus enough to follow. And they are living out an incredible adventure. They have purpose and passion and joy. Why don’t you think about joining them?

Like most of the mission trips I have been on, we have experienced a little of both the joys and the sorrows of the people we are ministering to. A few of us were robbed of our money, passports and other stuff. But it was just stuff. But we have also seen the power of God, over and over.

In how we got new passports in such a strange way that it opened doors for our workers that only God could open. A plot to blow up the U.S. embassy was foiled and nine people were arrested the day we spent much of the day at the embassy. And every time I see one of our teams there is a new story of a life touched, a Bible given, a relationship built, a believer encouraged. And on top of it all, none of us will ever be the same. We send you word that Jesus reigns here.

On the wall of the mission office here is this quote from C.S Lewis: “There is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch and every split second is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan.” As Southern Baptists, let’s answer God’s call to abandon neutral, safe ground and follow Jesus wherever He leads.
John Avant is pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga.

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  • John Avant