ATLANTA (BP)–For most of the congregation, it was a typical Sunday morning service at Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church. But for nine members, just back from a short-term mission trip to Beirut, Lebanon, it was anything but typical.
It was their first worship service in more than two weeks not punctuated by the distant sound of bomb blasts.
“I’ll never forget that last Sunday,” team member Whitni Bledsoe said. “During the preaching, bombs were going off and no one moved. It makes you think how trivial some things are when cities are being destroyed, and yet these people are so focused on God.”
On July 6, the nine-member mission team from the suburbs of Atlanta traveled to Beirut for what they thought would be a typical mission trip to conduct a children’s camp, distribute Scripture and prayerwalk.
However, the day before the team was scheduled to return home, they found themselves on the fringe of a war, as bombs began dropping just three miles from where they ministered at Mansourieh, on a hillside overlooking the city.
Yet, in the midst of the conflict, the team was able to continue ministering to the Lebanese people. They even went forward with the final day of children’s camp on July 13, with attendance only dropping to 35 from the original 60 children.
“It was impressive to the Lebanese people that they didn’t see panic on the team’s faces, they didn’t see intimidation,” said Tim Dowdy, pastor of Eagles Landing. “And the team didn’t stop ministering. The next day they were out trying to help with getting supplies for refugees, unloading trucks and getting things set up for them. And that made an impression on the Lebanese people.”
This was not the first trip Eagle’s Landing had made to Beirut. The church began a partnership with Lebanese Baptists in 2004 following a vision trip to the country.
After the church members saw the potential there and the spiritual void, God gave them a heart for the city. Beirut captured their heart, and a partnership began as the church adopted a neighborhood. That partnership was only deepened when the Eagle’s Landing team stayed on for a week after the bombing began.
The team’s presence during the conflict “continued to solidify our relationship,” said Bruce Mewbourne, the team’s leader and the church’s pastor for global outreach and evangelism. “We have a great relationship, but for us to stay was a statement that we are committed. We’re not leaving.”
The team said in many ways their mission trip really didn’t begin until the war started, which extended their stay from nine days to 18. By holding twice-a-day prayer and praise services and caring for the refugees, the team was able to minister up to their assigned evacuation date of July 20.
The team arrived that morning at the dock, only to be swept into the pushing and shoving of the hundreds of evacuees waiting to be registered. God demonstrated His providence through the goodwill of a fellow Georgian who was able to arrange for the team to be moved through the process.
Over the next few days, the team spent more than six hours on the flight deck of a ship, took a 45-minute bus ride and waited 24 hours at a refugee camp located at a convention center in Nicosia, Cyprus. After a night of sleeping on cots in an exhibition hall at the center, the team was able to board a flight back to the United States.
During each leg of their journey home, the team was able to see that God can be trusted with every detail of their lives. However, as they settled into their seats on the plane that would take them from Philadelphia to Atlanta, they experienced feelings of remorse over leaving their Lebanese brothers and sisters in Christ.
“One of my teammates looked at me with a saddened look and said, ‘I’m feeling guilty for leaving them,’” Mewbourne said. “We all felt that same kind of feeling. We were really just delayed, just inconvenienced for a few days, when their world has been turned upside down.”
“People kept telling me, ‘I’m so glad you’re safe,’” team member and college student Allen Butler said. “But in my heart, I’d scream, ‘But I don’t want to be safe!’ because part of my heart was still in Lebanon.”
With stability in the Middle East uncertain, some Americans question the idea of sending Christian volunteers into countries such as Lebanon.
“People ask, ‘Why would you do this? Why would you go into Beirut and spend your own money to go and work in a children’s camp?’” Dowdy said. “And I said, ‘You just need to understand, when you know Christ, this is what you do. You share the love and compassion of Christ with the world, and Beirut is part of the world.’”
Listen in on a church service about the work of a short-term mission team from Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church that was evacuated from Lebanon in July. Team members share their experiences and emotions about serving God in the midst of conflict.
To view video of the volunteers and their stories, click the appropriate link below: