BEIRUT, Lebanon (BP)–Central Lebanon’s Deir el-Ahmar was a quiet, predominantly Christian town, fairly isolated from the fighting between Hezbollah militants and Israeli forces that broke out in Beirut and towns along southern Lebanon’s border with Israel. A number of its houses stood empty -– mute witnesses to those who had exited to other parts of the world but could not bear to part with their beloved family homes.
Then came the flood of refugees -– mostly Shiite Muslims whose villages were being used by Hezbollah to launch missiles into northern Israel. Airstrikes against the launch sites had destroyed their houses and sent them fleeing north.
The response of the Christians in Deir el-Ahmar? The town’s residents opened their doors to the Muslim families. And the vacant houses were opened up as well.
“It is a sign of brotherhood and a witness for the unity of Lebanon,” Simon Atallah, Deir el-Ahmar’s Maronite Christian bishop, told Catholic News Service. “We Christians must be in solidarity with everyone, even with the Shiites who support Hezbollah,” he said.
Across Lebanon, from mountains of refuge in the north to the chaotic neighborhoods of Beirut, Christian people are demonstrating the love of Christ for Muslims driven from their homes by the fighting.
For a month now, Lebanese Christian groups have been housing and feeding thousands of displaced families in their own homes and in places like Beirut Baptist School and the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary.
Reports that trickle out of the country, like the story of Deir el-Ahmar, tell an inspiring story of Christ’s love shining in a dark place, says Keith Logan*, a Southern Baptist worker in the United States who is close to the situation in Lebanon.
“I’ve been having trouble getting details about what is going on,” he said. “For a while we were concerned because we couldn’t get in touch with our friends in Lebanon. We didn’t even know where they were. One of them lived in southern Beirut, very close to the area being decimated by the airstrikes.”
When Logan was able to reconnect, he was deeply moved by what he heard.
“One friend is raising money from his friends and raiding his own pantry for food, medicine and diapers that he is taking out to displaced people who are living in storerooms and abandoned buildings,” Logan said. “We have heard that Christian house groups in the city not only survived but are thriving in the chaos. Christ’s love is shining through those groups.”
Lebanon’s Christian and Muslim populations have been deeply divided for centuries; a 15-year civil war ended only 16 years ago. Christians have been reluctant to reach out across those barriers -– especially evangelicals, who comprise less than 1 percent of the population and often are not well-received even by other, more traditional Christian groups.
“It’s been really neat, however, to see the way God uses circumstances like these,” Logan said. “He says, ‘If you are not able or willing to go to them, I will bring them to you -– to your schools, to your neighborhoods, to your doorsteps.
“Christians are showing genuine love to people they don’t usually deal with, in certain cases to people they see as the source of the problems they face,” Logan continued. “Even though they aren’t completely comfortable with it, they are realizing they are able to love these people, not because of their own ability, but because they have the love of Christ inside.”
Southern Baptists will have opportunities to share in that remarkable ministry, Logan said. The International Mission Board is dispensing relief funds to meet critical short-term needs, and Southern Baptists can help replenish those resources. The board also will be engaging in long-term reconstruction efforts once a ceasefire is secure. Almost a fourth of Lebanon’s nearly 4 million people have been displaced by the fighting.
“There is a serious humanitarian crisis right now. Food and medicine are critical issues,” Logan said. “As winter approaches and it gets cold and rainy, there also is going to be a huge need for shelter, blankets and heaters.
“One reason Hezbollah has such strong support in certain Muslim neighborhoods is that they have done so much humanitarian work since the end of the civil war,” Logan added. “Southern Baptists will need to do an even better job so people can see the difference between the way Muslim charity organizations respond and the way the body of Christ responds. Instead of seeing someone out for political gain, they need to see Christ.”
*Name changed for security reasons. To contribute to the International Mission Board’s relief efforts in Lebanon, checks with “Lebanon -– General Relief” on the memo line can be sent to the International Mission Board, World Hunger and Relief Ministries, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA, 23230-0767. For more information, call 1-800-999-3113.