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Slaying of 2 Lebanese churchwomen hits pastor at BWA congress in Australia

MELBOURNE, Australia (BP)–Two Lebanese women were buried in their homeland on Jan. 5 as 7,000 of their fellow Baptists gathered in Australia for the 18th Baptist World Congress.

Charles Costa felt alone amidst the Baptist throng in Melbourne — grief-stricken that he could not perform the funeral of the women murdered by Islamic militants.

Militants shot and mutilated Selwa Raad and her pregnant daughter, Sarah Yazbeck, and wounded Sarah’s husband, Jean, on Jan. 3.

They were among more than 20 Lebanese and uncounted militants slain as civil conflict escalated in the Dinniyah region, a mountainous area about 60 miles north of Beirut.

Costa, pastor of Ras Beirut Baptist Church, performed the wedding of Jean and Sarah in early 1998, and grew close to them during premarital counseling.

“Jean called my house to ask me to officiate at the funeral, but I was already here in Australia,” Costa said, trying to hold back his tears. “I just talked to him two weeks ago as he was preparing a Christmas activity for his church. They were a great Christian couple.”

Costa attended the opening Baptist World Congress session Jan. 5 ’emotionally and spiritually drained’ and about ready to return home — especially after separate news of a bomb threat at his church in Beirut.

“That night’s sermon uplifted and renewed me,” he said of a sermon preached by H. Beecher Hicks Jr., pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

Hicks, noting that many in the auditorium likely bore heavy burdens, emphasized an invitation of Jesus — “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

The African American pastor urged participants to say “yes” to that invitation and concluded his message by repeating “yes” in nearly a dozen languages.

Costa joined the congress audience as it voiced “yes” in the various languages. “I said to the Lord, ‘I’m weary and tired,'” he recounted, “and I turned it over to him.”

The murders of the defenseless women “exemplify the darkest side of human nature,” Costa reflected. “They exemplify cruelty and the demonic.”

News accounts give conflicting information about how the women died, but Costa, who had access to firsthand reports, said they died after Islamic militants sprayed their door with automatic weapons, blew it open with grenades, and shot them and cut them into pieces.

Jean Yazbeck, a Lebanese Army sergeant on leave, ran upstairs to get his gun and killed three of the militants before being wounded in the leg and escaping. Militants blew up the house.

Jean s doing fine physically, but he is in shambles emotionally after seeing his wife — pregnant with their first child — and his mother-in-law die such a horrible death,” Costa said.

“It’s difficult on a human level to forgive this,” Costa said. “I want to forgive them. I hope Jean can forgive them. This family and their church need the prayers of world Baptists.

“So does the Middle East with all its struggles, tensions and hatreds.”

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  • Robert O'Brien