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Southern Baptists bolster relief in Lebanon, Israel

MIDDLE EAST (BP)–As the United Nations mobilizes troops to maintain a fragile ceasefire, Southern Baptists are stepping up relief efforts in Lebanon and Israel, funneling more than a half-million dollars in aid into the war-torn region.

Damage from air raids and rocket attacks has flattened homes and leveled buildings, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. Some spend hours sifting through ash-colored rubble, trying to salvage any trace of their former lives -– perhaps a photograph or family heirloom. Most of the devastation is concentrated in southern Lebanon, an area recently visited by a Southern Baptist medical assessment team.

“They’ve got no possessions left; there is not a single chair that’s intact,” a Christian medical worker said. “Everything is smashed and covered with concrete. The smell of dead bodies, either human or animal, is prevalent in these communities.”

So far, Baptist partners in both nations have distributed $100,000 worth of supplies –- food, water, temporary latrines and showers, medicine and cleaning supplies -– to people displaced by the fighting.

“We never show any kind of favoritism,” a Southern Baptist relief consultant said. “We’re distributing aid to anyone who has need, regardless of their faith.”

An additional $250,000 has been earmarked to provide more of the same, as well as blankets and portable heaters for the region’s rapidly approaching winter.

Food supplies are especially critical, which is why Southern Baptists also have purchased more than 250,000 cans of tuna fish. High in protein, tuna was an obvious choice because it’s already part of the Middle Eastern diet, the consultant said. The cans are slated to be shipped to Lebanon before the end of October.


At a cost of $300,000, the tuna bumps the total amount of Southern Baptist aid to those affected by the conflict to $650,000, making it this year’s second-largest relief project. Though the sum may appear to be a drop in the bucket compared to the $230 million pledged by the United States, it will be used to minister to areas outside large population centers, which often are neglected in times of turmoil.

“In a major crisis like this, you always have a lot of governmental agencies as well as large aid organizations that provide resources,” the consultant explained. “Sometimes, however, these resources never get to the people who really need the help. That’s why it’s often advantageous to come in a little later, allowing us to see more clearly and to minister to needs that have been overlooked or neglected.”

He also noted the importance of another investment many governments and relief agencies aren’t willing to make -– time.

“The main difference between other aid work and ours is that we’re not only there to provide assistance, but also to walk side by side with them, developing personal relationships while listening to them and ministering to their physical, emotional and spiritual pain.”

For those who didn’t evacuate during the fighting, that pain is very real, to a Southern Baptist volunteer reported.

“Fear beyond their ability to endure is what people were describing over and over,” he said. “They told us, ‘You cannot imagine the horror we went through staying here and enduring the bombing.’”


Baptist partners in Lebanon and Israel are playing a principal role in the relief process, getting supplies into the hands of people who need them.

“We are fortunate in having tremendous Lebanese and Israeli Baptist partners to work with,” the consultant said. “They know where a lot of the needs are, and they’re going to be able to minister to greater depths of the culture than any group from the outside.”

As stability returns to the region, the consultant hopes teams of Southern Baptist volunteers soon will be able to travel to Lebanon and Israel to assist Baptist partners there. Plans for medical teams already are in the works. But the consultant cautions that volunteer safety is never guaranteed, which is why he believes potential volunteers must possess a “keen sense of spiritual discernment” and feel a clear calling from the Lord to go.

“I had a lot of anger directed at me because I was an American,” a Christian medical worker said. “But after you would allow them to vent for two minutes, it was very easy to say, ‘I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, I am His servant, and I am commanded to love you.’ And immediately they would say, ‘Welcome -– let us drink tea together.’ It’s easy to reverse their opinion.”


The consultant added that those unable to volunteer can contribute to the relief effort by committing themselves to pray specifically for those displaced by the war and for the Baptist partners working to share the love of Christ with them.

“Pray for us and pray for the people who so desperately need to know about the Savior,” a Christian worker pleaded. “There is no peace we can ever find outside Him.”

Southern Baptists also are encouraged to continue giving to the World Hunger and General Relief funds -– and to guard against apathy toward the situation.

“In the Middle East guns are commonplace, and people shoot at each other all the time; therefore, we really don’t think there is anything we can do to help,” the worker said. “But [it’s in those situations] where we can really make a difference through our praying, our giving and our involvement.”

Above all, the consultant emphasized that the ultimate goal of Baptists’ relief work in Lebanon and Israel is to glorify God and be living examples of His love.

“People always ask questions, which gives us an obvious opportunity to share with them why we are here, and God does it every time,” he said. “God always opens doors.”

    About the Author

  • Don Graham