One of our UK team, Zoe has just got back from time on a trip to the Lebanon. Lebanon shares a border with Syria and here she writes the first of several blog posts about what Open Doors is doing on the ground, and her experiences meeting several pastors working in extreme conditions.
Day one in Lebanon has been quite a day, filled with some real living and breathing saints of the church! We met with a number of Lebanese Christians who are helping Syrian refugees, often against the will of many within their own churches who struggle to set aside years of division and hatred between Lebanon and Syria; with Syrian refugees in Beirut who survive thanks to the love of Christ shown through the church; and with a courageous Syrian pastor who drove 8 hours, crossing countless check-points, just to be with us.
First, we had the privilege of visiting a number of Syrian refugees in their homes in Beirut. To put this visit into context: Lebanon is a country with only four million citizens and is currently hosting an additional 2 million registered refugees, of which 1.2 million are Syrian.
The Syrian refugees we met with lived in a densely populated area of high-rise buildings and narrow streets. Cars, motorbikes, people and stray cats closely compete for road space and the area is replete with piles of rubbish bags and covered by a dense, fuggy heat. The area is controlled by Hezbollah and we were only able to meet these families in groups of four so as not to raise suspicion.
The families we met lived in tiny, dingy apartments with a mattress on the floor for furnishings. One lady, Sara, shared that her rent is $350pcm, her electricity is a further $100pcm, and her husband’s wages are $500pcm. They are helped by her 14-year-old son’s wage of $20 per week, but that is not enough to support the family. Furthermore, she and her son have asthma and they struggle to get medicine. Her life-line is a local Christian centre, which gives her family food and medicine. This centre also gives her hope through the gospel.
“We do not oblige them to come to the centre. They are only obliged to see the love of Jesus.” This was the answer that the leader of the Christian centre, Sami, gave when we asked him how he gives support to Sara’s family and the 400 other families he cares for. They reach out to those in need, meeting them on their terms in their own houses, bringing the love of Christ to them so that they do not feel obliged to come to the centre.
During a storm, most people leave, but a minority of crazy people run to the storm. We are in this minority.
They actively demonstrate the love of Christ by reaching out to anyone in need, regardless of religion or denomination. Nevertheless, people flock to the centre and find a spiritual refuge there. The centre is busy, running multiple meetings every day apart from Sunday. The leader of the centre is a remarkable man. From the Maronite tradition, he had served in a militia and was raised to hate all Syrians. Then he met Jesus in a powerful way, began serving Him and is now running a ministry for Syrian refugees with the help of other Syrian Christians! Sami asked our churches to pray for the work of the Christian centre and particular to pray for protection.
I also loved hearing about the work that God is doing in Syria through the amazing Pastor B from Tartus. He has been working through the church to support internally displaced people within Syria for three years. Thanks to his hard work, sacrifice and God’s grace he now provides relief for 1,850 families in eight areas of Syria.
Open Doors partners with Pastor B in this work and I am so glad that we are able to stand alongside this man and support this ministry. He also shared how people whose hearts were previously closed to the gospel, met with Christ through the love that the church demonstrated to them. He is dealing with truly broken people, bringing Christ’s love and hope into their lives. While he was open and honest about the challenges that the faced – and they are many – remarkably his faith was still unshakably in Christ and in the power of God to overcome.
Finally, despite having driven for 8 hours to meet with us, he thanked us, saying: “Thank you for coming. It is an expression of love, care, follow-up and hope for the church in the middle of the storm. During a storm, most people leave, but a minority of crazy people run to the storm. We are in this minority. God heard our prayers and sent your organisation to stand by our side.”
There will be more of Zoe’s blogs to come…