Lebanese Baptist leader Nabil Costa spoke with EthicsDaily.com over the weekend about the worsening crisis in Syria, which he called "very painful."
"Now is a time to show a Christian unity and to show the practical side of Christianity. Now is not the time to preach it, but to live it," said Nabil Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Baptist Society. (Photo: EthicsDaily.com)
"From the humanitarian and social aspect, it is very difficult and it is very painful. More and more people are getting displaced," said Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Baptist Society and a vice president of the Baptist World Alliance, in a phone interview.
He said Lebanese Baptists have been in continuous contact with Baptists in the city of Aleppo, the economic capital of Syria. Between 15 percent and 20 percent of the city's population are Christians.
Aleppo has been the center of heavy fighting in recent weeks. Across the country, some 17,000 people have been killed in the 17-month armed conflict.
The U.N. High Commission on Refugees said Friday that 146,667 Syrian refugees were in bordering countries. A significant number of refugees "have yet to be registered."
More than 50,000 Syrian refugees were in Turkey, while 45,869 were in Jordan and 36,841 were in Lebanon.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that "there will be no winner in Syria."
"Now," the statement continued, "we face the grim possibility of long-term civil war destroying Syria's rich tapestry of interwoven communities."
Costa told EthicsDaily.com that the Baptist community in Beirut would be receiving five Syrian families this week.
The Lebanese Baptist Society, Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, German Baptist Aid and the European Baptist Federation are working to provide humanitarian help to those in Aleppo, Homs, Damascus and other Syrian cities, as well as refugees in Jordan.
"We do not discriminate between a Christian or a Muslim, or a Shia or a Sunni – whatever. Our role now is to help who is in need up to our limitations," said Costa. "We are not sending parcels blindly. We have our people, our graduates, going around ... taking things to the people."
Estimating the number of Baptist congregations in Syria at around 15, Costa said Baptists were working with the Christian Missionary Alliance.
"Now is a time to show a Christian unity and to show the practical side of Christianity. Now is not the time to preach it, but to live it," said Costa. "You can't preach on a hungry or a scared or a threatened family. You need to help them find shelter, feed them. And they can see your Christianity in a practical way."
He expressed hope that Christians in the West would use their influence "to help, protect and maintain the minority Christians in Syria and the region."
"Look what happened in Iraq," said Costa. "The minority Christians, most of them, left Iraq. We want the Christians to stay in the Middle East."
As the Lebanese government has taken a neutral role in the war in Syria, Baptists have taken a nonpolitical role in Lebanon.
"The Lebanese government, they know our role," said Costa. "It is only a purely humanitarian, social role and distributing the good news. They know that as evangelicals, we always support our government. We don't go against the legal authorities."
He said: "We do what our role is to do to help other Lebanese and share the Christian love. We don't [get] into politics at all."
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.