Skip to site content

Lebanese Baptists Reach Out to Syrian Neighbors

Not long ago the U.S. considered Iran to be one of the “axis of evil” countries while the latter referred to U.S. as the “great Satan.”

Now we see leaders of both countries hugging each other in what appears to be the start of a new love story as they sign an agreement over Iran’s nuclear power together with five other countries.

In parallel, we see Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, retweeting United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron’s praise of the deal.

Upon the election of Mohamed Morsi as president of Egypt in June 2012, relations grew strong between Egypt and Turkey’s prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan.

But last November, Egypt’s General Abdel Fatah Said El Sissy issued a red card against Turkey and expelled its ambassador.

There are no constants or guarantees where politics is concerned. This is all the more reason why we, as Christians, should remain focused on our biblical mission and not put our trust in political agendas.

At any time, a political position may undergo a 180-degree shift, toppling with it a long list of values that were portrayed as the basis of the previous position regardless of the actual cost, including the suddenly forgotten numbers of lives that had to die for it.

As Christians, the value we add to our community is in being able to discern God’s agenda and in seeking to do his will if we are to make a difference.

The Arab uprisings took us all by surprise.

However, what was first perceived as an “Arab Spring” felt more like an autumn as fundamentalist and armed groups took advantage of the genuine cry for freedom and democracy to hijack the cause in pursuit of other less inclusive agendas and objectives.

As a result, incredible and vicious atrocities – unseen and unheard of before – in the name of God and religion are taking place in various parts of our region today.

The outcome is increased hardship, marginalization and vulnerability as well as more uncertainty, a general sense of despair and a rise in the desire to emigrate in search of peace and stability.

And once again, the Christian presence in the region is a major concern.

As a result of the Syrian crisis that started in early 2011, the United Nations estimates that more than 40 percent of the Syrian population needs humanitarian assistance, with around 6.5 million internally displaced and another 2 million seeking refuge in neighboring countries.

In fact, the situation of the Syrian refugees is perceived as the worst since the Rwandan genocide.

Thousands of families – estimated to be between 6,000 and 8,000 per day – continue to flee their country seeking shelter in neighboring countries, including Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

The war in Syria and the Syrian refugee crisis have been on the forefront of the news worldwide for a while now.

However, it is never more real than for the Lebanese people who are dealing with the difficult realities of it each and every day.

It was projected that the number of Syrian refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and unregistered refugees in Lebanon alone would exceed 1 million by end of December 2013, at a time when the overall population of Lebanon is around 4 million.

Many towns are not big enough to host the numbers of Syrians who are coming to live in them.

In some towns, the number of Syrians entering outnumbers the native Lebanese population.

Needless to say, this incredible influx creates a burden on the Lebanese economy while Syrian refugees themselves are, day by day, drowning in poverty in the absence of work opportunities, proper housing and health care.

The winter season poses yet another challenge for the refugees as a considerable number live in makeshift homes of tents, unfinished buildings and rented, unfurnished apartments.

Education is another challenge as thousands of Syrian children are not going to school.

Recently, UNHCR resident representative, Ninette Kelly, noted, “Even if the United Nations reaches its target of enrolling 100,000 Syrian refugee children in Lebanese public schools this year, double that number could remain outside the country’s formal education system. Children who remain out of school become more vulnerable to exploitation, such as child labor and early marriage.”

In short, the plight of the Syrians today is way beyond what the combined efforts of the international and local nongovernmental organizations can address.

Since the summer of 2011, the Lebanese Baptist Society has been directly involved in reaching out to vulnerable Syrian families affected by the crisis.

We do so in partnership with local churches and church-based organizations as a way to fulfill our mission to serve the church in Lebanon and the Arab world through spiritual, social and educational development.

It has been nothing short of amazing to see how the local churches have been rising up to the occasion.

They are reaching out to alleviate the suffering of Syrian refugees seeking shelter in their communities despite the history between Lebanon and Syria that has affected relations between the peoples of the two nations, leaving behind open wounds – among many Lebanese Christians too – that still need to be healed.

Nabil Costa is the executive director of the Lebanese Baptist Society, a BMS World Mission trustee, the general secretary of the Association of Evangelical Schools in Lebanon. He also serves on the executive committee of the European Baptist Federation and is a vice president for the Baptist World Alliance. A version of this article first appeared in the Spring 2014 edition of Baptists Together magazine, a publication of The Baptist Times of Great Britain. It is used with permission.

Editor’s note: This is part one of Costa’s reflections on responding to the Syrian crisis. Part two will appear tomorrow.