A Lebanese Baptist leader questioned how much longer Christians can continue to meet growing refugee demands in a country descending into a worsening war in an e-mail request for Sunday prayers.

The United Nations estimated that 700,000 people were fleeing the fighting between Israel and the Hezbollah. Some 200,000 Lebanese were fleeing to Syria.

“The current disaster places the Lebanese believers at a crossroads: Either we willingly work to lift up the weak and the weary, endangering our lives to save others, or we can choose to run and hide, hunkering down until this tornado passes by,” Nabil Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Society for Education and Social Development, wrote Friday evening.

“For us Lebanese believers, this is not so easy,” Costa wrote. “Those we are helping are linked to those who tried to destroy us during the Lebanese war (1975-90). But the loving eyes of our crucified Lord have directed us to the narrow road, to be his heart and his hands to those in need. It is not easy for you to go to these people, so I will bring them to you to serve them and reveal to them my love.”

He wrote about a growing number of displaced Lebanese were seeking shelter at the Beirut Baptist School and Arab Baptist Theological Seminary.

“As we begin the second week of this war, we ask ourselves how long we will be able to continue this effort,” Costa said. “Frankly, this burden is too heavy for us to carry alone.”

Recognizing the crisis, a number of worldwide Christian leaders called over the weekend for a ceasefire and humanitarian aid.

Pope Benedict XVI called all parties in the conflict to enter an immediate ceasefire and to allow for humanitarian aid.

“I take the occasion to reaffirm the right of the Lebanese to live in a sovereign country, the right of the Israelis to live in peace in their state and the right of the Palestinians to have a free and sovereign country,” he said.

The pope called on the international community to find ways to start negotiations.

In his Sunday sermon, the Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir urged Lebanese to stand together.

“We have to put our hands together in order to preserve our country that was and should remain a country of peaceful coexistence,” he said.

Mainline Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Mennonite leaders sent a letter on Friday with the Churches for Middle East Peace wrote President Bush.

They urged him “to work with other world leaders to secure an immediate cease-fire in the violent conflict raging now between Hezbollah and Israel.”

Their letter said: “We are deeply concerned for the innocent victims of the attacks and reprisals between non-state parties in Lebanon and the government of Israel.  This violent conflict has created a grave humanitarian crisis, and no hoped-for benefit should outweigh the cause of saving innocent lives.”

In other developments, Jerry Jones, team leader for global missions and evangelism for Virginia Baptists, told EthicsDaily.com on Saturday that the Baptist General Association of Virginia is providing $8,000 in relief funds to assist with the refugee ministry being undertaken at the Beirut Bible School and the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Along with these funds come our prayers for strength, sustenance and His guidance in discerning how best to minister in these times,” said Jones.

Other Baptist bodies had earlier begun the process of providing relief to Lebanese Baptists, including Baptist World Aid, BMS World Mission, American Baptist Churches, U.S.A., and Canadian Baptist Ministries.

Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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