The West should be helping Christians to stay in the Middle East, not offering them visas to escape, BMS World Mission trustee Nabil Costa says.
Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Society for Education and Social Development (LSESD), a BMS partner, is calling on Christians in the West to not only pray for the situation but also to lobby their governments to “empower the Christian presence in the Middle East” following the advance of militant group ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Costa is totally against the recent offer of some European and Western governments to offer visas for Iraqi Christians.
“We want the Christians in the West to lobby for us to live here in peace,” Costa says. “In America, the Christians should voice it to those in Congress, and the Congress should help in this. In [the U.K., Christians should lobby] the House of Commons and Lords. You should speak loudly through your ambassador [in Lebanon] that we want to stay here.”
“The Middle East is our land,” Costa says. “Bethlehem is our land. Jesus was born here. These are the lands, which Jesus visited: Damascus, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan. You do not help us as the West when you give us visas to emigrate. We don’t want to emigrate. We want your power to help us to stay here.”
The recent humanitarian relief to those fleeing ISIS in Iraq is to be commended but is only short term, Costa says.
He anticipates that unless Christians and other religious minorities are returned to their homes, it could turn into another Palestinian situation where they become long-term refugees.
“In the long run, we need to help Iraqis stay in Iraq,” Costa says. “The Iraqis that left Mosul need to go back to Mosul, Christians that are leaving Syria need to go back to Syria. You need to help them go back to their countries.”
The impact of ISIS is starting to affect life in Lebanon. On Aug. 2, Aarsal, a northeast Lebanese border town, was attacked by ISIS fighters following the arrest of a militant, who has been linked to both ISIS and al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, Al-Nusra Front.
ISIS had temporary control of the town but, after five days of fighting against the Lebanese army, they retreated back to Syria with some captured soldiers and members of the Lebanese internal security force, whom they are still holding hostage.
The fighting left 18 Lebanese soldiers, 60 militants and 42 civilians dead and more than 400 civilians injured.
Thousands of Iraqi Christian refugees are also arriving in Lebanon after escaping the north of Iraq when ISIS invaded and threatened to kill them if they did not convert to Islam. Costa says around 7,000 are now in the country.
LSESD is assessing where they are and what their needs are before they respond with aid.
Churches, monasteries and even mosques are currently helping the refugees.
That Muslims are helping Iraqi Christians, Costa says, shows what the majority of Muslims are like in Lebanon, in complete contrast to ISIS and other extremists.
“The majority are peace-seekers, whether they are Sunni or Shia. We live with them and we have very good relationships with them,” Costa says. “The Sunni extremists do not represent the majority of Muslims.”
Chris Hall is the editor of BMS World Mission’s Engage magazine. A version of this news article first appeared on the BMS website and is used with permission. You can follow Chris on Twitter @chrishallnewb and BMS @BMSWorldMission.