Since the summer of 2011, the Lebanese Baptist Society (LSESD) has been directly involved in reaching out to vulnerable Syrian refugees affected by the crisis.
What we are witnessing today is the changing, cleansing and transforming of hearts, which God alone can do.
One young Lebanese pastor, whose church is currently serving around 750 Syrian refugee families, spoke of their ongoing journey of transformation as a church.
“For years we prayed for God to take our revenge, to destroy their land [Syria] as they did to our land,” he said, “yet now that this is exactly what is happening in their country, our hearts are aching for their pain.
“We are constantly praying for their country. Our church is working day and night to help them, to heal their wounds, to wipe their tears and to feed their children,” he said. “Our love for them is real and genuine. What a wonderful Savior and Master we have. Father, forgive us, for we often don’t know what we pray for.”
This is one of around 30 partner churches and community-based organizations through which LSESD is currently working with vulnerable Syrian families both in Lebanon and Syria. These efforts are as follows:
â— Providing monthly food aid to at least 2,500 families (12,500 individuals) through 18 local churches and a Christian nongovernmental organization (NGO).
â— Giving medical assistance to at least 200 individuals a month through a local Christian NGO.
â— Offering winterization items (blankets, mattresses, stoves and so on) to 2,000 families.
â— Starting a school for 147 Syrian refugee children in one of the churches.
â— Conducting day camps for more than 1,000 Syrian refugee children.
â— Supplying monthly food rations for more than 2,600 families (15,600 individuals).
â— Offering medical assistance to those in need.
â— Sharing winterization items with more than 2,000 families and monthly rent to 600.
In addition, LSESD, along with some partners, has provided training for churches on responding effectively to the refugee crisis and has started a process of helping churches deal with trauma.
Amid all this, there are amazing stories of incredible answers to prayers, of visions and of healing as God is transforming the church and the communities through the church.
One partner church leader in Syria shared how their church is being transformed today.
“Prior to the crisis,” he said, “there was only a handful of people in each church who were involved in ministry. The others were mostly observers. Today, almost every single member is involved and, in creative ways, is reaching out to their fellow internally displaced Syrians.”
“In addition to food distribution and health care, our church visits homes and communities that we never dreamt we could engage with,” he said. “We started remedial classes at the church for children who have lost their previous school year; we hold programs for the children of internally displaced families. Our hands are full like never before. We now fully understand the ministry of Jesus and are experiencing the work of the Holy Spirit within and through the church.”
God works in mysterious ways. In 2006, when the war on Lebanon took place, and after years of separation between Christians and Muslims, suddenly our fellow Lebanese – mostly Muslim Shiites – had to flee their homes and seek shelter in the predominantly Christian areas.
As LSESD prayed and sought God’s guidance as to what to do with the influx of internally displaced Lebanese, we felt clearly the Lord’s leading that we should be his hands and feet by addressing the needs of our fellow Lebanese in their hour of need.
We found ourselves involved in a multi-track relief ministry that covered children, youth, women, food distribution and health care.
God opened our eyes as to who is our neighbor, which led us to realize that we have so much in common with our fellow Lebanese from whom we had been separated for years.
In response to our efforts, the families we were serving started asking us: “You are Christians, why are you helping us?”
Bridges were built as the walls of separation were torn down. Today, as a result of helping to address the Syrian crisis, we see Lebanese people putting aside their grievances and coming to the aid of Syrians.
God is using challenging circumstances to prompt the church to wake up, join hands and fulfill its mission.
We see an increasing number of churches capture the vision and look for the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus amid an utterly challenging situation.
As difficult and painful as they are, the challenging circumstances that our country and region are going through are opportunities to translate the message of the Gospel in practical and meaningful ways that reflect the love and peace of Christ.
If we disregard these opportunities, we will be failing our calling as his disciples.
We can best bless others and be blessed in the process when we turn a deaf ear to political agendas and focus on being salt and light, taking our cue at all times from the Lord and following in his footsteps.
Only then can we preserve the church from any bias that negatively affect its witness; and only then can we remain true to the mission at hand and positively influence the community for Christ.
Nabil Costa is the executive director of the Lebanese Baptist Society, a BMS World Mission trustee and 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 two of Costa’s reflections on responding to the Syrian crisis. Part one is available here.