Street fighting in Beirut at the end of last week forced the closing on Thursday of the Beirut Baptist School, led to the postponement of a public lecture today at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary and enveloped a BMS World Mission staff member.
Associated Press referred on Sunday to the past five days as the “worst sectarian violence since Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.” AP reported that 38 people had been killed.
Calling the situation “the country’s worst internal fighting since its bitter 15-year civil war,” BBC News reported that 7,000 had fled from the city of Tripoli.
After difficulty returning to Lebanon through Syria from Egypt, Baptist leader Nabil Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Society for Education and Social Development, said in an email newsletter that the violence struck without warning, forcing residents to seek shelter in safe areas.
In an email to EthicsDaily.com late Saturday, Martin Accad, ABTS’ academic dean, wrote that in “Lebanon we have to learn to live day by day,” noting the historic pattern of conflict in which “springtime seems to be the universal season when kings go to war.”
Accad said: “If we followed our most fundamental human fears, we would be paralyzed and do nothing. However, we have learnt to continue working and planning and pressing on as though every thing was normal, and never interrupt what we feel God has called us to do, except at the very last moment due to extenuating circumstances.”
A BMS staff member recounted from Beirut in a Friday podcast that she had flown into the capital of Lebanon without realizing the extent of the conflict in which Hezbollah had taken over most of West Beirut, including the airport.
Usually stationed in Britain and identified only by her first name, Katherine had to walk out of the airport area through road blocks.
She said in an interview that armed gunmen entered the apartment in which she was staying with friends, looking for weapons. She said they forced the residents downstairs where their passports were examined.
“Our fight is not with you, you are safe, do not be afraid, we will look after you,” she said quoting the gunmen.
Katherine said she did not know what happened to the men in the building who had had their hands tied.
The BMS interviewer closed the podcast requesting that listener “continue to pray for Lebanon, our partners and our workers there, as well as for the country as a whole, for peace to come, and for the peace to be just.”
ABTS posted a letter on the front page of its Web site announcing the postponement of a Monday lecture in which Karen Shaw was scheduled to address “The Missional Church: As Flame by Burning.”
The letter said, “We will announce the new date as soon as possible. In the meantime, please let us keep praying for Lebanon.”
A question mark also hangs over ABTS’ Institute of Middle East Studies’ annual conference next month titled “Islam, Its Message and Law, and the Future of Our Societies.”
Web site promotional material notes that the conference will examine Islamic law and the Muslim groups striving for “the creation of a House of Islam globally.”
IMES conferences are “in line with a Jesus ethic” and aim “to transform the Church’s thinking into a more holistic understanding of global realities that will make it into a more faithful witness as it relates to Islam.”
Accad recalled that in June 2006 that Israel’s war against Hezbollah followed shortly after the IMES conference titled “Waging Peace from East to West.” Last year the conference took place as the Lebanese army battled forces in the Palestinian camp of Nahr el Bared.
“We have a sense that God has been using the platform of the Middle East Conference as a prophetic platform,” said Accad. “So we trust that we will be able to go ahead with the conference yet again, and against all odds.”
A story from a French news agency in Lebanon’s Daily Star reported yesterday that while “uneasy calm” had returned to Beirut, rival clans had battled in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.
“The crisis in Lebanon is widely seen as an extension of the confrontation pitting the United States and its Arab allies against Syria and Iran,” said the story.
An editorial in the Daily Star said, “[T]here is no doubting that Lebanon’s political status quo has been radically altered in a very few days. It is too early to predict where this will lead the country, but whereas the seat of actual Lebanese power has long been in doubt, for now at least it has a clear address: that of Hizbullah’s secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.”
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics. He spent a week in Lebanon in September 2004 at the European Baptist Fellowship’s annual meeting and wrote extensively about the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah. EthicsDaily.com named Lebanese Baptists as its “Baptists of the Year” in 2006.