An artillery shell barely missed the Rayak Baptist Church, breaking church glass, amid fighting between Israel and the Hezbollah, a Lebanese Baptist leader told EthicsDaily.com.
The explosion occurred about 10 yards from the church–located in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, known as the home of Hezbollah–which housed some 35 displaced families.
European Baptist Federation delegates worshipped with Rayak church members on a Sunday evening when the EBF met in Lebanon in 2004. That evening Lebanese Baptists and EBF delegates sang in Arabic and English “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
Members of another congregation, KhirbtBaptistChurch, were housing hundreds of displaced families in their homes, said Nabil Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Society for Education and Social Development. BadaroBaptistChurch in downtown Beirut also had five families sleeping in the church basement.
In a Tuesday e-newsletter, Costa wrote: “Friends, as I write this message, bombs are falling on southern Beirut; we anticipate more escalation in the days to come. I strongly urge you to keep our country and region in your prayers.”
Costa said the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut was sheltering more than 80 people forced from their homes by the Israeli army.
Elie Haddad, provost at the seminary, told EthicsDaily.com some of the refugees were from the church in Deir Mimas, the closest church to the Israeli border.
“There are 760 refugees at BBS [BeirutBaptistSchool]. All Shiite,” Haddad, a Canadian Baptist Ministries field-staff person, shared in an e-mail. “There are around 40 refugees per classroom, and every 10 classrooms share a bathroom.”
Haddad described living conditions as “miserable,” despite well-organized relief efforts at BBS with involvement from the school’s Boy Scouts, parents, staff and teams from ABTS.
“The 760 refugees share 300 mattresses,” he wrote. “Even if we can find more mattresses, I doubt that they can fit.”
Haddad said about a third of the refugees at ABTS “are Shiites that have fled from the south and the southern suburbs of Beirut.”
He said the seminary had no scheduled classes in July and August.
Martin Accad, academic dean at ABTS, wrote a Tuesday online Christianity Today column titled “‘Who Is My Neighbor’ in the Lebanon-Israel Conflict?”
Accad said e-mails he had received disclosed much misunderstanding about the Middle East, including use of the term “terrorist.”
“The term has been so grossly misused for political rhetoric in the past few years that only those who are willing to question deeply rooted conventions will be able to hear me,” Accad said.
“‘Terrorist’ cannot—should not—be used as a noun or in the substantive,” he wrote. “It can only be an adjective to describe an act.
“The fact is that the ‘terrorists’ of one group are the ‘heroes’ of another,” he wrote, citing historical reference to the French resistance to Nazi occupation and anti-apartheid efforts in South Africa.
“As for the ‘real’ profile of your so-called ‘terrorist’ come with me to the Beirut suburbs or to the villages of South Lebanon or to some parts of the Bekaa Valley,” he wrote. “I will introduce you to many of my friends who eat the same food you do, watch the same movies, share your humanity and yet happen to be staunch adherents to a group called Hezbollah.”
“Contrary to many corrupt and double-faced political entities and ideologies in the Middle East, Hezbollah have been active in their social and educational programs, coherent in their message, and uncompromising in their political and militant stance,” Accad said.
“Whatever one’s opinion is of the group—and I, for one, am not a fan—in a country where war and occupation have often left a vacuum in entire regions of government, it is these characteristics of Hezbollah that have made it so popular to a majority of the most underprivileged, who happen also to be the most sizeable community in the Lebanese population: Shiites.”
Accad called the goal of Israel and some Western nations to wipe out 20 percent of the Lebanese population, the Shiites, “a failed strategy.” He said many of the Shiites were being cared for by Christians.
In another effort to speak from a Christian perspective to the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, SAT-7, a Christian satellite-TV network, will provide a live call-in program on Wednesday, July 26, from 6 to 7 p.m. Lebanese time.
David Harder, SAT-7 communications manager in Nicosia, Cyprus, told EthicsDaily.com that scheduled guest Rev. Paul Haidostian, president of Haigazian University (Armenian/Evangelical), will discuss why God allows war.
Other guests include Father Toni Khadra, head of the Lebanon’s Catholic Press Union, who will discuss humanitarian efforts and what Christians can and should be doing to help; and Rima Karam, a psychologist, who will talk about the impact of the war on children.
Harder said viewers will be able to send text messages to the panelists.
SAT-7 provides satellite-TV programming across the Middle East and North Africa. Its Beirut offices are next door to ABTS.
SAT-7 receives support from the Baptist General Conference, BMS World Mission, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and International Ministries of the American Baptist Churches, U.S.A.
The Wednesday program in Arabic will also be available on SAT-7 Web site with streaming video.
The executive committee of the European Baptist Federation on Wednesday issued a statement joining United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, the European Union and others in calling for “an immediate cessation of hostilities, praying for a just and lasting peace for all peoples and a negotiated ceasefire.”
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.