Lebanese Baptists withdrew relief teams Thursday from working with more than 760 mostly Shiite refugees sheltered at the Beirut Baptist School located in downtown Beirut due to air strikes.
“Our people left BBS early today and could not continue what they were doing (offering Christian programs to refugees),” said Nabil Costa, head of Lebanese Baptists, in an email to EthicsDaily.com.
Costa said that his teams spent only two hours at the school and “had to come back at 12:00 as bombs were very near to the area of our school.”
However, BBS continued to house an increasing number of refugees, he said.
Costa’s offices are located on a hillside overlooking Beirut, on the same property with SAT-7, a Christian satellite-TV network, and Arab Baptist Theological Seminary.
He said he saw building pressure from both Hezbollah and Israel as the result of Hezbollah leaders urging Arabs to leave the Israeli city of Haifa and the Israeli government dropping leaflets on the southern suburbs of Beirut urging residents to evacuate that area.
“With this kind of threats…the country will be more paralyzed,” wrote Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Society for Education and Social Development.
He expressed hope that the escalating threat will birth a ceasefire.
Naji Daoub, Beirut director of SAT-7, said, “[W]e are going to see lots of escalation in the coming few days. We are all expecting and waiting for what they are calling the ‘expanded offensive.’ It seems now that diplomacy is halted for at least till the end of this week, if not longer.”
In Wednesday e-mail interviews with Costa, Daoub and Mike Bassous, general secretary for the Bible Society of Lebanon, EthicsDaily.com learned that residents of Beirut were facing a worsening crisis and Baptists held a strained hope for a ceasefire at the beginning of the second month of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.
“The local news is not also so optimistic about a nearby agreement for a cease fire,” said Daoud.
A fellow church member with him at Faith Baptist Church in Mansourieh, Bassour said, “Every war has come to an end.”
He said, “I am optimistic that a cease-fire will come about; the question is at what cost, and how many lives will be lost between now and then?”
While he declined to comment on the politics of the crisis, Bassous observed to EthicsDaily.com that nations rush into wars with ease but take their time “discussing how to stop wars.”
“It is sad that our sinful nature is always dominant over our peaceful nature,” he said.
Costa told EthicsDaily.com a fuel shortage “poses another serious problem for us.”
When Baptist team members searched for gas, Costa said they had to wait for hours in “long endless lines of cars” and some “actually leave the stations without having filled up.”
Gas prices have increased and in some placed roughly doubled, according to both Costa and Daoud.
“Fuel … is becoming almost obsolete,” Bassous said. “You have to wait for hours at the gas station to get a few liters of petrol. The roads have fewer cars; public transportation is now more expensive and less available. Fuel oil for electricity generators is also running low, leading to limited availability of electricity power supply—a few hours every day.”
He said that the Lebanese Bible Society had made “several thousand Scripture items” available to Christian relief and humanitarian organizations.”
The society’s relief packages included 10 food items, a blanket, soap, medicines and 10 short Scripture messages for different age groups.
“The greatest need is an immediate cessation of fire,” Bassous said. “There are hundreds of thousands of people caught in the middle of this war without any basic food, water and medicine supplies.”
Daoud said the cost of food has risen and some items are unavailable.
According to his brother, a commercial manager of one of the largest Lebanese food suppliers, the food shortages resulted from Israel’s bombing of bridges and strikes against large trucks, causing truck drivers to refuse transporting food into the country.
Earlier in the week at the daily prayer service held at ABTS, a seminary graduate encouraged participants to love their enemies.
Costa said of the devotional, “That though it is difficult to pray at this stage for those who are the cause of much displacement in our country, yet we should do so in obedience to our calling as Christians.”
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.