Like many concerned with the news in and around Lebanon, I receive regular updates from The Daily Star, one of the English language news providers in Lebanon.
Almost daily, I receive, via my phone, a brief news feed with updates on the latest roadside blast, suicide bomber or government attack, along with the fatality and casualty statistics.
− Every minute: Three Syrians become refugees.
− Every two minutes: Eight children inside Syria are forced to flee their homes.
− Every 10 minutes: One person dies.
The lists could go on, and the numbers only increase.
It seems as if each time my smartphone bleeps, it is as likely to be news of more fatalities as it is my wife asking me to pick up some groceries on the way home.
I was sitting in church recently trying to worship when my phone vibrated. I know I should have ignored it, but I failed to subdue the temptation to look.
As I subtly glanced at my screen, I read about the latest loss of lives in the latest attack.
I don’t remember where this particular tragedy took place or how many people died.
However, I remember well how I felt as I looked up from my screen and saw the people around me.
At that moment, I was literally surrounded by Syrian and Kurdish brothers and sisters who have not only sought refuge in Lebanon but have found a place in my church.
These people are my brothers and sisters. They are also the brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, neighbors and colleagues of the people who were not able to escape and who have paid with their lives.
They have names and stories that they have shared with me. They have hopes and dreams as well as nightmares and despair.
On that Sunday morning it was personal, and it hurt more than it normally does.
There will be, and have been, countless other news feeds that do not provoke such a reaction in me.
However, that Sunday I found it hard to sing and listen to the sermon as I tried to hold back tears of sadness, anger and despair.
I didn’t know how to respond. All I knew was that it hurt. And maybe that was not such a bad thing.
In fact, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I know I was meant to feel the pain of those around me.
If I had not felt such pain that morning, my worship would have been mere parody.
I’m no fan of Christian platitudes. However, I once read the following words that have stuck with me: “Jesus came to comfort the disturbed…And to disturb the comfortable.”
On that Sunday morning and many others like it, Jesus was comforting those Syrian and Kurdish refugees who had found a place of welcome and love among their Lebanese Christian brothers and sisters.
It is also true that many Lebanese Christians have been disturbed by what God is doing in their midst—bringing “the enemy” into their homes, breaking down long held enmity, fear and hatred.
I, too, have been disturbed, and I am thankful that I have—though it can hurt. When we choose not to let ourselves be disturbed by events around us, we lose something of our common humanity.
For those of us fortunate to be living in Lebanon in these days, we cannot avoid the tragedy of the Syrian conflict.
It is in our face every day as the ever increasing number of refugees continue to flood into our already “stretched-to-breaking point” country.
We see young children daily begging in the streets and women selling sex for five dollars to survive and feed their families.
Nevertheless, it is still possible to ignore an individual’s personal suffering. It is easy not to know the names and stories of such persons because the situation is “just too big.”
How much harder must it be for those living overseas and far away to grasp the personal anguish these individuals, created in God’s image, are experiencing? To know their names and their stories?
Many of us do not want to personalize this conflict because it hurts when things get personal. It is much easier to protect ourselves from suffering by not engaging in it.
Yes, there is so much suffering going on in the world that we cannot engage all of it, and I admit that I don’t have many answers. But the global church must try and make at least some of it personal.
For the first time since World War II, the number of global refugees this year exceeded 50 million. This is a truly horrific and unimaginable number.
So, perhaps your task today is to get to know the names and stories of at least one family who helps make up this number.
Arthur Brown is the assistant director of the Institute of Middle East Studies (IMES) based in Mansourieh, Lebanon. A longer version of this column first appeared on the IMES blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @arthurandlou and IMES @IMESLebanon.
Arthur Brown is the BMS World Mission Regional Leader for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa and former BMS youth and theological worker based in Lebanon, working with a Christian theological seminary regularly dialoguing with Islamic scholars.