Here is a letter I received from a friend and colleague Dr Naji Hashem about his recent experience in Lebanon (used with permission)
Greetings from the Land of the Cedars! Hope you are well by God's Grace!
I have been here for only one week. Already spoke at one conference for church workers coming from various parts in Syria for 3 days of training, debriefing, and refreshment. It was held at a local seminary and has ended yesterday. At least 25 people attended. Most of them are youth leaders and Sunday School teachers. After my session, I was able to build personal relationships with many of them, listen to their sad and horrific stories, share their agony and uncertainties, and have some private counseling times with those who approached me.
Today, I was supposed to present a workshop/lecture at another international conference, medical in nature, that was planned to be held at the America University of Beirut. Due to the increased tension and declaration of military attacks in this area, many European and American delegates have cancelled (like so many other events and aspects of the daily life around here). So, the conference has been postponed to a later date.
Lebanon as a small country (4 million altogether), already had about 1.5 million Syrian displaced and refugees. With the announcement of more war and the intention to strike their country, many more Syrians have recently flooded through the Lebanese borders, hundred of thousands and still counting... No one really knows how many Syrians there are in Lebanon! Unlike Turkey or Jordan, Lebanon has a flexible policy toward its neighbors, so there are no camps or reservations or monitored concentrations for them. Instead, they have spread among all neighborhoods, mixing with the population, and seeking work and accommodation wherever possible. Those who are able, they brought their cars and some belongings, rented a place and perhaps will settle here forever. The majority are unable to afford any substantial finances. The feedback I hear is that the average Lebanese are overwhelmed and overburdened. Lebanon wants to help but is unable with such a magnitude challenge.
Like with any forced migration and war displacement, the disturbances and struggles become huge. So many problems are surfacing now (from car traffic to human trafficking, black marketing the poor and the weak, the majority of refugees are competing for jobs and cheap labors and causing some Lebanese to become unemployed, many are living in small dense quarters below poverty level, some are sending their children to the streets to beg, others are getting involved in drug dealing and sex marketing, etc.). Not much rooms or living spaces are left available. The refugees have filled every possible hole, especially in north Lebanon. Huge social, physical, and emotional problems are resulting. The Lebanese cost of living is increasing as well as the general human suffering. Many local churches and agencies are helping the displaced and refugees courageously, however, their efforts are limited. The Lebanese government and leadership divided on how to deal realistically with the Syrian crisis and the continued influx of Syrian people fleeing their homeland (mostly without any belonging or funds and severely traumatized... yet others are taking advantage of the bliss of the Lebanese society and its public freedom)... This is a very serious disaster for all! Incoming tourists, for this part of summer have all cancelled. Even some companies, who have been based in Lebanon for many long years, are now moving their operation outside. With the potential of a Western/American launch of significant military attacks on some parts of Syria, the locals and nationals are terrified of the new devastating outcomes. So, as you can imagine, I have already heard many stories and concerns and listened to countless analyses from people and media, that made my mind and heart burdened and heavy. One major concern is the fate of the various Christian communities in this region and the new trend of unprecedented migration of many of them. Persecution and martyrdom are real and still happening to the disciples of Jesus Christ on weekly basis. Lord Have Mercy!
A few things are certain: wars are a direct result of our human condition and fallen nature. The use of force is seductive and addictive. Aggression only feeds into more aggression. There is no perfect society or political system. Nations, regimes, local and superpowers, even small groups on the ground, all have their own agendas, worldview, ideologies, and underlying interests (regardless of their outward rhetoric), and these are usually in direct conflict with each other. In the final analysis, we live in an "imperfect world" and yet we are privileged to have the mandate of a "divine mission." That is why our Christ did not establish an earthly Kingdom, for He knew that the kingdoms of this earth shall fail and ultimately give way to His own divine rule and sovereignty. In the meantime, we shall continue to labor for the Lord and carry on the ministry of healing and reconciliation.
On a more positive note, many things are going well and the cause of Christ is advancing in many quarters, even among restrictions and during tragedies and devastations. The Lord is prospering our humble efforts and giving us favor among those we serve. Also, I am looking forward to meet with many church leaders face to face and to encourage them as well as be encouraged and blessed by them--their walk, faith, service, and steadfastness. I look forward to enjoy the beautiful scenery of this beautiful biblical land and swim a few times in the warm blue waters of the Mediterranean sea.
Following this note, I will send you a Newsletter which I have been preparing for you, reflecting my work, travels, and activities (with some photos as usual), for your reading and prayers. Feel free to share it with any interested individuals or groups. Thank you for your friendship. Stay well and let us keep pressing on!
With Every Blessing,
Naji Abi-Hashem, PhD