Last month, as I travelled within Beirut, I was confronted by some staggering numbers.
There are well over one million refugees in Lebanon – meaning that in a country just one quarter the size of Tasmania, one in five people is a refugee. How on earth are people coping?
It wasn’t safe for me to travel inland to where the majority of refugee camps are located.
But all around the more populated coastal strip there was evidence of the huge influx of people in need. Everyone had stories to tell of people living in and among their communities – of housing shortages, rising rent and costs of food, pressure on refugees and locals alike.
Lebanese and Syrian Christians, in the midst of persecution, war, mass human displacement and suffering, are determined to be the church and serve the people. As thousands cross the border, seeking refuge in Christian communities, they’re providing support to all who need help, regardless of their religion.
I found myself deeply inspired by the words of Rev Joseph Kassab, General Secretary of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, who had this to say about the response of his Church.
“We have a theology of impact, not a theology of survival.”
This is a church seeking not just to focus on itself, but on the impact it can have in the midst of one of this century’s most tragic humanitarian disasters. One key way the church is seeking to restore peace and harmony is through education.
“Our schools cater for students of all backgrounds and religions,” Rev Kassab told me.
“We don’t seek to convert them, but to love them and educate them. Students come to our schools because they receive a good education. But much more than that, students learn to live together in respectful, tolerant and harmonious relationships. They learn to live in communities, diverse but united. That’s what Syria needs, and what the world needs – people who seek to live together respectfully, tolerant of difference.”
This powerful vision is why I want to let you know about a new crowdfunding project we’ve launched this week. Many schools in Syria are rebuilding having sustained damage and weathering years of war. Many in Lebanon are overflowing with children who want to learn but cannot afford to pay.
Having heard for myself the transformative vision of the Church in Lebanon and Syria, I want to help lead the Church here in Australia to make a response.
Working through ACT Alliance members in the region, including the Middle East Council of Churches, and local churches in Lebanon, we’ll support the Church as they meet the needs of those within their communities, focusing on training teachers and educating refugee children.
I truly appreciate all you’ve given to our work recently and ask you to pray for the people of Syria and the Church in Lebanon.
I’m excited to think about the difference we can make together as we share a love that unites and promotes peace in this region, and ask you to learn more about the projects at our crowdfunding campaign on Chuffed. This is the first time we’ve developed a partnership with the Church in Syria and Lebanon and at such a time, I believe it couldn’t be more important.