News from Lebanon: Supported by prayer

For the next couple of weeks, members of our team are in Lebanon to meet our Christian partners and the people they serve, seeing the impact your support and prayers make. Heather Stanley, our Digital Communications Manager will be sending updates throughout the trip, which is her first to Lebanon.

I have spoken many times to Embrace supporters, talking about how Lebanon is the size of Devon and Cornwall, how it has a diverse culture of people from many faiths and of a variety of nationalities, and how it has suffered greatly because of political turmoil and wars lasting decades. I’ve talked numbers too, how the population has almost doubled since the Syrian crisis began, as well over 1.5 million refugees have entered Lebanon.

But after just a few days in the country, the statistics have become people.

I’ve met Lebanese, Syrians, Iraqis, Turks, Armenians and more. Many I’ve talked to have lived here for generations; one family I met fled eastern Aleppo a little more than six months ago.

Everyone has a story, which as I spend just a little time walking with them in their lives and communities, they willingly share. I’m not going to tell all the stories in these blogs; with just a short time to write each day I could not hope to do them justice.

My heart has broken over and over again hearing about their pain, loss and seeing just a little of their daily struggle to live the kind of life they would want to for themselves and their children.

But I have also heard stories of great hope and survival, told to me in a shanty town on the edge of the city, in a tent in the Bekaa Valley, and in a centre for at-risk girls in the overcrowded and impoverished area called Bourj Hammoud on the edge of Beirut.

My first visit was to an Embrace partner who serves poor Lebanese and Syrian refugees in and around Zahle, the third largest city in Lebanon. On the floor of the Bekaa Valley, it is only a few miles from the Syrian border; I’m told it is possible to hear the sounds of war when the wind is in the right direction.

Our Christian partner and their team in Zahle deliver a variety of assistance and humanitarian aid to the innumerable Syrian refugees who have made the Valley their home.

I say innumerable because no one is counting. No more official refugee camps are allowed to be built in Lebanon, and the ‘conservative estimate’ our partners suggest I use is that 1.5 million Syrian refugees now live in the country.

A project leader tells me: ‘Back in 2012, when the first few families started arriving, we thought we can cope with this – it will be hard but we will cope. But then more and more people arrived; hundreds, then thousands; even then we never imagined it would become tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands. And now, it is millions.’

I’m often asked whether people who have had to leave their home want to return home. I promised to ask those I met what they would say. Many have said yes, but many do not see a chance of it happening in their lifetime.

And at the school run by our partner, I speak gently with a 12-year-old girl who arrived from Syria a few years ago. I asked her what she remembered of Syria. She told me nothing, that she tries not to think of Syria as that is where she saw her mother killed.

It didn’t seem right to ask her if she ever wanted to go back. I knew what the answer would be.

It’s unimaginable to think of what she has seen, but then I don’t have to imagine it because there is a little girl sat next to me, telling me her experience, her truth.

The school she attends looks after her well. It runs on double shifts to enable as many children as possible to attend. Two hundred and seventy children take classes each day, a mixture of Lebanese children and Syrian refugees from Kindergarten to Grade five. Together they learn the Lebanese curriculum to enable them to be part of the society in which they’ll probably live for a long time to come.

It seems impossible to me sometimes that Christians can make a difference when faced with such overwhelming need among a variety of people from different backgrounds, with complex needs.

But the school is a happy place with singing and laughter echoing around the building. The food distribution centre our partner also runs is open for hours each day for people to collect food parcels that contain a few weeks’ worth of food for a family. And during the winter, Embrace supporters who donated to our Christmas appeal helped provide warm blankets, food, fuel and more vital aid.

I asked a project leader how they achieve what they do against such overwhelming circumstances. They tell me:

‘Our team is wholly supported by prayer. Of course, they get physically and mentally exhausted. Many of them are refugees themselves and almost every Lebanese person lost someone in the civil war, so everyone suffers.

'Zahle was bombed every day for 100 days in the civil war, and people ask us sometimes how we can help people who have been our enemy. But there is no enemy. We are all in this together now.

‘Together, we work such long hours to help others in need. The burden is huge, but we are so encouraged to know people are praying for us.’

So, I’ll write more soon with more prayer requests and stories from those I meet and who want me to tell you what I am seeing on your behalf.

Please, do pray for our Christian brothers and sisters running these vital assistance programmes. They asked especially for prayer for strength and energy as well as wisdom to know where best to put their resources and for an increase in compassion so they can always see as Jesus saw.

Add new comment