In this ancient land of the Old and New Testaments we met with Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Evangelical Church leaders.
We saw the “glory of Lebanon” as declared by the prophet Isaiah in chapter 60:13, in the beauty of this land. Majestic snowed capped mountains with the cedars descending down to the cities to the east, and to the west the jewelled Mediterranean Sea. There were buildings tall and new like most cities and then there were those buildings remaining untouched, still concrete shells after the destruction of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). These were often filled with people seeking refuge. In all there are almost two million people who have been displaced because of conflict in Syria and Iraq. All this in a small nation of just under four million people.
How is the Church faring? As declared by one Evangelical leader and typified by the ecumenical heart of all leaders we met: “We are here to have impact not to merely survive.” He called it the Theology of Impact.
The impact of our time in Lebanon upon us has been profound and we are still processing it.
Certainly the Christian community’s sense of hope, of determination to stay, to rebuild and to support those displaced to stay, I would describe as God’s mission for them to be salt and light; the presence of Christ in the Middle East.
They are not a Christian minority as often described. They reject such descriptions as offensive. They are the Christian community of the Middle East.
To borrow the words of Paul and Timothy from 2 Corinthians 4, they are not crushed, although they may be hard pressed. They are not in despair, although at times perplexed. Yes they are persecuted, but not abandoned by God or the global Christian community. And they may have been struck down but they are not destroyed.
In Aleppo, whose destruction we have seen so graphically shown on our television screens, one large Christian College struck down in the shelling has not been destroyed. It has been restored, reopened and has 370 students this year and they expect 500 in 2018.
People here live with hope. They have faced destruction before and rebuilt. We saw this everywhere in Lebanon and heard the hope of a people of faith and perseverance. They practise the way of Christ, in their homelands, for impact.
How might the Uniting Church in Australia live out our commitment in the Basis of Union to serve the world, in the Middle East? We are called, as stated in the Basis to: “bear witness to a unity of faith and life in Christ which transcends cultural and economic, national and racial boundaries.”
Our friends have asked us firstly to pray, to pray for peace in the Middle East, to pray for the Christian communities, and to pray the love of Christ is evidenced through the people of God, for all people, regardless of their faith.
There are other ways we might strengthen our new relationships and find together how to answer the call to serve the mission of God for the world.
There is clearly much we can learn from our sisters and brothers in the Middle East. Please join me in prayer for this Christian community and for the next steps in our growing relationship.