Do you think America is in trouble? Spend a week or two in Lebanon and you will get a taste of what the real problems are, like existentials. Even Scrooge would sympathize.
Imagine scooping barely enough food to eat once, maybe twice a day, even though you are a professional graduate from Beirut, the former “Paris of the East”. Imagine having electricity for an hour a day. Or spend eight hours in lines of cars waiting for a quarter of a tank of gas. Or lose over 90% of your purchasing power if you still have a job. Or find out that your bank accounts are frozen. Or fall ill and find no medicine anywhere, at any cost, to alleviate his suffering.
Your “government” is made up of corrupt chieftains who refuse to relinquish power even as the nation crumbles. The largest and most powerful group, Hezbollah (“Party of God”), represents Shia Muslim militants and responds to Iran. But many other tribal godfathers are not much better. They just don’t have that many guns.
One of the worst non-nuclear explosions in modern history – resulting from years of criminally negligent storage of tonnes of hazardous material – has killed hundreds of Lebanese, injured thousands and destroyed much of the Port of Beirut and others. surrounding neighborhoods in August 2020. The area remains in ruins. over a year later.
Welcome to lebanon
Welcome to Lebanon. The once vibrant and beautiful country of 6.7 million people, wedged between Israel, Syria and the Mediterranean, is suffering. Over the past half century, Lebanon has suffered from Palestinian occupation, Israeli occupation, Syrian occupation, 15 years of fierce and sectarian civil war, the 2006 war with Israel, multiple political assassinations, the influx of more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees fleeing their own war, the huge protests of 2019 demanding political change (which came to nothing) and COVID-19.
And now, one of the worst financial collapses in economic history is destroying what’s left.
Regardless of their circumstances, resilient Lebanese take pride in doing so, often with humor and gaiety. Not this time.
“It is absolute desperation and discouragement,” a veteran Christian worker said of the national mood. “In many ways, the explosion at the port a little over a year ago was the last straw. People usually say, “We’re going to be fine.” But now they’re saying, ‘It’s harder than civil war.’ “
Those who can go out are gone or are leaving. Those who remain depend on remittances from family members abroad, humanitarian aid and a fierce determination to survive.
“If your income is in US dollars, which is less than 1% of the population, you’re fine,” said “Robert Sacker” (name changed for safety reasons), another longtime Christian worker. “But the 99 percent are doing very badly indeed. The Lebanese currency is not worth anything. Now we have people who were making $ 600 a month and trying to get by on $ 40 a month. It’s impossible.”
What brought Lebanon to the brink of failed statehood? Neighborhood bullies, like Syria and Iran. Political, economic and societal corruption. Looting of the national treasure by powerful clans and families who jealously guard their positions.
Even the political power-sharing agreement that ultimately ended the 1975-1990 civil war contained the seeds of future destruction. Too many factions want a piece of the shrinking pie. At least 17 different groups, to be more precise: Shia Muslims and Sunnis (the majority); a variety of Christian Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant sects; the Druz;, the Alaouites; etc.
Lebanon is not that different from other places in the Middle East, where diverse and sometimes bellicose groups have found themselves regrouped into new “nations” arbitrarily drawn by the Western powers after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire there. a century. There are just more groups stuck in a smaller space.
“Lebanon is not so much a nation as it is a collection of families, clans and tribes,” Sacker explained. “In a failed state, the Lebanese have always looked to family, clan and tribe for help. They are doing it now, because the government is essentially powerless. It is a country of patronage, not a country of laws.
But with so little to do and the rest of the world distracted by bigger issues (or tired of bailing out Lebanon’s corrupt brokers), even the old system of patronage is crumbling. Along with poverty, a bitter social disillusion has set in, including a disillusionment with religion, especially among Muslims.
“This is in part due to the rejection of (militant) Islam, with traditional Muslims splitting from some of the more radical groups,” said “Linda Smith”, another Christian worker. “But a lot of them slip into… I wouldn’t call it atheism as much as hatred of religion and everything related to it, especially the younger generation.”
Movements towards Christ
So why are many Lebanese Muslims now turning to Jesus?
On the surface, Christian sects and churches in Lebanon are fighting as much as everyone else – losing young people to the great exodus abroad, falling into poverty. But behind the scenes, something deeper is happening in Lebanon, the wider Middle East, and the Muslim world: Muslims have become more receptive to the message of the Christian gospel than at any time in the past. story.
Iran and Afghanistan have the fastest growth rates among evangelical believers of any place on the planet, according to Operation World. American missiologist David Garrison has identified 69 statistically significant “movements of persons” to Christ in the Muslim world since 2000 (defining a “movement” as at least 1,000 believers or 100 churches). That’s a bewildering number, given the painful and violent history of Islamic-Christian interaction.
Many observers attribute this trend to the major religious prayer movements of the 1990s, as well as generations of Christian awareness, widespread social unrest in the Muslim world, and a demand among young Muslims for more freedom. But there are some things in the spiritual realm that cannot be attributed to human activity.
Wherever Muslims come to Christ, they speak of having dreams and visions – usually of a man dressed in white.
Wherever Muslims come to Christ, they speak of having dreams and visions – usually of a man dressed in white. He tells them that he is Jesus, or prompts them to search for a Bible or a particular believer they know. During my own journalistic trips to the Islamic world, I have interviewed many Muslims who tell this story.
“It seems to be a combination of things that God uses to draw Muslims to him,” Smith said. “The bold proclamation of his word, but also social media, satellite TV, the Internet and radio, while having dreams, visions and in some cases, miraculous healings.
“They cry out for hope. And in places of sheer desperation like Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, (Jesus is) all about bringing beauty out of the ashes and showing people that he’s for them, not against them. More Muslims are coming to Christ now than ever in Lebanon. “
More than just bread
Many churches and Christian NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in Lebanon are intensively focused on distributing food, medicine and other aids to help the needy – whatever their faith – through the current crisis. Muslims appreciate this, but they are not just looking for material help.
“Bill Kendrick”, a young Christian worker, lives in the strongly Shiite Bekaa valley, east of Beirut, which is also teeming with Syrian Muslim refugees. They desperately need work to feed their families, of course, but they want more. The more the economic situation worsens, he reports, the better the spiritual climate improves.
“There are younger men and women who come to faith left and right,” Kendrick said. “But even among elders and heads of families, dreams and visions are very common. “
“Even among elders and heads of families, dreams and visions are very common. “
A Shia man he befriended, who can trace his lineage back to Muhammad, was planning to become a sheikh (Muslim leader). But as he studied the Quran, he began to see contradictions. So he read the Bible and became a believer.
Kendrick urges new believers to count the cost of following Christ, as they will almost certainly face the wrath and shame of their family, possible expulsion from the family or community, and perhaps worse. It accompanies the territory but does not discourage serious researchers.
A church is hosting a service that most American evangelicals would recognize. “But then the pastor has a separate service, and you see all these covered (Muslim) women come in and Muslim men worshiping the Lord,” Smith explained. “It’s exciting.”
So if you are worried about America’s troubled state over Christmas, rest assured. Things could be worse. And even if they get worse, the light shines in the dark.
Erich Bridges, a Baptist journalist for over 40 years, retired in 2016 as the Global Correspondent of the Southern Baptist Convention International Mission Board. He lives in Richmond, Virginia.
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