Lebanon (MNN) ― Escalating violence in Lebanon is forcing foreigners to evacuate and ministry groups to make difficult decisions on what to do.
Interserve's Doug VanBronkhorst says even with unrest, it's unusual for Interserve workers to actually leave an area. But this time, they made the difficult decision to pull their foreign staff out.
There's not a direct and immediate danger to any of their staff, but their reason, says Vanbronkhorst, is Hezbollah's track record as Israeli attacks intensify. "What will Hezbollah do in response to that? In the past, what they've done is to, kidnap westerners, and particularly Americans, and use them for leverage and pressure against the US government. So our feeling is that westerners there are not just in general danger, being caught up in the middle of a violent war, but they are actually perhaps targeted or could be targeted."
Leaving is not something they like to do, and VanBronkhorst said the swiftness at which all this is taking place is taking its toll on the ministry workers who have to leave. "But this is really hard to just have to pull up suddenly and leave. It doesn't feel good and it's not part of who we are and what we do. So they're going to have some significant issues we'll hope to cover in some debriefing, but you can't cover all of the hurts and frustrations involved with that."
Interserve assists the church in Lebanon through a variety of work, including humanitarian and medical aid, development work, educational and teaching roles and ministering to students. VanBronkhorst says the violence has impacted their work. "I would say that it has temporarily halted it. There are a couple of things that may go on with the folks that stay, but most of what we were doing is not going to be possible anyway in the middle of a war."
The reasons for leaving are difficult, but understandable: if Americans are targeted, then to be with Lebanese friends might put those nationals in danger, says VanBronkhorst. "We're not trying to make martyrs out of people here, but we do want to stay and minister to the people that we're with and share in their difficulties as much as we can, without being stupid about it. And in this case, it's a tough decision, but at this point I feel pretty comfortable that they've made the right one." VanBronkhorst urges prayer for Interserve workers and Lebanese Christians as they face these tough times. "We share in their grief that a country that was making a pretty significant comeback from a civil war is now being set back and we're hoping that there isn't any more damage done but it looks like that may spread. So that's a real prayer concern."