A Christian children’s home nestled in the Chouf mountains outside Beirut and close to one of the country’s famous Cedars of Lebanon reserves is today aptly named Beit El Safa — “The House of Serenity.” But it wasn’t always this way.
Originally donated to the Beirut Free Evangelical Church for summer youth camps, the site was twice occupied by different military groups during Lebanon’s 1975-92 civil war. The football field is a former helicopter pad that dates from a 1982-83 invasion by the Israeli army. Bunkers in the hillside hid tanks, and Druze militia men slept in the dorms when they used the property as a training center over many years.
It was in 1992, when the civil war ended, that Druze leader Walid Jounblat returned the property, as he was eager for Christians to return to the Chouf area.
“The idea of starting Beit El Safa, a home for vulnerable girls, took shape in 1995,” explains Joseph Najem, pastor of the Free Evangelical Church. “We felt we needed to do something to erase some of the scars of the war on Lebanese families. Many children had lost parents and family members and needed a shelter and a haven.”
A cat mews and sheep graze in the woods beyond the main house, as Alain Farhat, who manages the center with his wife, Rula, shows guests around. He explains how the property has been turned into a welcoming home for up to 19 young girls. Some 9 girls, aged 5 to 13, were being cared for when Wazala visited. No longer the victims of Lebanon’s civil war, today the girls are here because they lost parents or are at risk from abusive or drug-addicted family members.
Beit El Safa offers them a true place of security and stability where they can be cared for as part of an extended family and can learn more of God’s love for them too. When they become adults and leave, the center continues to offer them support. Alain relates how one girl lived at the center for 15 years before a Swiss organization offered to cover the costs of her education and accommodation at the American university in Beirut, and they still keep in touch.
In a below-ground dining room which once housed prisoners and weapons, Alain strums a guitar and leads the children in singing worship songs for the guests–SAT-7 supporters and agency partners from Scandinavia and the UK. Afterwards, everyone tucks in to some hearty food.
“We send the girls to school nearby, most in public schools as we can’t afford to enroll them in a private one,” Alain says. Two fortunate ones are sponsored and attend a nearly Evangelical [private] school.
Although the children come to the center through Lebanon’s social services, they provide only 15% of the funding. Alain explains that many of the children’s families are Syrian, often living in the Bekaa Valley, or the parents’ marriage is not legally registered so they don’t have citizenship or entitlement to support. Most of the funding comes from Christian organizations abroad or from individual donors.
While most of the children are animated and bright-eyed, the more subdued attitudes of others give a clue to the insecurities and pain they have known.
“They have been rejected, some have been abused physically or sexually by fathers or uncles,” Alain says. “This father figure is very damaged for them. We can’t hire a full-time psychologist [to support the girls], but we have a Christian psychologist in Beirut.”
Most of Beit El Safa’s residents are from non-Christian families, but Alain estimates that 25-30% come to know Jesus during their years of living and witnessing Christian love shown them at the center.
“While they live here, we have a Bible story time in the evening, and SAT-7 gave us a satellite so we can watch the channel at times, mainly at the weekends. “When they leave, we can see if they are really genuine and have taken this step of faith,” Alain says. “Many continue the relationship with us: they join us in worship at our church in Beirut, and some come to stay here at weekends.”
Some face rejection from extended families “who were willing to send the girls to a Christian home to help with their schooling and situation but did not want them to become like us.”
If this means living alone and renting a home in a foyer, the home continues its support, whether that is through friendship, helping them reach Grade 12 if they failed this at school, or helping them to find a job.
“If they can’t afford the fees, we help them,” Alain says. “Our main purpose is to show Jesus, and that means continuing to show an alternative father image to them.”
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