Lebanese Christians open their homes to Muslim refugees

By August 22, 2006

Lebanon (MNN/BP) — Deir el-Ahmar, near Beirut, was a quiet, predominantly Christian town. It was fairly isolated from the fighting between Hezbollah militants and Israeli forces that broke out in Beirut and towns along southern Lebanon’s border with Israel. A number of its houses stood empty.

That quickly changed as a flood of refugees, mostly Shiite Muslims, whose villages were being used by Hezbollah to launch missiles into northern Israel. Air strikes against the launch sites had destroyed their houses and sent them fleeing north.

The response of the Christians in Deir el-Ahmar? The town’s residents opened their doors to the Muslim families. And the vacant houses were opened up as well.

It is a sign of brotherhood and a witness for the unity of Lebanon,” Simon Atallah, Deir el-Ahmar’s Maronite Christian bishop, told Catholic News Service. “We Christians must be in solidarity with everyone, even with the Shiites who support Hezbollah,” he says.

This isn’t the only place this is happening. Across Lebanon, from mountains of refuge in the north to the chaotic neighborhoods of Beirut, Christian people are demonstrating the love of Christ for Muslims driven from their homes by the fighting.

For a month now, Lebanese Christian groups have been housing and feeding thousands of displaced families in their own homes and in places like Beirut Baptist School and the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary.

Reports that trickle out of the country, like the story of Deir el-Ahmar, tell an inspiring story of Christ’s love shining in a dark place, says a Southern Baptist International Mission Board worker in the United States, who is close to the situation in Lebanon.

“One friend is raising money from his friends and raiding his own pantry for food, medicine and diapers that he is taking out to displaced people who are living in storerooms and abandoned buildings,’ he says. “We have heard that Christian house groups in the city not only survived but are thriving in the chaos. Christ’s love is shining through those groups.”

Lebanon’s Christian and Muslim populations have been deeply divided for centuries; a 15-year civil war ended only 16 years ago. Christians have been reluctant to reach out across those barriers — especially evangelicals, who comprise less than 1 percent of the population and often are not well-received even by other, more traditional Christian groups.

The worker says, “It’s been really neat, however, to see the way God uses circumstances like these. (God says) if you are not able or willing to go to them, I will bring them to you — to your schools, to your neighborhoods, to your doorsteps.

“Even though they aren’t completely comfortable with it, they are realizing they are able to love these people, not because of their own ability, but because they have the love of Christ inside.

The International Mission Board is dispensing relief funds to meet critical short-term needs. The board also will be engaging in long-term reconstruction efforts. Almost a fourth of Lebanon’s nearly 4 million people have been displaced by the fighting.

“There is a serious humanitarian crisis right now. Food and medicine are critical issues,” says the worker. “As winter approaches and it gets cold and rainy, there also is going to be a huge need for shelter, blankets and heaters.”

“One reason Hezbollah has such strong support in certain Muslim neighborhoods is that they have done so much humanitarian work since the end of the civil war,” he added. “Southern Baptists will need to do an even better job so people can see the difference between the way Muslim charity organizations respond and the way the body of Christ responds. Instead of seeing someone out for political gain, they need to see Christ.”

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