Lebanon (MNN) — In North America, we don’t always like the idea of loving our neighbors. Whether they don’t take care of their yard like we want them to or their dog won’t stop barking, we can have a lot to say about who we love. As it happens, God has a lot to say about it, too. He commands us to love both our neighbors and our enemies (Matthew 5:43-45, Mark 12:31).
When Lebanon began receiving Syrian refugees, Camille Melki of Heart for Lebanon found just how difficult the command to love his neighbors could be.
Years of Hardship
Syria occupied Lebanon for nearly thirty years, and this time created many hardships for those living in Lebanon.
“Many of us have seen our loved ones being killed right in front of us. Our homes were destroyed. My parents’ business was burned seven times. We were under serious occupation from 1976 all the way to 2005, so even after the Civil War in Lebanon ended in 1991, Syrians still occupied our country and ruled everything in the economy and the politics, the judiciary system, anything you would think of,” Melki says.
“My wife and I got married in 1990, and we were sniped at on our wedding day. We got married in my parents’ home because churches were closed. We were getting out of my parents’ house and going to get into the car and cross to the other side of Beirut when a Syrian soldier started sniping at us. We were running for our lives between landmines.”
Loving the Lost
Heart for Lebanon began by helping displaced Lebanese people, then moved on to helping Iraqi refugees. However, when refugees started pouring in from Syria, Melki and Heart for Lebanon had to come to terms with helping their neighbors who had been their enemies not long ago.
“I must admit when the Syrian Refugees started coming to Lebanon, all of us felt as if we were being occupied again. Immediately once the Syrian refugees started coming I told our team, ‘we’re going to start a Syrian refugee ministry,’ and I experienced so much resistance. We have several people on our team who have scars from the war when Syria was occupying Lebanon,” he says.
“Many of us carry emotional scars, many of us also carry physical scars, and so to enter into a Syrian refugee settlement was very hard. We felt like God was stretching us.”
While Melki doesn’t celebrate the hardships caused for both the Syrians and Lebanese by the refugee crisis, he does recognize the important way that Lebanese have been forced to grapple with loving their neighbors.
“I believe that the Syrian refugee presence is a lesson for every Lebanese to learn how to forgive and forget. It’s not the Syrian individual who was our enemy. Our problem was not with the Syrian people. Our problem was with an oppressive Syrian regime that occupied our land. The Syrians are human beings just like you and me, vulnerable people who are suffering tremendously,” Melki says.
Header image courtesy of Heart for Lebanon.