There are certain rare places that you visit, places that when you leave you immediately start dreaming about going back. Lebanon is such a place.
I don’t know why it is so fascinating to me, but I do know that I am not alone. Many other people I have met who have traveled to Lebanon likewise dream of visiting again someday. And this story is not new. For centuries Lebanon has been recognized as an example to which others can aspire. Throughout the Bible there are numerous passages extolling Lebanon’s beauty and superiority.
One example comes from the Song of Songs, wherein both poetic wooers at various times refer to Lebanon:
He: “Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb, my bride; milk and honey are under your tongue. The fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon” (Song of Songs 4:11).
Herein is an ancient key to Lebanon’s specialness. Lebanon’s fabled trees, and the beauty and splendor they represent inspired Biblical kings, prophets and builders. I suggest that these intrinsic qualities remain today, and that Lebanon remains a place of inspiration, history and worth. It is something ordained, something spiritual. It is like there is an ancient blessing, and despite all the woes this country has faced, it retains its God-given power and beauty.
Today Lebanon remains an enticing place. This could be thanks to the food or the culture. Or, it could be because of the people. Lebanese people are warm, laid back and welcoming. In a country of 4 million people, for the past 6 or so years, Lebanon has hosted approximately 1 million Syrian refugees – Syria, the same country that occupied Lebanon from 1976 until 2005. In a world where nations are increasingly closing their doors to people fleeing from violence and persecution, Lebanon has been a refuge for Syrians, as well as refugees from other nations, including Palestinian refugees that have been there for generations. While the situation is far from perfect, and sometimes there is resentment, many Lebanese, including churches, have gone out of their way to care for the foreigners in their midst.
Crisis in Lebanon
A month ago, a number of friends and partners met on Zoom to pray for Lebanon. We prayed that God would help Lebanon through the political upheaval and corruption it has faced, the massive economic collapse that was paralyzing the country, as well as the challenges of COVID19. Lebanon seemed to us to be going through an almost Job-like experience with one tragedy piling on top of the next, each making the other harder to deal with or solve.
We prayed for an end to all of the struggles Lebanon was facing, and for positive steps towards a renewed future. And then, only one week later, came the explosion in Beirut that rocked the city and shocked the world. A Lebanese friend of mine in Toronto spoke to her aunt in Beirut over the phone: “Beirut is gone!” she cried, “Beirut is gone!”
A country already struggling to put food on everyone’s table was suddenly struck with the seemingly insurmountable task of rebuilding its capital city. This explosion, a result of the same corruption and ineptitude that had been already hurting so many, now created a situation that no one really knew (or knows) how they would get through. Since then the government has officially resigned, and who knows what will fill the vacuum?
Consider Jesus’ first encounter with his followers after his resurrection. Mary Magdalene discovers that Jesus’ tomb is empty, and then goes and tells the disciples. Peter and John come running to see, confirm that there is indeed no body, and then leave and go back to where they were staying. Mary on the other hand, stays at the tomb and cries. Then this happens:
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
Mary was the very first human to encounter the risen Christ. Peter and John didn’t know it yet, at least not for sure. But Mary heard Jesus gently say her name. Why? I believe it is because she didn’t rush on to the next thing. Instead, for a while, she sat and cried.
Every day there is something to capture our attention. A new injustice, a new conflict in the world, a new abuse of power, a new controversy. And, to be clear, many of these news items are legitimately worth our attention. But the truth is that they are just too frequent, too substantial, too overwhelming.
My heart's challenge this month has been to
-stay with Lebanon for a while
-to cry for a while
-to listen, to wait, to sit.
Mary did this, and she experienced resurrection.
Join me in praying for Lebanon's resurrection. It is, after all, a beautiful and wonderful place, filled with history and tragedy, worth re-visiting.
Rob Perry is IAFR Canada's Director of Operations. He is the project lead for emerging refugee initiatives and as you can tell, can't wait to be able to travel to Lebanon again.
Danielle Steenwyk-Rowaan lives on the traditional territories of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples in Hamilton, Ontario. She leads Open Homes Hamilton, a ministry of IAFR Canada that brings churches together to support newly arrived refugee claimants by offering home-based hospitality.
Our vision is to help people survive and recover from forced displacement. We do this together with the church, both globally, and locally in Canada.