Lessons from Lebanon
My friend Beth Yanke called last week and asked if I had time to meet a friend of her sister’s, from Lebanon. Elie Haddad, the President of Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, was in town and willing to meet with us the following day, if we were available. Partly because Beth is my friend and partly because I’ve read lots about the Middle East, I was in. Celia wanted to join us, because someone encouraged her earlier in the same day to take time to meet with interesting people. I reached out to John Calaway, our Missions Pastor, and he dropped what he was doing to meet with us, too. We each had our own reasons for taking this impromptu meeting, but I found it interesting how GOD works little, unexpected meetings together and each one comes responding to different nudges from HIM. None of us were disappointed we said yes. Here are a few lessons I learned over an afternoon coffee meeting that led to a dinner with Elie.
- Elie said, more than once, “Life is to be lived on the front lines.” Considering their mission, to train and equip believers in the Middle East and Northern Africa, these words carry huge meaning. This isn’t a tag line to attract those with an adventurous spirit. This is a life lesson Elie has learned from the students at the seminary he leads. These brothers and sisters come from very difficult regions, some leading churches above ground and some leading underground churches. In every one of these regions, they face severe persecution and those who convert from Islam to following JESUS face a serious possibility of imprisonment or death. However, his students have found so much life in following JESUS, that they would never turn back from their assignments. Instead they feel they called to live their lives on the front lines, and they would say all believers are! We take mission trips to developing countries and one of the most common questions asked is about safety. It’s an understandable question. Elie’s response was simple. While he agrees we should never be cavalier, he can’t find anything in GOD’s Word about being safe.
- Over our time together, Elie shared there are 4 million Lebanese citizens in Lebanon, and currently there are 2 million Syrian refugees. This reality has shaken the Church in Lebanon. They have been called to love, support and welcome huge populations of Syrian refugees. Most, if not all of these Syrians, are Muslim. Elie, his brothers and sisters in the Lebanese Church were raised to hate Muslims. Their immediate presence in his country has been a challenge to the Church. As they’ve pursued their relationship with JESUS, read HIS Word and sought to follow HIM, they’ve been challenged to forget their prejudices and love their neighbors. They’ve responded to the immediate needs on their doorstep and GOD has brought converts to Christianity, new followers of JESUS CHRIST. That alone is incredible! Yet, what Elie finds most incredible is GOD is transforming the Church. He said the most significant change is within. When we love our neighbors, especially those different from us, our hearts are transformed. Prejudices fall away, replaced by GOD’s love.
- This last lesson resonated deeply. During the process of sharing CHRIST in the Middle East and Northern Africa, Elie said he and his students have learned it is too much of an obstacle to ask someone to leave Islam, their families and traditions to convert to Christianity and all of our traditions. Instead, they’ve just begun to introduce their new friends to JESUS. Elie said as his Muslim friends begin to know JESUS, they trust the Holy Spirit will lead this new believer into following HIM. More than just semantics, it’s important for people to know JESUS not only lived, but HE lives and HE has not given up on them. They can enter a relationship with HIM! As they come to know JESUS, their lives are transformed. This applies here, too. We sometimes pursue changes in behavior, lifestyle choices rather than just introducing our friends to JESUS, trusting HIM to transform the hearts and minds of those who come to know HIM…just like HE is doing in us.
“For I am not ashamed of this Good News about CHRIST. It is the power of GOD at work, saving everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16 NLT)
Lastly, I was reminded, if GOD nudges – Go! This meeting was unexpected and the highlight of my week. If you’re interested in learning more about Elie Haddad or the ministry of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, you can learn more at their website (http://www.abtslebanon.org). I’ve signed up for their newsletter and look forward to learning more, along with praying for our brothers and sisters in an incredible time and place!