Nearly nonstop shelling threatens to destroy Beirut, and along with it, a small group of courageous believers.

Beirut, once a jewel city on the Mediterranean and an open doorway for Christianity in the Middle East, has become today a synonym for chaos. During the past three months, the heaviest fighting in the 14-year war between Christian and Muslim armies has reduced life there to mere survival. Families huddle in basements and shelters for days at a time, venturing out during brief lulls in the shelling to try to find food, water, and fuel, only to be driven back underground by the next inevitable but unannounced barrage.

Since this latest round of fighting began March 8, nearly 300 have been killed, and more than 1,000 have been wounded; the figures increase every day. As many as 100,000 Lebanese Christians (a term that describes about 40 percent of Lebanon’s population and includes Maronite Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestant believers) have fled the country, despite the fact that in recent months escape has been difficult and dangerous. Muslim shelling has closed the airport and the seaport of Junieh, isolating the Christian enclave of East Beirut from the rest of the world.

The evangelical church in Lebanon, which makes up about 1.5 percent of the Christian community, has suffered with its country. Church buildings have been hit by rockets and artillery fire; schools and ministry offices have been evacuated and closed; believers and their relatives have been killed and injured in the indiscriminate shelling.

Last April, the Karantina Alliance Church in East Beirut, the largest evangelical congregation in the country, was struck by two rockets, damaging the church library and roof and blowing out all of its windows. The building was empty at the time. The Beirut Baptist School and Mouseitbeh Church in predominantly Muslim West Beirut were also damaged when artillery shells landed in their compound. It was the fifth or sixth time the school has been damaged in its 30 years of operation, said Jim Ragland, a Southern Baptist missionary who now lives in Cyprus. The school, closed since mid-March due to the fighting, had enrolled 988 students at the start of the year.

Though the homes and businesses of many believers have been damaged, their lives have often been miraculously spared, according to reports coming out of Lebanon through Cyprus. Still, the deadly rain of ammunition has touched church members and their relatives throughout the city. One couple from Boucherieh Baptist Church were hurt and their home destroyed during a night of sporadic shelling. Edgar Broumna sustained critical injuries when an incendiary bomb exploded in his house. His wife, Ursula, a World Vision Lebanon staff member, was also injured in the blast.

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Relief Lines Cut

Bombardment of the port city has made delivery of relief supplies virtually impossible. Even assessing needs has been difficult, according to reports from World Vision International. Water, milk, food, bedding, medical supplies, even candles for lighting the bomb shelters that are now home to thousands of Beirut’s residents—all have been assembled by cooperative relief efforts, but only a few small boatloads have made it to Lebanon.

Yet with every day of fighting, the need for aid has increased. Commerce is at a standstill; workers have been without jobs—and pay—for weeks. And according to Sami Dagher, pastor of Karantina Alliance Church in East Beirut, believers especially have suffered. “They don’t steal or bribe to get what they need,” he explained.

Some relief funds have found their way into Lebanon. According to Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse, his organization has been able to transfer money to Lebanese banks, which have been open for a few hours at a time. Inflation and scarcity have rendered local currency almost worthless, but U.S. dollars, directed to and distributed by churches such as Dagher’s, can buy necessities.

A Growing Church

In spite of the war-zone hardships that surround it, the church in Beirut has not only survived, it has grown. Congregations have continued to meet on Sunday mornings whenever possible. Attendance at the Karantina Church, for example, has run at about 400, despite the emigration of many of its baptized members. Only during the heaviest fighting of the past three months has attendance dropped to about 125.

Total attendance in the 12 Lebanese Baptist Churches (8 of which are in Beirut) has also risen, to about 800, despite emigration. A recent series of revival meetings at the Church of God, pastored by Fuad Melki, included the baptism of 60 new members.

Church basements have been converted to bomb shelters where scores of people seek refuge during the hours of shelling. These “foxholes” have proved a fertile mission field. Adel Masri, pastor of the First Church of God in Beirut, has presented the gospel to as many as 100 people at a time in his church basement, he reported.

Indeed, the years of war have created a hunger for hope in the people of Lebanon, and many—Muslim and Christian alike—are looking to evangelical churches for it.

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“If you attend a worship service at our church, you would not really believe this is a place where a war is going on,” Dagher said. “People are so happy in worshiping the Lord.

“We have learned to live day by day,” he continued. “Believers in Lebanon act and live as strangers in this world. We know that at any minute, we could be called home. Material things don’t mean much. Every time I leave my home, I don’t know if it will be there when I get back, or if I will come back.”

Dateline: Lebanon

April 1975: Civil war between Lebanon’s Muslim and Christian factions breaks out. Beirut is divided by the so-called Green Line into Christian East and Muslim West sectors. More than 60,000 people, mostly civilians, are killed in the first year of fighting.

Autumn 1976: Syrian troops, at the request of Christian forces, enter Lebanon. By autumn 1978, the Syrians have turned against them and are bombarding East Beirut.

June 1982: Israeli soldiers invade Lebanon to drive out Palestine Liberation Organization forces.

September 1982: Lebanese Christian militiamen kill hundreds in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in southern Beirut. A multinational peace-keeping force of American, French, and Italian troops arrives soon after.

October 1983: Two hundred forty-one U.S. Marines and 58 French troops are killed in two bomb attacks. Four months later, the peace-keeping forces leave. Militia control the streets; Westerners are targets for kidnaping.

February 1987: All U.S. citizens, including missionaries, are ordered out of Lebanon by the U.S. government.

September 1988: A divided Lebanese Parliament fails to name a new president. Outgoing leader Amin Gemeyal names Gen. Michel Aoun, commander of the mainly Christian Lebanese Army, to head the government.

March 1989: Aoun vows to drive Syria out of the country, setting off the current round of heavy shelling.

Forgotten Believers

Somehow, the Lebanese have survived one tragic turn of events after another in their tangled recent history. But many observers fear the latest round of savage shelling may have pushed the country to its breaking point. A brief cease-fire in early May provided little more than a chance for Beirut’s residents to stockpile whatever supplies they could, or to leave. Militant positions on both sides raise fears of a blood-bathed fall of East Beirut.

“People are suffering terribly, not only from the actual wounds of the war, but from the psychological damage, and discouragement, and despair of the situation right now,” said Leonard Rodgers, president of Venture Middle East, who has been in the Middle East since 1963. He worries not only about the population in general, but about believers as well, and asks for prayer on their behalf. “Christians have a very strong feeling of being abandoned.”

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Dagher, who has watched his homeland disintegrate around him, shares Rodgers’s concern. “I am afraid for my country now more than ever,” he said. “Not as much because of the fighting, but because of the silence of the world.

“The pastor of another evangelical church [in Beirut] said to me the other day, ‘I wonder if the churches of the West still believe that we are members of one body, and that if one member is being hurt, the whole body suffers?’ ” Dagher said.

With no solution in sight, observers like Rodgers find it hard to be optimistic about the future of the country and its people. “Lebanon is an ancient culture that has survived wars since Nebuchadnezzar,” Rodgers said. “I think Lebanon will survive. The question is whether the church and the Christian population will survive.”

By Ken Sidey

Concern for the Hostages Rises

As the situation continues to deteriorate in Lebanon, the fate of the foreign hostages being held there is a rising concern. At press time, nine Americans were being held hostage, including American University professor Thomas Sutherland who this month marked his fourth year in captivity. Journalist Terry Anderson, the longest-held American, was kidnaped four years ago last March.

“Now with this terrible war going on, it’s probably one of the most dangerous times the hostages have faced,” said Lela Gilbert, prayer coordinator for Friends in the West, a Christian human-rights group. Since July 1986, the Seattle-based organization has been conducting an international prayer campaign on behalf of the hostages and their families (CT, Sept. 18, 1987, pp. 34–36).

Gilbert said her organization is concerned about a lack of public momentum behind the hostages. “Much of the interest was lost during the Irangate controversy,” she said. “People didn’t know how to support these men without taking a political position, and I think the fire went out.”

But Gilbert said a renewed prayer effort for the hostages and their families is needed now more than ever. She said some of the families have received reports of suicide attempts, psychoses, and deep bouts of frustration on the part of the hostages. Nonetheless, “We’ve said from the beginning, and we still believe, that prayer is the key to open the door for these men,” Gilbert said.

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Journalist Jerry Levin, himself a former hostage in Lebanon (CT, May 16, 1986, p. 50), suggests that Christians “pray and push for peace in the Middle East and especially for nonviolent solutions to the sadly large number of difficult political problems that exist there.” Levin, who became a Christian during his captivity, said the situation is particularly crucial now because “[the hostages’] condition is always going to be made worse every time violence escalates.”

The nine American hostages are Anderson, Sutherland, Frank Herbert Reed, Joseph James Cicippio, Edward Austin Tracy, Alan Steen, Jesse Jonathan Turner, Robert Polhill, and Lt. Col. William Richard Higgins. Anglican envoy Terry Waite, a British citizen, also remains in captivity.

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