Walking with refugees in Lebanon
CEO Alastair Bateman’s recent travels shone a light on perhaps the most important part of mission work – relationships
In September, CMS CEO Alastair Bateman travelled to Lebanon to meet people in mission and those they work with. Here he shares some reflections:
Those I met asked me to share their thanks for the work made possible by your prayerful support – so thank you for being part of this ministry.
Mission partners Phil and Sylvie Good work with Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and I was privileged to visit some refugee families with them – an amazing experience.
Not welcome, but nowhere to go
One family welcomed us into their home, sat us down and despite not much material wealth were immensely hospitable – insisting on using some of the little they had to provide us with drinks to go with the fruit Sylvie had brought. When I told him about this, my son compared it to the widow’s mite.
It was challenging to hear what this family are going through as they shared some of their experiences – the father explained that he is not particularly welcome in Lebanon, but there is nowhere for he and his family to go to seek asylum. He is a street cleaner, the family are very poor, and life is hard. They weren’t sure if their children would be able to go to school this term. As we sat in their home watching their children, it was hard not to think they’re just like my children, only living in desperately different circumstances.
The father commented that it is stressful being on the bottom rung of the ladder. Stress is a word we use a lot in the West – I was moved to hear him use the word in this context with his family so vulnerable, living day by day.
This man shared that he loves Jesus but doesn’t go to church anymore – he never felt like he fitted in. Sylvie told me that many Muslim background believers are open to Jesus but not yet ready for church. Sylvie and Philip are probably the only connection for them to nurture their discipleship and to keep praying for them and their situation.
Prayers and perseverance
We also met with close friends of Phil and Sylvie’s from Life Center church. As a result of the war in Syria, this family arrived in Lebanon eight years ago after a five hour walk over the mountains in very cold conditions. They connected with the Life Center in need of help with food and furniture, and the love they received opened their minds to reading the Bible for themselves. The father prayed to be able to read and slowly learned to read the Bible in Arabic. The whole family have become Christian.
This man is a natural, anointed leader. When he visits refugee settlements in the Bekaa Valley, he opens the Bible and speaks and everyone comes to listen. He has also shared discipleship materials in Arabic produced by a CMS partner organisation.
The mother comments on how becoming a Christian has changed her marriage – she says that there is love in it now for the first time. The father has been involved in helping with the children in a non-cultural way, and they operate in public as more equal than is usual.
We were moved by this father’s testimony and he was encouraged to hear about our desire to share the gospel and see shalom come to the world in the power of the holy spirit. He prayed that CMS will persevere in our ministry.
We also met a refugee woman from a middle-class Christian background – yet she and her family are in a similar predicament as the other refugees. We met in their accommodation which is basic and apparently temporary. They had to leave Syria because her husband refused to lie for the authorities in his teaching role, and as a result one of their children was kidnapped for a day to frighten them.
The family called Sylvie and Phil Mama Sylvie and Papa Phil because they play a grandparent role with that part of the family absent. Phil is a great encourager and Sylvie cuddles the children with a grandparent’s warmth and berates them about doing their homework in the same way. They do life together and pray for one another. The family say they are glad not to be forgotten and they love that Sylvie and Phil would choose to live among them.
In all of these visits, what stood out the most was how these relationships are precious and of great mutual blessing and encouragement.