A Rocha Lebanon are working with the local municipality, and the mayor dropped by to see the work underway.
In summer 2020, Audrey and Colin Gibson were anticipating that their time in Beirut was coming to an end. But today they are still in Lebanon, in partnership with Christian conservation organisation A Rocha.
After five years at the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development, Audrey and Colin were ready to hand on their roles to Lebanese staff. They began to explore what God was calling them to next, as they weren’t ready to retire. As they waited to see when they would be able to return to the UK amid the COVID-19 pandemic, an unexpected opportunity arose to take up new roles in Lebanon.
The previous manager of A Rocha Lebanon (ARL) had left more than a year earlier, limiting the organisation’s activity. Colin has taken on the role of national director, while Audrey is education and church liaison officer. As Audrey and Colin become more familiar with the organisation and its work, their focus is on two small urban nature parks being created from waste ground. Once complete, both will have newly planted native trees and shrubs, a pond, footpaths and a labyrinth, which will benefit both wildlife and visitors.
Jesus cares, so we care
Audrey and Colin explain:
“One very simple idea, explained by Rev Dr Chris Wright (a member of the A Rocha International Council of Reference), is that if Jesus is Lord of all creation, and he is also our Lord, then it seems to follow that we, as followers of Christ, should have an interest in what is important to him – that is, caring for creation.
“However, we are very mindful that our work must benefit local people as well as wildlife, especially given the economic situation here in Lebanon. Harm to our environment – whether from climate change, polluting rivers or simply a ‘throwaway’ lifestyle – nearly always affects the poor, those without influence and the vulnerable more than the rich and powerful. So there is an issue of justice too, something the Bible has much to say about.
New life from waste ground
“Mekse is a small town in the Beqaa Valley, central Lebanon, with a mixed faith population where ARL is working in partnership with the local municipality to restore 3.5 hectares of previously waste ground into a nature park. The slopes of the Beqaa Valley used to be covered with trees, including the famous Cedars of Lebanon. Sadly, these have nearly all been cut down, so one feature of our restoration is to reforest part of the site with native species. Some trees have already been planted and a pond has been dug, which will provide new habitats and a resource for migrating birds. We are now assessing what else needs to be done – we have several ideas!
“We would like an area set aside for organic food growing and an orchard. The soil is good – indeed the Beqaa Valley is one of the main food-growing areas in Lebanon. We hope this will provide additional food security for those in need locally as well as providing income generation and employment opportunities. We may also look to set up some beehives. If these go ahead, we plan to work with other local organisations who have experience of community gardens and organic growing and who can give us some additional guidance.
“The Beqaa area is one where many refugees from Syria have settled and a recent United Nations report indicated that at the end of 2020 nearly 90 per cent are living in poverty, up from 50 per cent at the beginning of the year. So we believe there is an urgent need for us to use part of the park to help the refugees – and the poorer Lebanese people.
Encouraging the next generation
“We have spoken with the principals of two schools who were both enthusiastic about how the park could be used to enhance their teaching, across the curriculum. Next door to the park there is an informal school for Syrian children and we hope to speak with the principal there too. Audrey is keen to share her knowledge of forest school type activities. We hope that through these and other community education activities, we can encourage a new generation to care for their environment – and even influence their parents.
“We also have ideas of running a competition for people to create sculptures from natural materials that can be displayed around the park. We want people to enjoy the park simply as a place of nature – with all the well-known benefits green spaces have for mental well-being. We envisage having sacred spaces for contemplation and prayer too.”
Please pray for Audrey and Colin and those who are working alongside them, that together they will make the best decisions as we seek to demonstrate God’s care for creation and love for all people.