The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18:2 (NIV)
Recently we have been reflecting a little on change. Perhaps you have too, as so much is changing due to the impact of COVID-19. We are very aware that for some of you this has been a very unsettling and even painful period and we hope and pray that you can find comfort in God’s presence.
“We saw three domestic workers dumped outside the embassy in less than an hour” (BBC News). This is the reality of the changing economic situation here for one of the most vulnerable groups of people in Lebanon — migrant domestic workers. Many Lebanese families have traditionally employed a “maid” and there are approximately 250,000 migrant domestic workers in Lebanon — women mainly from Ethiopia and the Philippines. They come so they can send money home to support their families and until recently, for the lucky ones, this worked well. Unfortunately, they have little legal protection and some are badly mistreated. Withholding passports, no proper pay or time off and physical abuse are common complaints. Now the economic crisis means they cannot send money home, while more and more families can no longer afford to keep them, leaving many destitute or abandoned, yet unable to return home either.
Our church, All Saints Beirut, with others, is trying to help. The good news is that we have managed to distribute around 1000kg of groceries to people sleeping rough, like some of the maids, as well as those in prison — where many domestic workers end up if they leave their employer. In addition, we have also helped some of the poorest Lebanese families.
Please pray for the domestic workers who are trapped in very difficult circumstances, for their own governments who, in some cases, have been struggling to assist them, and for an end to the unfair system of employment that exists for these workers.
“We are celebrating the goodness of God [and] the new opportunities for ministry that God is opening up before us.” (Elie Haddad, President of ABTS). On a brighter note, the students from the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) — one ministry of LSESD, the organisation we work with — who were trapped in Lebanon when borders were closed in March are now able to go home. We recently shared a meal with a Syrian family (mum and dad are students at the seminary) whom we have known for a couple of years. Once they wanted to immigrate to Canada, but now they are excited about returning to Syria to be with family and help in the church there amid all the difficulties the country faces. Like many of you, we find it hard to comprehend what it will be like for them returning to Syria. Please pray for all the students, whether back in their home countries or travelling soon, that they will be able to settle quickly and use their new knowledge effectively.
For those students continuing their studies next year, and for ABTS too, there will be more change. The faculty staff realise they cannot continue with the traditional on-campus teaching. When lockdown happened in March, they switched to online teaching and now have decided to adopt a blended programme for future years consisting of distance learning with short annual residencies on campus. The new format will also open up the courses to a wider group of students in the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. Please pray for the seminary as it did not anticipate such a quick change and some more work is still needed, but as Elie also said: “We are excited about this new development.”
We too are looking ahead to change. As some of you will know – from your churches or our June monthly newsletter – we believe it is the right time to end our service with LSESD and anticipate leaving later this year. The exact timing is rather dependent on COVID-19 as this affects both our travel arrangements and our church visits when in the UK. We hope we will be able to visit you safely during the autumn.
Our time here, just under five years, has been a wonderfully rich, and enjoyable, experience – with a few challenges thrown in! It will be hard to leave. Already Audrey is saying sad farewells to her students during her final lessons over Zoom. However, we are both convinced we have given all we usefully can. Many talented Lebanese could take our places and with jobs in short supply, we think it an appropriate time to move on. Our colleagues have tried to change our minds but we have remained firm! The recent downturn in activity due to the pandemic seems to confi rm our decision.
What next? Well, apart from our plans to return to the UK for visits we do not know. Our thinking has changed significantly over the past few months. We do not want to retire just yet (we could) so are happily exploring various options. We value your prayers.
In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps. Proverbs 16:9 (NIV)