Audrey and Colin Gibson Link Letter no.19 October 2020

Dear friends

Greetings from our new temporary office, our apartment balcony! But more on that later….

So much has changed since the last link letter we wrote, in July. Little did we know that within a couple of weeks Lebanon would suffer such tragedy. Experts say that the blast of 4 August at the port in Beirut, that devastated large parts of the city, was one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in history. For Lebanon and the Lebanese people worldwide it has become yet another tragic but memorable date in their already traumatic history. Only two weeks later another large fire occurred in the same area causing widespread panic and reawakening the traumas from the explosion.

Fortunately, we were about eight miles from the port when the explosion occurred but nevertheless were still shocked to our core as we heard and felt the unnerving sound and aftershocks even at that distance. A few days later, joining a team from a friend’s church, we helped with some immediate relief work, sweeping up shattered glass and distributing food. Now, two months on, the rebuilding continues, but for many, their lives will never be the same and will take a lot longer to heal and repair.

Businesses in Beirut cling on for better times.

We know many of you have been deeply concerned by the recent events here and we have been truly touched by all your prayers, messages of concern and your financial gifts towards the relief effort. Thank you.

Widespread anger among the Lebanese following the initial shock of the explosion led to the downfall of the government, and recent attempts to form a new one have failed. Meanwhile, we read that subsidies on staple food items, fuel and medicines may be withdrawn soon as the country runs out of money. Like most of the world, we are also well into the second wave of COVID-19, with many more cases than at the start of the pandemic, but few effective controls.

Please continue to pray for Lebanon:

  • For healing – mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually – for those most affected by the explosion.
  • For a government that will truly reflect the will of the people, govern openly and transparently, and be able to tackle effectively the dire economic and health issues the country is experiencing.
  • That many will find their hope, despite all the despair around them, in the gospel message.
LSESD lunch – receiving gifts from CEO Nabil Costa.

Our plans have changed too since July. Then, we were planning to end our service with LSESD and return to the UK for home leave during the autumn, hoping to see many of you as we visited our supporting churches. Sadly, our home leave is not to be. COVID-19 makes the planning of church visits impossible – who knows which area will be in lockdown? – and travelling is not easy either. We are hoping technology will provide some alternatives over the coming months.

Where does this leave us? We were certain our decision to leave LSESD was the right one and, with wonderful timing, a new opportunity has arisen for us to work with the Christian environmental organisation A Rocha (www.arocha.org/Lebanon). The final agreements are not yet signed, but assuming they soon are, we will continue serving as CMS mission partners based in Lebanon. Do email us (or CMS) if you have any concerns or questions about this new opportunity.

One rather overgrown A Rocha project site.

We said our sad farewells to friends and colleagues at LSESD at the end of September. We were treated to a delicious Lebanese lunch, socially distanced of course, and received some beautiful Lebanese gifts which we will enjoy using. However, as we are staying in Lebanon, we didn’t need to say final goodbyes and will keep in touch.

A Rocha Lebanon (ARL) has been “mothballed” since the previous manager left over a year ago. We are already doing some work with them (unofficially) – hence the office on our balcony. Mainly, we are trying to become familiar with the organisation and its work in Lebanon so we can plan the next activities. At the moment all the files and equipment are stored in the basement of a church. Clearly, it will take a little while to get up and running!

Day 1 sorting through A Rocha stored items.

Initially we expect to focus on two small urban nature parks in the West Beqaa area of Lebanon which ARL, in partnership with the local municipalities, is creating from areas of 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. The area is on a major route for migrating birds, and habitat loss is a significant issue through deforestation and urban growth, exacerbated by the influx of refugees from Syria. There is much to do, but we are acutely aware of the need to balance the important conservation needs with the urgent issues facing local people such as food insecurity and lack of jobs. Above all, however, I am reminded of my old senior school motto: Nisi Dominus frustra – Unless the Lord builds, all is in vain – from Psalm 127.

Education notice at one A Rocha site.

Prayer points:

  • Please give thanks for the new opportunities that lie ahead.
  • That the administrative issues all go smoothly – with CMS, LSESD and A Rocha Lebanon and especially for new visas.
  • That, once we start, we quickly develop good relationships with everyone involved with the two projects.
  • For the educational resources I (Audrey) hope to develop. There are several schools – public, private and informal (for refugee children) – near to both projects.
  • For the new dynamic when we start working together – me as education and church liaison officer and Colin as the national director (the boss!). Not a big issue (we hope!).

Audrey and Colin

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