Audrey and Colin Gibson Link Letter no.20 January 2021

Dear friends,

Hello at the start of a new year. Despite all the current difficulties we are looking forward to the coming year with its challenges and opportunities.

Our local team with the mayor, who dropped by.

In early December, Colin gave a presentation on climate justice at the (virtual) Partnership for World Mission conference organised by the Church of England. This opportunity came about through our move to work with A Rocha Lebanon (ARL). A Rocha’s work is founded on 5 principles – Christian, conservation, community, cross cultural and cooperation. The first of these looks at the biblical basis of why we should care for God’s creation and during our transition to ARL we have had a little time to consider this aspect – which came in useful for Colin’s talk.

One very simple idea we heard, from a video by Rev Dr Chris Wright (a member of the A Rocha International Council of Reference), was 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.

Maintenance on the maze at our smaller park in Qab Elias.

However, we are very mindful that our work must benefit local people (the community principle) 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.

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 (the cooperation principle) 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 and so one feature of our restoration (the conservation principle) is to re-forest 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!

The town of Mekse in the Beqaa valley.

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. This is due to the economic meltdown and the impact of COVID-19. So we believe there is an urgent need for us to use part of the park in this way to help the refugees – and the poorer Lebanese people who also suffer for the same reasons.

In addition, we see significant opportunities to develop the environmental education potential of the nature park. We have already spoken with the principals of two schools who were both enthusiastic about how the park could be used to enhance their teaching, not only in science but across the curriculum. Right next door to the park there is an informal school for Syrian children and we hope to speak with the principal there very soon too. Audrey is also keen to share her knowledge of forest school type activities, which is still something quite new here. We hope that through these and other community education activities we may organise, for example with Scout groups, we can encourage a new generation to care for their environment – and even influence their parents. It will be great if we see three or four school groups a month visiting the park later this year.

Looking across our site to the informal school for Syrian children.

More ad hoc, we have ideas of running a competition for people to create sculptures from natural materials that can be displayed around the park. We do also 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 too – a maze and a quiet seating area – for contemplation and prayer.

As yet, these ideas are subject to approval by all the stakeholders involved with the park. We would value your prayers that together we make the best decisions as we seek to demonstrate God’s care for creation and love for all people through the work we are doing.

On site with our site supervisor and local expert advisers.

Aside from work we have been quite involved with our church. We have not been meeting together for some weeks now due to the pandemic, instead we are sending out a service each week by email. Colin has been tasked with organising this recently while others have been away over Christmas. The PCC is due to meet this month to discuss how to continue as church for the coming months. We also need to set our budget for 2021 – a difficult task when inflation is so high. Please pray for wisdom for the PCC in their decision making.

Please also give thanks as today (we write in late December) we received our renewed work visas. Thank you for your prayers.

Wishing you all every blessing throughout the coming year.

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