Lebanon: Baptists in struggle against poverty
B e i r u t – With initiatives evident throughout the country, Baptists in Lebanon are working against poverty. Frank Wegen, a German Baptist pastor (Erlangen) and committee member of the aid agency German Baptist Aid (Elstal near Berlin), was able to observe what is being done during a visit to the country. The high point was the presentation of a study on poverty at the American University of Beirut. The authors of the investigative study “Profiles of Poverty: The human face of poverty in Lebanon” are Rupen Das and Julie Davidson. Das is director of community development at the Baptist-influenced Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development. In the book, 200 interviews were conducted involving 400 people who live in poverty. At the book launch, Das pointed out that poverty in Lebanon is often not visible at first glance. Nonetheless, 28.5 percent of the approximately four million inhabitants of the country are poor; eight percent live in extreme poverty. Thus there are places where even today electricity is not available, for example in Mareh, in the northern province of Akkar. As it says in the book, “The chicken farms have electricity and we don’t have electricity. They are more served than we are.” The study was financially supported by the aid agency World Vision and the missions organization Canadian Baptist Ministries. Also among the guests at the book launch was Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour. He promised that the government would take a more active stance in seeing to it that human rights among the poor are assured. And he admitted that, in the past “the sense of humanity” has at times been lost. Several television and radio stations and newspapers covered the event.
During a trip through the northern part of the country, Frank Wegen, along with Shadi Saad, secretary general of the Lebanese Baptist Union, was able to observe how the Baptists help the poor in concrete ways. Within view of the border with neighboring Syria, the Baptists had supported families that had taken in refugees from Syria with food packets, medication, and clothing, among other things. “In many cases, the refugees have moved on, but a high level of contact with non-Christian families is maintained,” said Wegen. Shadi Saad explained that these families continue to receive regular visits: “There is great openness to the gospel.” The northern province of Akkar is the poorhouse of Lebanon. 30.5% of the population are illiterate. Frank Wegen was especially impressed by a visit to the home of 2 Sunni brothers: “The older of the two is 93 years old, has a wife and five sons, four of whom were present. The younger is 81 years old, has 2 wives and 21 children, the youngest of whom is just 12 months old. The living room consists of cushions on the floor along the wall, carpets, an oven in the middle – and a television. From time to time we could hear cows mooing. The stall is right next to the kitchen.” One of the sons thanked Shadi Saad for a Christian book that he had been given during one of the recent visits. He was very moved. Later, two other members of a nearby Baptist church came by, who regularly visit this family. They each told a bit about themselves and their faith. At the end of the visit, the Christians had prayed for the concerns of the non-Christian host, while outside the Muezzin sounded the call to prayer.
Because the province of Akkar has the nation’s lowest rate of children finishing school, the Baptists have created an assistance program. Not only are children offered help with homework, but they are closely accompanied, to assure that they complete school and learn a job skill. Their parents are also included. “A team of three teachers and several volunteers are ready to go,” according to Frank Wegen. German Baptist Aid supports this project. “I am very impressed by the passion with which Lebanese Baptists are engaged in society and are truly salt and light that is seen,” he states in his summary.