“What do you have in your house?”
In Mark 12.31, Jesus tells us to first love God with all our hearts and, secondly, to love your neighbour as yourself.
It sounds like a simple and easy command, but the messiness of life can make that quite challenging, particularly when you are in a situation where you must care for someone who has previously hurt you, your family, or your nation.
For citizens of Lebanon, caring for their neighbours has become a reality since the start of the Syrian war. Since the conflict began in Syria, over 1.5 million Syrians have fled their country and found refuge in neighbouring Lebanon. The number of refugees living in Lebanon now is like that of Dublin City. The Syrian refugees now find themselves turning to the country they once occupied for decades. From the late 1970s to the mid-2000s, Syria had forces in Lebanon, and that could create resistance to Lebanon welcoming the fleeing refugees.
And in recent years, it has become a deeper challenge for Lebanon as the country has found itself facing its own struggles. A severe financial, economic, and political crisis has crippled the country, and the additional problems occurring in the aftermath of the Beirut port blast, COVID-19, and an autumnal cholera outbreak only exacerbate the situation. Lebanon faces widespread poverty and collapsing public services. There are currently 2.1 million Lebanese, and almost 90% of those 1.5 million Syrian refugees need humanitarian aid.
In the context where your former occupier (that lasted for decades) is now in need, it can be a challenge to love your neighbour, especially when your own country and its citizens are struggling. But our partner in Lebanon has Christ at the centre of their organisation, and they stand by their brothers and sisters, regardless of who they are. Their mission is to live out what the Bible tells us in Proverbs 31:8–9—to "speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves" and to "defend the rights" of the vulnerable. Besides working with Tearfund Ireland, our partner comes alongside 50 local churches and other faith-based organisations to help them implement relief and development projects for vulnerable individuals and families in Syria and Lebanon. Through relationships, the local Church unconditionally demonstrates God’s love within their communities, and the most vulnerable around them are holistically cared for and dignified.
In caring for their neighbour, some of the ways they have ensured support to those in need have been through:
Supplying ready-to-eat meals and hygiene
Creating child-safe spaces for children in Syria
Providing winterization items for those facing harsh temperatures
Supplying cash transfers and food vouchers for families in need
Creating informal education centres within the church for those who aren’t able to attend school
In an interview specially recorded for our recent seminar at New Wine Ireland Sligo, two Lebanese Christians Manal and Dani shared with us their experiences of crossing ethnic and religious lines to create a better future for their nation:
Manal shared of a life transforming experience, in 2005, when the people of Lebanon came together to force the occupying Syrian army to leave. Everyone came together in the centre of Beirut under one flag, the Lebanese instead of multiple political and ethnic flags. Manal reflects her thoughts at that time,
"What unites us is greater than what divides us. What is best for me, and what is the common good for all of us? When people come together, they’re leaving behind part of their identity, and a lot of that has been shaped by pain. There’s a desire to protect themselves and say, 'this is my identity.' But even with their pain, they came together to say, 'How can we serve all of us?' And that is what our partner in Lebanon is doing now."
Dani shared of his experience of loving his neighbour well, by letting others get to know him.
"Sometimes the hardest part of getting to know 'the other' is letting them know you. It’s letting them in and being vulnerable with them."
Tearfund Ireland are grateful to have partners like those in Lebanon that put Christ at the centre and demonstrate God’s goodness, love, and justice. If you would like to get involved, you are invited to join alongside us through prayer, financial support, participating in an upcoming event or fundraiser, following us on social media, and letting others know about the work of Tearfund Ireland. You can visit our website HERE to learn more or email us HERE.
Cover Photo: Local partners work to distribute materials to those impacted by the Syrian earthquake. Credit: Local partners in Syria