FALLS CHURCH, Va. (ABP) –- Thousands of Syrian refugees pouring into Lebanon in recent months are being met with Baptist aid.
The Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development and the Rahbe Baptist Church have coordinated receipt and spending of nearly $100,000 collected through Baptist World Aid, German Baptist Aid, Canadian Baptist Ministries, BMS World Mission and American Baptist Churches USA, according to a BWA news release.
"LSESD has decided to focus on a few issues that fill gaps being left by other organizations," said spokespersons for the ministry formed in 1998 to serve the church in Lebanon through spiritual, educational and social development.
The society has helped to provide food, hygiene kits and medical supplies to address humanitarian needs caused by the influx of families fleeing a government crackdown of protests that has killed at least 2,600 since mid-March.
So far Baptists have helped 615 refuge families and 248 Lebanese families. Several reported it was the first aid they had received since leaving Syria months earlier.
Baptist leaders said the aid was being used to support individuals opening up their homes and sharing their already-scarce resources to help refugees. “This will help decrease 'host-fatigue' and the need to move refugees to tented camps or communal living options,” according to the press release.
Many of the refugees being helped by Baptists live in situations described as “tenuous.” Five families were found sharing one unfurnished dwelling. One house had 36 refugee occupants, several families lived in tents and 32 people had been living inside a school for at least three months.
Refugees received medical attention for ailments including anemia, diabetes, epilepsy, asthma and high blood pressure. They told stories of family members who were shot or missing. Others heard their homes had been destroyed and believed they had nothing to return to in Syria.
The project faced significant challenges from the beginning, because Lebanon’s new government did not favor welcoming and permitting refugees into the country.
A “significant number” have not self-identified by registering as refugees, fearing retaliation, Baptist leaders said. As a result nobody knows their exact number, but they continue to arrive, even while others are able to return to their homes in Syria.
The Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development is an umbrella organization that operates the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, Beirut Baptist School and Dar Manhal Al Hayat publishing house. Most recently it expanded into ministry with children and youth.
Thirty-two churches with about 1,600 members comprise the Lebanese Baptist Convention, a BWA member body.
The Baptist movement in Lebanon dates to 1893 and began with a single person. While on a trip to the United States, photographer Sa’eed Jureidini visited Third Baptist Church in St. Louis, accepted Christianity and was baptized. A delegation from the church visited Lebanon two years later and ordained him as the country’s first Baptist pastor.
After World War I Baptists from the United States, Canada and Europe delegated missionary work in the Middle East to the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Missionary couple Finlay and Julia Graham came to Lebanon from Palestine in 1948. The Grahams founded the Beirut Baptist School, Arab Baptist Theological Seminary and publishing house in 1960.
Southern Baptists handed over all three ministries in 1998 to what is now known as the Lebanese Society for Education and Social Development, sometimes called the Lebanese Baptist Society.
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.