When the Bombs Fell on Beirut
December 1968: It was our second year in Lebanon as a young missionary couple attempting to lead an Arabic-language Christian publishing house serving the entire Middle East. We were the only foreigners worshipping that Sunday morning in Beirut's Badaro Street Baptist Church, with the men all seated on the left side, and the scarf-clad women on the right. The distant muffled booms scarcely registered above the raised-voice praying and earnest hymn singing.
As we emerged onto the entry courtyard, however, we quickly learned that, just miles away, the Israeli air force had destroyed a number of planes on the Beirut International Airport's runways as retaliation for Fatah commando incursions into northern Israel.
My publishing house, the former Nile Mission Press, evicted from Egypt in the wake of the 1956 Suez Crisis, had transferred its book stocks (but not its presses) to Lebanon. The calculation had been that the only Middle Eastern country with a significant Christian population would provide the most secure, stable haven for an enterprise such as ours. What a naïve calculation that proved to be!
Then, as now, Lebanon's government, divvied up according to a sectarian quota system, was incapable of strongly asserting its authority. It was impotent to rein in Fatah commandos, generally Palestinians pushed out of Palestine as the state of Israel was formed in 1948. (It tried. From our balcony, we watched the tiny Lebanese air force strafe a nearby refugee camp. But to no avail. Later, our young son's school bus was briefly caught in the crossfire of a government-commando skirmish.) Now, 38 years later, Hezbollah plays the same spoiler role.
In the months that followed, our fellow believers often asked us to explain to them ...