Americans associate Lebanon with sectarian violence, including the taking of hostages and the suicide bombings of military and diplomatic installations. Few remember that before full-scale civil conflict broke out ten years ago, the country was a haven for Middle Eastern Christians and Muslims who wanted to coexist.
Evangelicals, representing perhaps 1.5 percent of the Christian community, have been hit hard by the suffering that accompanies civil war. But observers say the church is stronger as a result.
“The [evangelical] church in Lebanon has been vitalized and made to stand on its own two feet. The church is stronger spiritually now than it ever was before,” said Douglas Anderson, director of Middle East Christian Outreach, an interdenominational organization with field headquarters in Cyprus.
The Baptist church is the largest evangelical body in Lebanon. Before the fighting erupted, 15 Baptist congregations claimed a total membership of about 550, said Ghassen Khalif, a Baptist pastor in Beirut who serves as president of the Lebanon Baptist Convention. After the start of the civil war, he said, more than 200 Baptists left the country. “But the Lord was with us. We continued to witness, and now we are more than 800.”
Although evangelicals lost many of their seasoned leaders to mass emigration, a new wave of enthusiastic young leaders has taken the helm of the church. Today more young Lebanese than in previous years are attending seminaries. Evangelicals operate three seminaries in Lebanon, one of which opened just last year.
In addition, evangelical churches are cooperating more closely. “Christians have taken the initiative in self-help programs, general relief care, refugee work, and finding homes for displaced people,” ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.