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 why North American Christians assigned black hats to the Middle East's Arab population, with its significant Christian minority, and white hats to the Israeli population, so antagonistic to proselytizing. That wasand remainsa tall order.
Our packer and shipper for the publishing house was Stefan Saba, known as Abu Ibrahima kind and gentle man of advancing years, no one new exactly how many. That was because under the British-administered Palestinian Mandate, the government didn't keep birth records. And his baptismal records, kept in the church of the town from which his family had been evicted in 1948, were inaccessible. As Abu Ibrahim served the rest of us tea, it was impossible to think of Palestinians as forming a monolithic foe.
My wife, Carol, and I join with other believers in anticipating an eventual turning of the Jewish people to their Messiah. But until then, our prayers should be extended on behalf of all God's called out ones. That certainly includes the many Arabs who extend their allegiance to Christ, often at great cost.
Harry Genet is editor of Men of Integrity, a Christianity Today sister publication.
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Our earlier coverage of the Israeli-Lebanon conflict includes:
The Middle East's Death Wishand Ours | We say "everyone wants peace," but we also want to see our enemies destroyed. By David P. Gushee (July 14)