BEIRUT, Lebanon (BP) -- The frightened, protective Muslim mother finally agreed to let Christian medical workers take her sick 2-year-old daughter to the hospital.
?If you send me with one of your people, I am ready to go with her,? the Shiite woman told the Christians at Beirut Baptist School, where she has found shelter for her family from the fighting that raged near her home.
Then, from behind the black veil that completely covered her face, she quietly spoke these words: ?Please, pray for my daughter.?
Amid the darkness and suffering of war, a ray of light is shining in Lebanon.
For weeks, Lebanese Baptists and other Christians have been housing, feeding - and loving - hundreds of mostly Shiite Muslim families driven from their homes in Beirut?s southern suburbs and towns farther south by the battles between Hezbollah guerrillas and the Israeli military.
During normal times, the two groups might never encounter one another, much less form friendships, in Lebanon?s uneasy mix of religious and ethnic factions. But these aren?t normal times.
While Lebanese Baptists help refugees in Beirut, Southern Baptists in the region are channeling nearly $50,000 in aid to Lebanese Christians to provide food, medicine, blankets and other supplies to families fleeing the fighting in the south. Baptists in Israel also are assisting people in need in northern Israel, where Hezbollah rockets continue to fall.
Up to 750,000 Lebanese have been displaced by the war so far. Many of them have flooded into hundreds of schools and other temporary shelters - including the Beirut Baptist School and the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut. Some 1,000 refugees are living at the two schools until they can return to their homes.
?We are fully packed right now,? said Nabil Costa, director of the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (also known as the Lebanese Baptist Society). ?We cannot take anyone more, and yet we squeeze more in. But we are happy serving all those people.
?It was God?s timing. It was not our choice. But we feel we are more ready to serve people from different backgrounds because we saw their suffering, and they are ready to receive how we are helping them.?
With aid from Baptists and others worldwide, the Lebanese believers are providing food, medicine and other essentials to refugees at the two schools - and to several hundred other nearby people.
Refugee families crowd the classrooms at the schools, their laundry hanging out the windows. Baptists and other volunteers cook meals, clean, play with the children and do what they can to create a safe refuge in the midst of a terrible situation.
?They trust us,? Costa said. ?We are not trying to force anything on them. The first thing they ask us is, ?Do you want to convert us to Christianity?? And we tell them, ?...You are here because we love you. We want to show you that we love you and take care of you.? We are earning our Christian credibility.
?Pray that we do not grow weary and that we will show our genuine love to the people who we usually do not deal with, and in certain cases to the people who we think are the cause of our troubles. This is our real challenge now as Christians, to show them our genuine love - not only by talking, but by living and by giving and sacrificing. This is what true Christianity is.?
Costa also had kind words for another group of ?refugees?: two Southern Baptist volunteer teams stranded for more than a week in Beirut before being evacuated with other Americans in July. The 19 volunteers - from First Baptist Church in Forney, Texas, and Eagle?s Landing Baptist Church in Henry County, Ga. - enthusiastically assisted in helping Lebanese Baptists help others as they waited to depart Beirut.
?When the war started, both teams joined with us as we prepared relief packs - food, hygiene [items] and games for the children,? Costa said. ?It touches my heart that during this crisis, we as a minority group in Lebanon were not on our own. We are overwhelmed by how our brothers and sisters from the larger body of Christ jumped to our aid, encouragement and prayers.?
Southern Baptist Aid
Meanwhile, Southern Baptists in the region have earmarked nearly $50,000 to help Lebanese believers aid villagers in areas hit hard by the fighting in southern Lebanon.
?The biggest needs right now without a doubt are food, medicine, pallets to sleep on and blankets,? said a Southern Baptist in the region working to channel the aid funds to Lebanese Christian workers. ?Once we have a good handle on those top three needs, we?re looking at trying to provide more clothing, toys for children and such.
?The money so far has been used to buy items like milk powder for babies, bread and medicine for people with diabetes and heart trouble and for children with fevers. [Local Christians designated] a whole section of schools that were housing families that had fled from the south and took food, medicine and cots to them.?
But aid deliveries in the days to come will involve more than just food and medicine, the Southern Baptist noted.
?Our dream is that more and more local believers will start going in to sit with people, to talk with them, to cry with them, to pray with them,? she said. ?The Shiites are the majority in Lebanon. God literally has propelled these Shiite families up [north] and put them in villages where there are followers of Jesus. He?s put them smack-dab next to each other, and it?s going to be neat to see how Christians respond.?
She asked for prayer for civilians trapped in the south, where fighting rages on.
?Ask God to show mercy to the families that have not been able to flee, who are in dire need of medical help,? she appealed. ?These villages where the fighting is going on are made up of just ordinary people. Many of the mothers have upwards of eight to 10 children.?
Israel Suffers Too
In Israel, Baptists and other believers also are helping the hurting. Hundreds of thousands of people have sought safety in bomb shelters as Hezbollah forces in Lebanon continue to fire rockets into northern Israel. Many more cannot work regularly or provide for their families until the bombing stops.
The Baptist Village camp near Tel Aviv has provided a haven to a number of Israeli children from the north, giving them some relief from the daily tension and fear back home.
?The camp more than doubled in size because of kids wanting to come out of the north who were basically staying in bomb shelters,? a Christian worker said. ?It?s a good break for them.?
Christians also are seeking to aid Israelis who need food and other assistance in the northern war zone.
?We?re working right now to find different people who are in need that would like food,? the worker said. ?Israel is doing a good job of taking care of people, so we?re looking mainly for the ones who are falling through the cracks. We?re just trying to help out as much as possible.
?We?re praying that the [Christian] believers? lights will shine brightest in the midst of this difficult time. It?s a hard thing, because here believers are in the army and some have to go [to Lebanon]. We know of one believer who had to go in and remove wounded soldiers under fire. I asked another believer who got called up to service how I could pray for him, thinking he would just ask to come back home safely. He said, ?Just pray that I do my job, but that I don?t have to use my gun.??
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