COVID-19 and a collapsed economy are driving some people in Lebanon to despair and others to join the Islamic State, but others are finding Christ – and joy amid the gloom, sources said.
In a country where unemployment has topped 55 percent, inflation has eaten away 90 percent of the value of the Lebanese Pound and more than 60 percent of the population is in need of aid, many people are in despair.
Their sense of doom has deepened over the winter as many can no longer heat their homes, said the leader of a ministry based in Lebanon.
“Freezing temperatures impact thousands of people who live with their children in harsh conditions,” the leader said. “Many people have no access to fuel to heat their homes due to rising fuel prices. Since the beginning of November, we’ve been assisting families with vouchers to acquire fuel for their home heaters.”
About 2,000 people received fuel vouchers, he said. Snow and freezing rain hit refugees and Lebanese families at a time when several members of the ministry’s relief team were in quarantine with COVID-19. The leader said volunteers joined the remnant crew to distribute tarps and help families to drape the tarps over their makeshift shelters.
More than 2,500 people benefited from local missionaries providing blankets, mattresses, tarps, heaters, fuel vouchers, food, diapers and other winter aid.
“We are also offering health care assistance and distribution of medication,” the leader said. “Our gratitude overflows to our partners and individuals who have helped us sustain this program.”
The economic/political crisis and COVID-19 have brought Lebanon to a breaking point that presents the biggest challenge to the ministry, he said.
“This failing economy and political disappointment have brought grief, sadness and despair to the hearts of most people here,” the leader said.
Such despair has driven dozens of Lebanon’s Sunni Muslims to join the Islamic State (ISIS), according to Foreign Policy magazine. ISIS has lured young, unemployed Sunnis from poor areas with promises of sizeable salaries to join the militants’ cause in Syria and Iraq, the magazine reported on Feb. 21.
“Some of the men who have fled Lebanon for Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State had previously served time in Lebanese prisons or were suspected of having links with or sympathy for extremist outfits,” columnist Anchal Vohra wrote. “Most, however, simply came from areas of Lebanon riven with poverty and sectarian rivalry between Shiites and Sunnis.”
ISIS attacks have recently re-appeared in Syria and Iraq after years of quiet following the Islamic extremist militants’ territorial defeat in 2017, Vohra reported. As the group resurged, Lebanese security officials said plummeting living standards were driving young men to ISIS, with destitute areas such as Tripoli becoming prime recruiting grounds.
“Although Lebanon’s interior minister told the Lebanese press that 37 men had left Tripoli to join the Islamic State, local activists claim the number is higher, saying nearly 100 men have left the country recently to join the group,” Vohra reported.
Hope in Christ
Amid the gloom, local missionaries have had ample opportunities to share the message of hope in Christ, and many young men and women from different backgrounds have come to faith and eagerly follow Jesus, the local ministry leader said.
Earlier this year, workers celebrated the baptism of five young adults at the ministry’s church site.
“Joy filled the faces and the hearts of those who were getting baptized as they worshiped the Lord and presented their testimonies,” the leader said. “Each of them shared about their lives before and after faith, and the change that took place because of knowing our Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.”
Most recent converts are young adults who commit to leaving the temptations of the world to follow Christ in faith, hope and love, he said. Such faith helped create the joy that permeated the recent baptisms.
“The celebration was filled with a wonderful atmosphere of faith and with great blessings from the Lord through the presence of the Holy Spirit,” the leader said.
Several groups of new Christians from different backgrounds have formed in the ministry’s discipleship program.
“Our aim is for these people to become more like Jesus and to be able to disciple others as they grow in Christian knowledge,” he said.
A recent gathering of Kurds who came to Christ through the ministry also reflected joy, he said.
“We held a day of worship, prayers and testimonies for our Kurdish group of believers,” the leader said. “It was full of testimonies about those who came from non-Christian backgrounds meeting Christ as their Savior. It was a blessed day, and many people were touched by the love they found and asked for prayers. We are regularly following up with them.”
Local missionaries are bringing the love of Christ as a candle in the darkness in Lebanon, once known as “the Switzerland of the Middle East.” Please consider a donation today to help equip and encourage them in the task.