The small country of Lebanon hit international headlines on Tuesday 4 August 2020 as news broke of a huge explosion, which destroyed part of the capital city, Beirut. The blast was felt all over Lebanon and even as far away as Cyprus. The deadly explosion left more than 200 people dead and around 6,000 injured. Investigations into the cause indicate that nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored at the port for several years and was ignited in a horrific accident.
The explosion led to violent street protests in Beirut, where many blamed those in power for the negligence and corruption that allowed such dangerous materials to be stored so close to the population. Almost one week later, the government resigned and the path ahead looks uncertain once again. Many international agencies and governments have pledged support to Lebanon as it deals with the direct consequences of the explosion. As believers, we are called to be light in a dark world; to bring hope when earthly circumstances lead people to fear the worst.
Lebanon’s economy has experienced decades of chronic corruption and mismanagement. This has led to the country being on the brink of financial collapse, which presents the biggest threat to Lebanon’s security since the civil war of 1975-1990. The government is highly indebted and local currency has lost around 80% of its value against the US Dollar. Many people participated in months of demonstrations that began in October 2019. The protestors called for a new government and reforms to end corruption. Although the protests have been mostly peaceful, there have been episodes that have turned violent.
The government did change but this has not prevented continued economic deterioration. People are watching their savings and salaries disappear as food inflation hits nearly 200%. Most goods are imported to Lebanon using US currency, including 80% of its food. As local currency loses its value, the price of goods has risen significantly. In addition to the economic misery, Lebanon is host to 1.5 million refugees – the most per capita in the world.
The Covid-19 lockdown accelerated the process of economic decline. The electricity system was already in need of extensive repair and reformation, but the impact of increased fuel prices has led to shortages and fears of total blackout in some areas. People rely on generator power for the majority of the day but even this has been cut in some areas to preserve fuel. The international airport in Lebanon and most businesses have re-opened in efforts to relieve the economy. This has led to an increase in the number of cases of Covid-19, in the context of a health system that is struggling to cope.
Tuesday 4 August marked a very dark day in the history of Lebanon. The catastrophe led to approximately 300,000 homeless people, many dead and injured, and huge areas of Beirut damaged beyond repair. The devastation presents impossible challenges to the country. Thankfully, international aid has been sent from across the globe. There is a need for immediate medical care, food and shelter, and it has been amazing to watch Lebanese youth and others from across sectarian backgrounds come together to help with the clean-up operation. However, after three days of national mourning, it is anticipated that there will be renewed anger and demonstrations against those in power.
…it has been amazing to watch Lebanese youth and others from across sectarian backgrounds come together to help with the clean-up operation.
Lebanese Evangelical School Tyre
The education system in Lebanon is vulnerable to the deteriorating situation. Around 70% of children attend private schools but this number is expected to significantly decrease in the next academic year. Food security, health and housing take precedence over school fees. More than 100,000 children are expected to transfer to public schools, if room can be made for them. Many schools have been unable to pay their staff during the past few months, many teachers have become unemployed and the situation for the coming year is uncertain.
Education has been an open door for ministry in Lebanon for many years. In these challenging times, we need to pray that schools that share the good news with children will be able to continue. The Lebanese Evangelical School Tyre (LEST) is one such school. The school’s motto is ‘Planting eternal seeds in young hearts and lives’. LEST was founded in 1869 to provide education while sharing the good news with students. Every child attends a school assembly on a weekly basis and teachers attend daily devotions throughout the school year. In addition to this, there are many opportunities for personal witness and relationships.
The school has capacity for up to 1,000 students aged 3-18 years. Most of the children are from the local area, although a small number are from overseas, with parents working in local agencies. In addition to the overtly spiritual part of the school, supporting children with academic or emotional difficulties is an opportunity to demonstrate faith in action. It is important to make every effort to keep vulnerable children in this environment as education is one of the main paths to the future for Lebanon in these dire times.
Support Where Most Needed
A fundraising project has been set up to support a number of current students whose parents will no longer be able to meet school fees. These children are selected on the basis of their individual situations. The priority will be for children who have experienced loss or particularly need the support that the Christian environment of the school can provide. It is a way of keeping children in a place where they can be exposed to real hope – the only answer for Lebanon.
An example of a child who would be supported is a 15-year-old pupil whose brother died in a house fire just over two years ago. His father also passed away. The family had many ongoing challenges. They were already in a difficult financial situation and there is no welfare system in Lebanon. Last year, a group of teachers at LEST covered the cost of school fees, but they are no longer able to do this due to the economic crisis. This presents an opportunity for faith to be put into action – to demonstrate the love of God through His people.
There are other families of different religious backgrounds who have done their utmost to keep their students at LEST. Education has always been a priority for the majority of Lebanese parents. It is seen as a way of helping their children to achieve a brighter future. Lebanon remains an open door for mission, but it faces many challenges. We have the opportunity to build lasting relationships, to share the hope that we have and to plant eternal seeds.
- for peace, justice and that God’s mercy would be poured out on this fragile country
- for those who seek to bring hope and light in these difficult times
- for those in authority and those making decisions at international and local levels.