November 2006 - Vol. 2

A Time of War, a Season of Grace

by Jean Barbara

A leader of the People of God, a member community of The Sword of the Spirit in Beirut, Lebanon describes how God's grace can prevail even in a time of war

Seeing God's faithfulness in a time of war
It was not over a candle-lit dinner that Marie-Therese and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary this past 12th of July, but rather with fireworks that marked the first day of one of the most savage and craziest episodes of the Lebanese war. We watched with disbelief, horror, and a sense of loss, the unraveling of a spectacle of bloodshed and destruction that started for no credible reasons and then ended without achieving any purpose, except stealing lives, destroying houses and the economy, and causing desperation among many Lebanese, of whom it is believed more than 250,000 emigrated. But the Lord had clearly promised us a season of grace; how would he be faithful to his promise in a time of war?

Just a few days before the war erupted, during a retreat, some 65 young men and women, mostly community children, embraced a clear trumpet call to live for Christ a life of martyrdom, unto death, like Stephen’s. Stephen, a disciple of the Lord, who accepted from his elders in the community – as if from the Lord - the mundane task of ‘serving tables’ as his mission (see Acts 6:2), over the more visible ministry of preaching and teaching. He thus became by his life, word and death a witness (martyr) to the resurrection of Christ and its overflowing of grace and power through signs and wonders. And so it was that, during the war, most of these young men and women, now disdaining death, joined in the service of a community kids’ camp, a mission trip to the mountains, and a University Christian Outreach Life in the Spirit Seminar retreat. In one instance, when the camp leaders decided to close the camp a day early because of the bombing getting nearer to them, they faced huge resistance from the same young people who thought that such a decision was not in the Spirit – of martyrdom. Once the war was over, I heard from them amazing stories of conversions and of the powerful action of the Lord in their lives. Most of them have today made a commitment to a year of community service, with the vision of helping their elders to devote themselves to community ‘ministry’ (see Acts 6:4).

For such a time as this (Esther 4:15)
A few days into the war, the Lord reminded the community that 'for such a time as this' (Esther 4:15), a time of war, that the Lord had made us a bulwark and had established his covenant with us. And that this “season of grace” is not for easy times, but for difficult ones. And what are you called to be and do when war surrounds you on every side? You continue to serve the Lord day in day out as disciples, live as a community of brothers and sisters, and persevere in the mission. At the height of the battle, when bridges were being bombed, some of us went up north to visit some brothers in Bisharreh, home of the historic biblical Cedars of Lebanon, a village where we had in the past worked on many evangelistic campaigns but with meager results. I was introduced to Suhayl, a rich businessman who, only less than two months before, was considered the ‘king’ or ‘mafia boss’ of cabaret night life in Lebanon. I sat in amazement as he told me how his sister, a member of our group in Kuwait, seeing him live in hell, insisted that he call a couple of brothers serving in one of our groups in North Lebanon. These brothers did not hesitate to share the Gospel with him, pray for deliverance from the work of evil spirits, and lead Suhayl to give his life to the Lord. Within a couple of weeks, Suhayl, to the dismay and utter disbelief of his friends in his home town and in his “business world”, closed his businesses, foregoing millions of dollars for the greater love of Christ. His witness and amazing conversion story sparked the beginning of our newest outreach group in Bisharre, while the war was raging.

During the war, all foreigners and Lebanese citizens with foreign passports were urged by their governments to flee the country with the offer of transport; almost all left. A community sister with a European passport refused the offer, and strong in her call to stay in Lebanon, offered instead, to serve in the Embassy when most of the staff had left. Once the war was over, not only was she given a secure job – she had been searching for a job for several months – at a time when many were losing their jobs, but she also received a recommendation from both the Foreign Ministry and the Ambassador.

Christ lighting our way
As for Marie-Therese and me, this summer proved to be one of the most blessed summers of our 20 years of marriage. Like many community members we spent not only a lot of time together and with the family, but also with many brothers and sisters who fled their homes taking refuge in community homes near us. We watched three of our kids (16- to 19-year-olds) make new decisions for Christ and his way of life. The light of Christ not only made all the firepower dim in comparison, but was also lighting our everyday wartime dinners.

Wars come and go. However, the true warfare (the spiritual one) will go on not only with the Lebanese but with all Christians, because “the same experience of suffering is required of (our) brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:9). In order to win with Christ this long range warfare, we need, like Stephen, to exercise the same levels of obedience to his call and word, the same faithfulness to his covenant, and the same disposition to martyrdom in a day-to-day life of “serving tables”, so that in this time of grace, the Lord will fill us all with “grace and power (and do) great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8)… to the glory of his name.

[Jean Barbara is the senior coordinator of the People of God, a member community of The Sword of the Spirit in Beirut, Lebanon]

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