October 2006 - Vol. 1
Streams in a Thirsty Land
A personal experience of the war in Lebanon
by Brian Shell
River and Natural Bridge in Lebanon, photo by Don Schwager
As I write this article, I reflect on the unexpected situation of my life this past summer in Lebanon. When I decided to come to live in Lebanon for one year as a Servant of the Word, we never anticipated that I would be walking into a war. Yet as I think about the surprise it was for me (and my family), I can’t help but remember that God is not surprised by such things. He was clearly calling me to be here to stay for at least a year, and for some reason to come at the beginning of the summer rather than the end. Why? Only hindsight can tell the reasons for God bringing me here when he did, and only the eyes of faith can see it.
After arriving in Beirut on July 2nd I settled into the house of the Kuranis and then, after months of preparation, 24 hours of travel, and plenty of prayer, I still felt lost and ignorant to the reasons behind the obvious leadings I had felt. My intention for coming in the summer was to spend a couple of months studying Arabic at Université San Josef, but this didn’t seem to satisfy my heart’s question of the deeper reason why God had so clearly led me here. A combination of jet lag and this nagging, unanswered question allowed me a total of about 5 hours of sleep in the first two nights. Little did I know how clear it would become only a few days later, and how much my faith would change.
After my second week of Arabic I thought that this must just be the reason, full stop. Then later that day, after I navigated the jungle of Beirut’s road system in a 1972 Mercedes, still driven by the taxi driver who bought it in 1972, I found the family crowded around the television, watching the news that Israel was bombing all over the south of Lebanon.
After the initial shock, and confident assurances of our safety, and confirmation that the rest of my summer courses were cancelled, I settled down to rethink my question. I was even farther from seeing any reason to my being in Lebanon than I was in those sleepless nights when I arrived.
In a few days I had moved from the city to the village of Feytroun, safer, cooler, and quieter. The next month that I spent with the Baz family brought not only an answer to my lingering doubt, but deeper reasons than I had ever imagined. During a conversation with one of the brothers I now live with, he said, “You always have expectations, even hopes for what God will do in and with you; but the greatest grace comes in response to the unforeseen challenges.”
I would spend the rest of the summer in safety of these mountain villages, practically on holiday. With nothing else to fill my days (no internet, little study material, and little work needing to be done), I spent most of the time reading, writing, praying, and sharing meals and fellowship with the families around me. The hardest effects of the war for us were the lack of fuel and electricity, small hardships through the southerly lens of those whose homes were bombed.
As I had opportunity to learn first hand why some of the unique Lebanese charateristics exist, I spoke often with those who had lived through the Israeli invasion of 1982. I realized that physical harm was unlikely for us, but I increasingly realized how devastating this is to the country, and especially to the young people. Wait a second: I am a young person. I realized that for me, the lasting effects of this war were of little concern. I will most likely not spend the rest of my life here. However, all my friends here are now asking themselves some hard questions. "Will there be any jobs for me when I graduate?" "Will I have to emigrate?" "Can I afford to get married now?"
Then an amazing thing happened. One of the university students came to me and told me with a worried look, “They are evacuating the Americans today and tomorrow only, you know. Have you registered to go yet?” My response was simple, “I am not going.” I said it very matter-of-factly (perhaps sounding more confident than I felt), but his reaction told me that it was no small thing. He couldn’t believe it. He said, “Everyone is leaving, if I could, I would go too. Why are you staying here, aren’t you scared?” I told him that I felt God had called me to be here, and that I was not scared because I trust that God will care for me. He was shocked; with most foreigners rushing to leave as quickly as possible, it is very easy to lose hope. As we parted, I could tell that I had not affected him so much with what I said, but that God had somehow lifted his heart through my mere presence. Then it hit me. Besides the experience of war, beyond the daily surrender that it takes to live in these times, past the new trust I was learning to put in his protection, there was the perfect plan of God. Why I have been brought here so early? Perhaps I am here to be an encouragement to my brothers and sisters who are too young to remember the previous wars; and what a deep and rich blessing it was indeed for me to share this time here. Love is in its nature a gift of self, and I had finally found that in the perfect plan of our loving Father, I was able to be a gift here. It was not by doing anything special, not by works, but because of his own purpose and plan (2 Tim. 1:9). Just by following the leading of His voice, when I was so lost as to be useless, then his strength was made perfect in my weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). Although our physical suffering was very small, to share this burden of uncertainty about the future with those around me was and is indeed an honor. I wouldn’t trade what I have learned this summer for 100 Arabic courses.
one of many seaside ports at Tyre, Lebanon
As for the present, the cease-fire holds, and we hope it will be sustained. Daily activities returned to normal shockingly soon after the fighting stopped; and life goes on now as if this was just another flare up of the ever-smoldering fire of violence in the Middle East. For us Servants of the Word, we have begun our temporary (1 year) household in Beirut, and it is clear that the Lord’s blessing and grace is not limited to times of war. My prayer is, indeed, that this short recounting of a summer in Lebanon will serve to bring some refreshment to our faith, and perhaps the waters of our trust in the Lord will run a little bit deeper. Allah yberikkon (God bless you).
[Brian Shell grew up with his family in the City of the Lord
community in Phoenix, Arizona, USA. He joined The
Servants of the Word as an affiliate in 2005.]