3,100 Baptists in 54 churches. That is the numerical Baptist presence in Lebanon and Jordan, but it does not fully represent the scope of how God is at work in these two countries. Although they represent a religious minority in their countries and a fraction of the overall population, Baptists are having a significant impact as they minister faithfully in their communities.
In January, with the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions allowing for travel, Baptist World Alliance General Secretary Elijah Brown and his wife, Amy, visited the two Middle Eastern countries to meet with local Baptist leaders and to explore possibilities for further partnership with the global Baptist family.
Charles Costa, President of the Convention of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Lebanon, invited the BWA to Lebanon to see firsthand the crisis caused by the country’s economic collapse. The Lebanese currency has lost 90% of its value and the annual inflation rate is the highest in the world. Three-quarters of the population are now living in poverty, unemployment is rising, and basic services are fractured.
The financial crisis in Lebanon is compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, governance challenges, the arrival of more than one million Syrian refugees, and the destruction caused by the 2020 explosion at the Port of Beirut. The blast caused damage as far as 20 kilometers away from the explosion site and displaced more than 300,000 people.
The effects of the economic tailspin reverberate throughout all of society. For example, Baptists report that teachers are unable to afford gas to drive to school all five days of the week, impacting the educational opportunities for children.
The BWA visit to Lebanon was an “opportunity to listen and to learn about the situation with the intention that in the upcoming months the BWA will be able to partner with the Lebanese Baptist Convention, the Lebanon Society for Educational and Social Development, and with others around the world to raise awareness and engagement on behalf of Lebanon,” said Brown.
Amid significant challenges, Baptists are serving with compassion in their struggling communities. Brown was able to hear about their work at two gatherings during his visit, one in Beirut and the other in Byblos in northern Lebanon. He met with the leadership of the Baptist convention, President Costa and General Secretary Rabih Wazir, as well as a majority of the Baptist pastors in the country. He was also able to serve alongside BWA Vice President Lina Sawan who hosted the Byblos event.