Amid Escalating Violence
Church Leaders Adjust Plans
n an emergency meeting, Middle East Union (MEU) church leaders voted July 17 to postpone the anticipated September relocation of its headquarters to Beirut, Lebanon. The executive committee was called at the current headquarters in Nicosia, Cyprus, where the escalating consequences of the regional conflict were acknowledged. The situation will be reappraised at the church’s year-end executive committee meetings in December to determine whether a move can go ahead early in 2007.
“This has not derailed our plans to eventually move the office to Beirut,” said Kjell Aune, MEU president. “However, with all major world governments issuing evacuation alerts to their citizens, coupled with uncertainties of when normal life and basic logistical services can be restored, it is not currently possible to operate with an international staff whose responsibility is to reliably serve the 14 countries which comprise our territory.”
Commenting on the events that led up to the decision, MEU secretary-treasurer Conrad Vine acknowledges that this has been a very tense period in the history of the Middle East church, which is equally concerned about the plight of its distressed members suffering in Iraq.
“We have been in regular contact with our higher organization at the Trans-European headquarters in St. Albans, England, and we recognize and affirm their support and valuable input during this difficult decision,” Vine said. “Our prayers and thoughts remain with all those caught up in the escalation of violence across the Middle East, especially in Iraq, and we pray for a peaceful resolution to the current crisis.”
Many local schools have opened their doors to provide sanctuary as a result of the air attacks across the country, including Moseitbeh Adventist Secondary School in West Beirut, which is providing shelter for more than 250 refugees from southern Lebanon.
“The government is assisting us to secure food and other basic necessities urgently,” says Levon Maksoudian, president of the Adventist Church’s East Mediterranean region, which incorporates Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, “mindful that there are young children and even babies among the assembled group.”
Adventist Expatriates Evacuated
Under advice from embassies and consulates, Adventist expatriate workers are currently being evacuated. “Our expatriates have expressed strong reluctance to abandon the people whom they have been called to serve at such a critical period in Lebanon’s history, but we are powerless to act any differently in such a crisis,” says Aune. “We are duty-bound to take responsibility for the people whom we bring into our territory. All life insurance policies would be void if people remained against the direct instructions of their respective governments, and we could not justify that degree of negligence to their families abroad.”
In a written statement, Bertil Wiklander, president of the Trans-European Division, stated, “I share the alarm and sadness of our church members in Israel and Lebanon, many of whom have had to leave their homes and flee for their lives. We entrust them and all other people who mourn the loss of lives and struggle for their own survival, wherever they may be, into God’s hands and pray for their safety and for the war to cease. We are in close contact with our church in the affected countries and are working on plans and initiatives to help where we can. For the Middle East in general, I pray that the dream of peace will not be shattered by these events.”
According to church leaders in the region, no casualties among its members or damage to churches or other institutional structures in Lebanon have been reported.
The Adventist Church in Lebanon has about 300 members. It operates two schools as well as Middle East University, the regional church’s only institution of tertiary education.
—Middle East Union Communication Department/AR.