The Lebanon Church in Recovery
he Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Middle East Union (MEU) Communication director Alex Elmadjian interviews MEU president Kjell Aune on the impact the recent conflict in the Middle East has had on church members in that region.
August 14 marked the beginning of the United Nations-brokered cease-fire in Lebanon, ending a fierce 34-day conflict between Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the South Lebanon-based Hezbollah that cost the lives of hundreds of people in both regions. Middle East Union (MEU) president Kjell Aune reflects on how the increased tension in the area impacts the AdventistChurch in Lebanon and its members.
ELMADJIAN: Just a few days after the peace agreement, you went for a short visit to Beirut. What were your initial impressions of the terrain?
|MEETING THE NEEDS: Lebanese Adventist church members prepare ADRA food parcels to distribute to 800 families in need. [Courtesy of Middle East Union]
AUNE: All of central Beirut and the suburbs in the north and east of the city are basically untouched by the war when it comes to any physical damage. Most shops were open during the conflict but trading shorter hours. Food stuffs, even petrol, were available all along, although prices increased. Safety does not seem to be an issue now, except maybe for some areas close to the Israeli border. In the Hezbollah-dominated suburb of Beirut, as well as southern Lebanon, the physical damage is severe. Whole apartment blocks were razed, and many villages are more or less in ruins.
What was your impression of Adventist church members who endured this anxious period of conflict?
The war seemed to bring our people closer together, physically and spiritually. During the conflict they held prayer meetings on the lawn at the Adventist Middle East University. Up to 50 people met for prayer and praise, as well as some social activities to distract their worried minds. Other Christians from the community also joined these meetings, one of them being the local mayor, an alumnus of our university. Even after the war, they have been meeting twice a week for prayer and praise. During the conflict and after, church members have been active in helping their neighbors and others with food and other basic needs.
How has our church, locally and internationally, responded to the immediate needs of the estimated 810,000 internally displaced people, or IDPs, in Lebanon?
The Adventist Development and Relief Agency—ADRA—was one of the first international aid organizations to initiate help for the refugees. Our church members volunteered to help ADRA distribute food parcels to 800 families. They experienced some very emotionally moving encounters with the people they helped. Our school at Mouseitbeh in west Beirut was the home to 400 IDPs for a month, and our other school in Bouchrieh became the logistics center for packing and distribution. ADRA projects under consideration now will provide temporary shelters for the homeless families, distribute flour to households, and provide pumps for rehabilitating the water infrastructure in the south of the country.
Most of the IDPs in Beirut were Shia Muslims from the south. What did you observe with regard to the interaction between Adventists and Muslims?
Muslims expressed their deep respect and appreciation of being treated so lovingly. As mentioned, our school facilities were made available for IDPs, who were all Muslim. Many of these people were children, and we tried to keep them engaged with something positive, like sports and craft activities. We heard touching stories of Christians, including Adventists, helping Muslims with temporary housing, food, hygiene items, emotional support, etc. Our Adventist women raised money to buy hijabs, or head coverings, for Muslim women who had fled their homes in such a hurry that they had been unable to cover their heads in respect of their religious conventions. So the war, as destructive as it was, has contributed to affirming relationships with our Muslim neighbors in Lebanon. It has also attracted a positive awareness to the Adventist and ADRA names as our teams liaised with Muslim and Christian political and religious leaders.
Did any Adventist-owned buildings sustain damage as a result of the conflict?
|HEARING THE STORIES: Levon Maksoudian, president of the Adventist Church in Lebanon and Jordan, heard stories of survival from people who found refuge at Mouseitbeh Adventist Secondary School in Beirut. [Courtesy of Middle East Union]
No Adventist church property nor any private Adventist property was damaged during the war. However, our Mouseitbeh school, where the IDPs were taking refuge, has sustained some considerable “wear and tear” damage. In fact, $30,000 is needed to put the school facilities back in order.
We have two schools and a university in Beirut. Will they open on time, and how do enrollment figures look for this year?
About a week after the war ended, we recommenced our summer-school program. All of our three institutions of learning will open, but the government has decided that the academic year will start in early October, a couple of weeks later than originally planned. The most basic repairs have been made at our Mouseitbeh school. We actually anticipate that the enrollment may be higher than normal because many parents of displaced children need to look for alternative schools because their own are destroyed. Many Muslim students already attend our schools.
At present, Lebanon faces an uncertain political future. How will this affect the long-term plans for the Adventist Middle East Church headquarters relocating to Beirut?
When the war broke out the construction crew was perhaps six weeks from the completion of the new headquarters office, and we were about to commence the phased relocation of personnel from Cyprus. Although the construction was hampered because of the war, workers are now back on site. The building is so close to completion that whatever the future brings, it only makes sense to conclude the project, either for use by the church or for renting out externally. Preparing housing for the office employees is also delayed now. We have voted to revisit the issue of the move at the year-end meetings in early December. In principle, the vote still stands that the union will move, but we need to see how the political situation, the security situation, and some legal issues are resolved. We also solicit the prayers of our church members around the world as we meet in December to make this decision.
Note: Watch for a report focusing on Adventist church members in Israel in an upcoming issue of the Adventist Review.
Internet Experts Share Strategies for Global Evangelism
A passion to reach the world for Christ via the so-called “information superhighway” brought together some 100 Seventh-day Adventist technologists, pastors and lay members for four days of meetings at the Fourth Global Internet Evangelism Forum in San Diego, California, August 31 to September 3.
|The Network: Some 100 Adventist technologies, pastors, and lay members met for the Fourth Global Internet Evangelism Network held in San Diego, California. [Glenn Mitchell/NSD]
“The gathering considered a wealth of ideas and strategies for using the Internet’s reach and power to help finish the task of global evangelism,” said Rajmund Dabrowski, communication director of the world church and one of the organizers. “We are passionate to use this technology in a convergent way to meet the needs of the church and expand our missionary outreach among the new online users and communities.”
The forum included several presentations of new Internet products from Germany, Poland, Brazil, and the United States, among others, with numerous Bible studies and other outreach options developed by Adventist technologists. Also, the participants were able to appraise content management programs that are being developed in different world regions.
The Three Angels Global Networking, or TAGnet, of Fallbrook, California, described to attendees its Web site creation and content management software that has been developed during the last two years and is already available to local churches and organizations in the North American region of the church, as well as to other divisions throughout the world church. The North American Division (NAD) is also piloting fully functional content management Web sites for churches in all conferences and unions in its territory, at no charge.
The forum’s last day included a wealth of suggestions—to be considered by the world church’s Coordinating Council for Internet Ministry—on how to make Web outreach more effective, and how to improve follow-up with people who connect with the church online and are interested in the Adventist message.
“We believe that the task will yet be finished and that God will do something spectacular using various technologies in these last days of Earth’s history,” said Mark Finley, a general vice president of the world church and a sponsor of the Global Internet Evangelism Network (GIEN) committee. “We believe that God is going to finish His work using every means: radio, television and the Internet.”
The proceedings of the 2006 Global Internet Evangelism Network Forum were recorded in audio and video formats; the presentations and many supporting slide programs are available online at www.gien.adventist.org/forum2006/index.html
—Adventist News Network/AR.
Oakwood College Sponsors AIDS Project in Malawi
Adventists Against AIDS in Africa (A4), a ministry of Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, sponsored a humanitarian project in Blantyre, Malawi, this past summer in collaboration with the Malawi Union Mission of Seventh-day Adventists.
HIV and AIDS education classes were conducted, and a revival series based on the biblical book of Revelation was held each night for almost two weeks at seven sites in and around the city of Blantyre. About 2,000 people attended each meeting. More than 7,000 were there for the Sabbath messages. The health educators also addressed some 5,000 women at the Blantyre-area Women’s Ministries Convention, and a 20-hour education curriculum on HIV and AIDS was presented to approximately 200 religious and community leaders and teachers in the region.
“In Malawi, many people with AIDS die without access to medical treatment, without adequate nutrition,” says education expert Elfreda Blue, who was a member of the mission team. “The AIDS pandemic has affected every church family. Children are orphaned. Spouses are widowed. The life expectancy is lowered. We’re trying to do something to change that.”
The interdisciplinary team for the trip, called Mission Malawi 2006, included public health persons, health/nutrition educators, a psychologist, an educator, a theologian, a college administrator, pastors, and nurses. Additional medical, technical, and logistical support was provided by local experts in Malawi, including Malawi Union president Saustin K. Mfune, and administrators and staff from the union office, the South Malawi Field, Adventist Health System, and Blantyre Adventist Hospital. Local pastors, elders, and church members also served as volunteers.
A4 provided educational resources, medications, and personal hygiene and first-aid items to 18 hospitals and medical clinics throughout Malawi. These items were donated by the Huntsville Hospital, dental professionals, and local church members in Huntsville and New York City. In addition, the group delivered U.S.$6,000, donated by the Oakwood College Church and the Maurice White family of southern California, to the South Malawi Field to build a chapel for the Ntemba church.