Choosing to Persevere
Perseverance is not just something you do when you have no other option. It is also something you choose to do, independent of circumstances. Even if one has no apparent route of escape from an oncoming disaster, one can still choose how to meet it. Several religious traditions have a saying, similar to Christ’s words to his disciples, about always being faithful, even when they know the Lord’s coming is imminent (Luke 12.42-43). So one’s choice to persevere is merely another expression of our trust in God at all times.
The Lebanese will be choosing members of parliament this spring, and in the fall, a new president will be chosen. This is not to say that the people’s choice can cause a sea change or bring about a groundswell to alter the trajectory of the country, which has been steadily, almost inexorably, heading downward. For the past three decades, people have chosen as their political leaders those who used to lead militias during and after the civil war. The outcome of these choices is clear to all who today are subject to Lebanon’s economic, political and social stresses. Faced with this, you choose to endure if you are able or to leave if you are able, or despair if you are unable. Or you choose to persevere for the good, for the sake of those you love.
Our work with the Union of the Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East (UAECNE) and Haigazian University is an example of the small and simple choice of one small community to persevere for the good of others. The Armenian Evangelical community of Lebanon, empowered by God and with the support of its partners, including the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) through Global Ministries and the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA), is choosing to encourage those around them to act out of love and care. Despite the nearly insignificant tuition the University can collect from its students, it exerts great efforts to find scholarship funds for its students. Haigazian thus helps students to try to shift their focus from day-to-day hardships towards cultivating the fruits of perseverance amid difficulties. Students continue to enroll as well as complete their degrees, showing that the University’s choice is a wise one. Whether those graduates choose life and work outside Lebanon or face Lebanon’s daily hardships, they are learning that their good choices will equip them to see life as more than the “pursuit of happiness” and of safety, security, and material comforts. Haigazian’s choice to persevere in this educational ministry aims to teach students that when they pursue what is good and true, they can thereby find happiness and fulfillment in that pursuit.
Similarly, the churches and schools of the UAECNE make their focus on the cultivation of Christian faith, hope, and love in the old, young, and in-between here in Lebanon, as they carry on their spiritual as well as material ministry. Geographically far removed from these efforts, individuals, congregations, and organizations around the world are showing amazing generosity toward alleviating the pain of Lebanon’s multiple crises. This communicates a powerful message to those on these front lines, reminding them that God has not abandoned the country to the designs of its worst elements. This is the hope and joy with which Armenian women gathered from different churches for worship on World Day of Prayer, praying for this year’s “well-off” countries who nonetheless need prayer. They then combined the modest offerings taken that day with those of Arabic-speaking churches in order to purchase necessary toiletries for women in local prisons.
Life continues to be difficult here, with the many layers of struggle now compounded by the war in Ukraine. Lebanon imports almost all of its grain from Russia and Ukraine, about evenly divided between the two. Yet because of the abnormal banking environment in the country, payments for grain shipments are being delayed by the government for up to a month or more, so grain exporters turn to more solvent countries to sell their wheat. Soon the mainstay of the poor, the only thing they can afford to keep them and their children alive, namely bread, will be hard to come by. This is just a minuscule portion of the burdens to which people wake up each day and with which they go to bed each night.
This is why it is so important that organizations like Global Ministries and the AMAA choose again and again to persevere in their support of the work of their partners in Lebanon and throughout the region. That tangible extension of love enables our colleagues here to obtain physical nourishment for those around them. It increases their spiritual strength and trust in God, which they then share with hearts hungry to hear God’s voice and to know the self-giving love of Jesus Christ. Of course, we, like so many others, cannot do normal “office work” or “home work,” impeded by the gaps in electricity throughout the day and night. But we carry on our “people work” unimpeded, talking with those around us, listening to them, and worshiping and praying together. Our relationship with God is not dependent on electricity!
Having the will to choose to persevere in these joys and sorrows is not a function of our own strength but of the limitless power of the one who loves us, Christ Jesus, who “endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12.2). We choose to persevere in trusting Him!
Nishan and Maria Bakalian serve with the Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches in Lebanon. Their appointments are made possible by gifts to the Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.
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