It has been an intense, tragic and difficult summer in many places in the world. But here in the sweltering heat of Beirut, teams of young people, in their teens, twenties and thirties, are spending week upon week serving children in refugee camps, overnight conferences and full-day Vacation Bible School programs throughout the city as well as the country. With energy, commitment and creativity, these young people start their planning work months in advance and either design their own lessons or adapt curricula donated from churches overseas. They prepare anything from a week-long camp to a five- to six-week program that encompasses not just Bible lessons, worship and prayer, but also games and activities that stretch the children’s minds and imaginations. And they do it in Armenian, Arabic, English and French, and sometimes a combination of them!
We joined a team of 19-to-25-year olds in leading a one-week children’s conference at the Armenian Evangelical church’s conference center, “KCHAG”. Our experience (and definitely our age) were the assets we brought, having been the leaders of this same conference 34 years ago, held in this same place, when we were in Lebanon on a United Church Board for World Ministries fellowship. During the planning stages, it was beautiful to see their excitement merely for being a part of the camp leadership. Our joy was increased because our son Sevag came here from the U.S. to join them in serving those 60 children. How could you not be encouraged to see the investment they were making, as day and night they poured caring, faith and stability into these young lives?
Wiping the sweat from our brows as we worked alongside them, not only were we grateful to God for them, but we were also inspired – inspired to see their selflessness in action. Their commitment to these ministries arises from their firm and growing faith, and extends into a deep concern for the social and spiritual welfare of the children, some from happy and stable households, others from difficult family situations and crowded, noisy and often unsanitary neighborhoods. Still others are children of Syrian refugees, or from expatriate Lebanese families who return each summer and look for ways to expose their children to these types of programs.
This is but one example of the ministry happening through local Christians for the benefit of children (and by extension, their families) in so many places throughout Lebanon and Syria. No matter the children’s ethnic or religious identity, and even though the relentless sun tempts one to spend all of one’s time in comfortably air-conditioned environs, these youthful members of the Lord’s body joyfully sacrifice their time and effort in order to bring the hope of Christ to brothers and sisters (Mt. 25.40). They are the ones offering a drink of cold water to thirsty bodies and souls (Mt. 10.34), thereby preparing paths for the Prince of Peace to enter, cleanse and transform human hearts in this strife-filled world.
Nishan and Maria are currently serving the Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East (UAECNE) as communications, worship, and leadership training coordinator.