Joel Cooper

How would you describe the mission of our partner in Lebanon?

FDCD implements programs to foster amity among Middle Eastern youth of different religions, ethnicities, and political affiliations to encourage peaceful societal cooperation. FDCD also provides emergency food aid to Syrians starved by the war being fought among government forces and various militias, including ISIS.

NEST is a collocated seminary and dormitory situated in the heart of Beirut.  The dormitory portion is inhabited by Christians from around the world studying at NEST and other universities in the area. Extracurricular activities including chapel, choir, coffee time, movie screenings, field trips, retreats, lectures, sports, and other social events provide students a Christian community during stressful and formative years of their lives.

How do you fit into their mission?

So far, my most significant role in FDCD has been to compile, analyze, and report on the baseline survey data completed by residents of the Syrian communities served by the emergency food aid program, so that we will be able to track how the quality of their diet improves.  My next big project will be designing and editing our yearly newsletter.

At NEST, I take a class just for fun:  Introduction to Islam.  I also feel quite blessed to befriend other residents and participate in the extra-curricular and spiritual opportunities offered.

What led you to engage in this calling?

I have always been frustrated by the popular Christian attitude that there will never be peace in the Middle East.  I believe Christianity should be synonymous with optimism. Peace is not withheld by some distant, unjust god.  Jesus gives us the tools to make peace:  respect, humility, kindness, and resolve.  But instead of honoring these morals, Westerners have selfishly meddled in Middle Eastern affairs since the Roman occupation, to the Crusades, to the displacement of Palestinians during the creation of Israel, to the Iraq War.  Of course there is not peace, and we should only blame ourselves.  Despite Western interference, now that I can see the Middle East for what it really is, I see peace every day; I see heaven on earth every day.  There is hope.  I have met Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese, Armenians, Sunnis, Shiites, Westerners, and Christians all working towards peace, and I refuse to believe their faithful efforts are futile.  As Christians, our hope is not dictated by some dreary interpretation of biblical prophecy. Our endless possibilities lie only in how closely we follow Jesus.

Is there a passage of scripture that carries special meaning in your daily work?

Matthew 5:9 - Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

What are some of the challenges facing the people of Lebanon?

Lebanon has experienced incessant insecurity since the beginning of their civil war in 1975.  While the war finally ended in 1990 after 120,000 killed, subsequent conflicts with Lebanon's southern neighbor, Israel, and domestic militias, including Hezbollah, have caused deaths.  The Lebanese political system is criticized for inherently encouraging violent sectarianism, and recent assassinations of government officials have increased tensions.  The government is derided for not providing basic services to its citizens, and youth unemployment is at 35%.  Lebanon's neighbor to the northeast is Syria, and the current civil war there has caused additional challenges.  Around 1.5 million Syrians have taken refuge in Lebanon since 2011, adding to around 500,000 Palestinian refugees already in the country.  The overall population of Lebanon, including refugees, is just around four million.

What is a lesson you have learned from our partner that you feel should be shared with churches in the U.S.?

NEST has given me the unique opportunity to meet Middle Eastern Christians from Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Armenia.  Some Western Christians claim to experience discrimination for the most trivial reasons, so it is eye-opening to meet Christians who have actually been discriminated against.  I wish more Americans put themselves in the shoes of the minority and thought about how they would want to be treated.

American intrusion into the Middle East has hurt Middle Eastern Muslims and Christians alike.  I am humbled by the reconciliatory grace that is bestowed upon me by everyone I meet.  I fear a Middle Eastern Muslim visiting America would be forced to endure bigotry that I have not experienced from the Lebanese people.

Which books have influenced your understanding of your country, work, or theology?

  • Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela
  • Wooden, by John Wooden
  • The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, by Mohja Kahf
  • A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

Which films that have influenced your understanding of your country, work, or theology?

  • "Life is Beautiful"
  • "Paradise Now"
  • "The Prince of Egypt"

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Joel Cooper