November 2006 Arda Ekmekji
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!
I come to you from Beirut, Lebanon, from a country that just has emerged from a violent 33 day war this summer. We started the month of July with great hope and anticipation, all the hotels showed full occupancy for the summer, business was thriving; students were enrolled in Summer schools and internships or numerous small jobs that would allow them to pay their fall tuitions. Suddenly, on the morning of July 13, 2006, we woke up to find that our Airport had been hit by the Israeli planes and we were in a full fledged war between The Israeli Army and the Hezbollah fighters. What was supposed to be a limited military operation to control arms on the borders developed into a nightmare during which all the Lebanese infrastructure was hit, roads, bridges, factories, power plants, airports and ports. On the humanitarian level, half a million people were displaced and became refugees in their own countries. Around a million people with foreign passports were evacuated. The Balance sheet: 1300 killed, around 5000 maimed or wounded, half a million refugees, half a million emigrants and the inflicted damage costs estimated at $3.2 billion indirect damage cost estimate and $8.2 million in Indirect damage cost.
Most of the refugees who fled from the war ravaged areas, took shelter in the capital and in the North of the country. Although they mostly belonged to the Shiite Muslim sect, everybody opened their doors to the displaced women and children (the usual victims) as most of them sought shelter in the Christian schools and monasteries. In my Church, The Armenian Evangelical Church, 120 families settled in the adjoined school. All the students of our schools and universities mobilized to bring help to these people. Clothing, hygienic material, medicine, food-- everything was lacking and basic and essential help was needed. Our social workers organized activity groups with the children, teaching them songs, handicrafts, painting and sports. One student even started a chess and ping pong club with the more mature ones. In fact while we could constantly hear the drones of war planes over us, and smell the black smoke of burnt oil reservoirs, we were all living together the spirit of this conference. We were "singing a new song together, at the point of deepest need."
Thanks to the international community, a cease fire was reached on August 14 and all the NGO's started rushing to bring about assistance in alleviating the misery, the refugees went back to their homes, or what was left of their homes, having learnt from their past experiences, they decided to return, even if it meant camping in their houses, rather than become refugees 20 miles away from their lands. Compensations were paid for the buildings destroyed. Countries decide to rebuild bridges and infrastructure.
But what about the others??? What about the silent killers??
The silent killers of this war are numerous. The greatest one is unemployment, especially for all those who were directly connected to the Tourism industry. Thousands of hotel personnel, restaurant waiters, drivers, resort attendants have been laid off this month.
In addition, due to the electricity and fuel shortage, all the small industries have been severely damaged and many of them have come to a halt.
Furthermore, the agricultural sector which heavily depends on the exportation of the summer produce to the Gulf countries, due to the closed borders, had to dispose of tons of perishable materials sitting in their powerless refrigerators.
The bombing of the fuel reservoirs by the Israeli war planes have led to one of the greatest oil spills which the Mediterranean has so far witnessed. The cleaning of the beaches is estimated to be around 120 million dollars and might take 6 to 12 months. In the meantime, a large sector of the Lebanese population, namely the fisherman, have overnight found themselves totally unemployed and starved since all marine life has been declared as "Endangered".
In the field of academia, hundreds of students have not shown up in their classrooms this semester. They have either asked for leaves of absence or dropped out because of financial reasons. Either their parents have just been laid off by the destroyed factory owners or they could not work during the summer to foot their tuitions fees.
In addition, the whole mentality and culture of the country has changed. For the past ten years, we had finally succeeded in graduating from the survival culture and had started to dream of future visions of growth, developmental projects etc... Unfortunately, in the course of mere four weeks, we have been plunged back into darkness and thrown back into the war and "emergency" mentality.
These are just a few of the material immediate problems that Lebanon will have to face in the coming year; these are some of the points of our deepest needs.
However, there are greatest dark clouds looming in the area on the Christians of the Middle East. There is a certain fear among all the Christian denominations, that there is no room for us in the area anymore. Emigration is high among the Christians of Lebanon, just like Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and Syria. The fear of fundamentalism, extremism and intolerance is becoming even more scary than the threat of nuclear weapons of destruction. The platform of free speech is threatened, and in colleges, free dialogue and debate is gradually become contained and reserved following incidents like the burning down of the Danish embassy due to caricatures or the Popes latest statements.
Dear Brothers and Sisters. In these wars fought in the Middle East in the name of God, the greatest losers are all those who follow in the footsteps of Jesus. On one hand we have Israel, "the Chosen People of God" on the other the so called party of God "Hezbollah who has claimed that they have won a divine victory. In other areas, we have false prophets claiming divine authority to talk and preach. Yet, in all these divine conflicts, the victims are always humans, invariably humans--women, children, old men, people with faces. It will be a sad day in the near future when pilgrims to the Holy Lands, to Jerusalem, Bethlehem or Nazareth, will not find a Christian guide to show them around. It will be tragic if our churches were to change from places of worship to museums or archeological sites like the Ayia Sophia in Istanbul.
We have heard that the greatest mission of Global Ministries is Critical Presence, and that Critical Presence is mainly "Being There". However, dear friends, Critical Presence is also BEING HERE for those who are out there.
Partners all over the world look upon us here in this room as a force that can bring about a change. They need us to be advocates on their behalf, to be their voices here in the civilized world. To promote leaders and decision makers that will make the right choices for the right reasons.
The needs are many, but the deepest need is PRAYER. We need to pray to the Lord together for the same needs. We need to Sing Together, but we need to sing together the same songs and one common tune.
God Bless you all.