Mission News Network

News Worth Listening To
  1. Lebanon (MNN) -- Winter is always a difficult season for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. This year, it’s even worse. The mere act of daily survival is a struggle. Few tents could withstand two major winter storms in twelve days – Norma and Miriam – so refugee families are looking for shelter wherever they can find it. According to Tom Atema with Heart for Lebanon, these families have few to no options. Physical help and the hope of Christ go far in times like these. Heart for Lebanon is bringing both to as many refugees as they can.

    Bekaa Valley

    The latest UN report says winter storms put 70,000 refugees at risk; of that total, 39,900 were children. Beqaa Valley was one of the most adversely-affected regions, encountering a wide range of precipitation. “Location made all the difference,” Atema agrees. “In the center of Zahlé for instance, it was freezing rain; go a half-mile south, it was rain; go a half-mile, mile, or two miles north, and it was snowing.” Couldn’t the refugees relocate during or in anticipation of severe weather? Atema says it’s not that easy.

    "Remember that Syrian refugees in the country of Lebanon do not get refugee status, so they’re not allowed to rent or buy or use any of what we would call ‘decent’ buildings.”

    They are, however, permitted to build tent-like structures in Lebanon. Atema explains, “the majority of refugees in the Bekaa Valley live in what we call tent settlements. It’s basically oversized Boy Scout tents on a concrete slab or dirt floor.” As described here by Asian Times, the Lebanese government does not allow refugees to raise their structures higher than two inches from the ground.

    (Photo courtesy Heart for Lebanon)

    “They’re made out of two-by-fours and billboard tarps, and they break under the weight of the heavy snow or the rain. If they don’t break, the floods will [drive people] out.”

    Heart for Lebanon’s team went to work immediately following the first major storm. They distributed urgently-needed items like plastic sheeting, wooden poles, mattresses, blankets, winter clothes, and food. Meeting refugees' immediate physical needs is the first step of connection for Heart for Lebanon staff. From there, workers start to build a relationship, which gradually provides opportunity to minister on a deeper level. Learn more about the process here.

    Southern Lebanon

    Heart for Lebanon also works in southern Lebanon, near the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Winter storms brought torrential rain and widespread flooding to this region.

    "In fact, in one of the tent settlements we work in, two of the children were killed because of the raging river [that] washed the children out to sea.”

    Atema says the children’s’ bodies were eventually recovered, and their family held a funeral on Monday. “We're ministering to those families, as you can imagine, in a very personal and relational way," he adds.

    (Photo courtesy of Heart for Lebanon)

    The hope of Christ’s resurrection shines brightly in hearts darkened by despair. "These refugees have been displaced; they have nothing, so despair runs deep,” Atema says. When winter storms or personal tragedy strikes, despair is often the first emotion to surface. “It’s like, ‘why me?’ The emotional toll is huge; on top of the problems they already have." As stated on its website, Heart for Lebanon believes reconciliation through spiritual discipleship is a process and not an event. Heart for Lebanon’s goal, after building authentic relationships with families, is to invite them to attend Bible studies, women’s gatherings, and special events in order to share the Gospel with them.

    Next steps

    Now that you know, what will you do? The weather forecast is clear this week, but there are more storms on the horizon. Visit Heart for Lebanon’s website to learn more about their work and how you can help them reach refugees for Christ.     Header image is a photo of refugee camps in Lebanon during the winter of 2015.  Photo credit belongs to UNHCR Photo Unit and the image was obtained via Flickr.
  2. Sudan (MNN) – Arab Baptist Theological Seminary educates students from Sudan every year. But with this education comes challenges. The first challenge is adjusting to life in a foreign country, particularly one like Lebanon, which features more freedom than Sudan for religious minorities. Sometimes students come alone or with families. In both instances, it is a big adjustment leaving family, their churches, and their communities, not to mention adjusting to a different dialect of Arabic. However, despite their challenges, ABTS’s President Elie Haddad says the Sudanese students tend to be some of the seminary’s sweetest students.

    Returning to Sudan

    After three years of studying in Lebanon, many students return to Sudan. This is where the challenges increase. Adjusting back to life in Sudan could arguably be more difficult than adjusting to life in Lebanon.

    (Photo Courtesy of ABTS)

    “One of the big adjustments that our students usually have to go through is within their own churches. So, they come from the church, the church would send them. Many times, churches are small and they have sometimes limited vision of what ministry can be accomplished, and then they come here for three years. They’re bombarded with new concepts, new ideas, new ways [of] being church and then we ask them to go back and submit to the old structure that they came out of and then fit within that again, which is very difficult,” Haddad explains. ABTS wants to help its Sudanese students transition back into life with their churches. Haddad says it is easy, once your mindset has changed, to want to give up on a structure that has not experienced the same change. But, ABTS does not want their students to give up. They want them to persevere in their relationships and positions with the churches who originally sent them to study and grow. “It requires a lot of humility, a lot of submission to their church leadership...We want them to go back, submit to whatever system is there, and then help little by little, in God’s timing to grow the ministry from within,” Haddad says.

    Adjusting to an Old Way

    To help with engaging its own community, ABTS has been involved in peace-building initiatives. The seminary has been experimenting with new ways for churches to engage its communities. Haddad says a lot of the Sudanese students have been taking the concept of these initiatives back to Sudan. These initiatives help bring people from different faiths together, even into the same room. The initiatives teach a diverse group of people how to listen to each other while also articulating their faith in a respectful manner. “They’ve been doing that in Sudan. I love to see the pictures on Facebook and our students have been doing that. That creates more opportunities, many more opportunities to build relationships, to build trust, and it’s [an] amazing opportunity for the Gospel,” Haddad says.

    Serving Well

    It is vital that the Sudanese students can engage in conversation with people different from themselves. This will give them opportunities to build friendships and respectfully articulate their faith. Pixabay, Sudan “When there is a context of multiple religious groups, lots of suspicion in between the groups, and one group sometimes dominating the others, it takes a lot of wisdom to build the right platform for what relationships can be nurtured and that would be the right platform for the Gospel. The Gospel is good news. So how can it be good news in a context like theirs. And how can they be contributing to the common good that needs to happen in a country like Sudan,” Haddad says. In this region, the Middle East and North Africa, there are limitations to what ministry can look like because of external pressures, restrictions, and finite resources. There are also internal pressures, too. Many church communities are not comfortable with opening themselves up to have faith conversations with different faith groups. This can be for a myriad of reasons, like self-preservation. ABTS wants its Sudanese students not to be viewed as a threat by their governing body, but instead as individuals contributing to the good of their country. Haddad says there is a need for the sense of the good news of the Gospel to permeate through the students.

    Be Prayerful, Be Active

    Haddad asks for prayer support for the Sudanese students. So please, pray for these students who often pay a high price for their faith and ministry. Pray for ABTS as it equips these students for ministry. Ask for wisdom for both ABTS and the Sudanese students. And finally, pray for ABTS to be equipped with the necessary resources to educate the Sudanese students as well as the financial support for the Sudanese students and their ministries on the ground. To partner with ABTS, click here. “It’s just such a privilege for us to be able to work with them for a few years. We bring them here to teach them, we end up learning so much from them. They’re amazing group of leaders and God’s already at work in their lives,” Haddad says.     Header photo courtesy of Arab Baptist Theological Seminary.
  3. International (MNN) -- Over the last few days, we’ve been talking about mission fields of the future, starting with the worlds of technology and business. Today, we connected with Shin Maeng, a freelance illustrator who has worked with InterVarsity on several projects, including a few for Urbana ‘18.

    Beauty and Brokenness

    Maeng thinks the world of art can help people access the Gospel, especially since art is so accessible in the modern age. “Everyone sees art, every looks at art,” he says. “Even in this new Instagram age, people are photographers, even if they wouldn’t say they are, because now there are filters and all these things that are accessible to people, so everyone’s constantly looking at art.” From photography and graphic design to drama and music, art is everywhere, and yet Maeng thinks Christians have not used art as well as they could be in recent decades. That’s unfortunate, since Maeng says artists are uniquely equipped to explore the complexity of the Gospel message. “Artists always have to look at the brokenness of the world or the beauty of the world,” he says. “I think because everyone inherently looks for the beauty and also experiences pain and brokenness in the world, the Gospel’s perfect for bridging that gap.” God redeemed the world through beauty and through brokenness, and art gives us a chance to relay that emotion. Art can be relatable, beautiful and intriguing. It can be visual, musical, and physical. It provides opportunities for conversation that can lead to exploring the Gospel message.

    Maeng's art from Urbana '18

    Pursuing Creativity

    Maneg created large pieces of art for the Urbana ‘18 conference to grab people and disarm them, hoping to start conversation about beauty and brokenness. He started by working with the evangelism department on an arts ministry project, but the art quickly evolved into something larger. Now, it’s all about equipping Christians to pursue their own creativity. “We don’t hope that there are only a couple of specialists,” Maeng says. “We want lots of people running around being bringers of the Gospel and the good news.” Good art means good conversation, and students and young people are starting to use that. “We’ve been working together to figure out good questions partnering with great art and how those questions and art pair together and bring people into deeper conversations and deeper stories about their particular lives.” Maeng thinks art gives people a chance for vulnerability, honesty, and community, but art needs artists. He wants the Church to encourage young people to pursue creativity. “Pray that there would be other artists that would rise up and create art that is evangelistic, that would rise up and see the beauty of God and tell the story to the new generation of why God is beautiful and why God cares for them.” Not sure you’re cut out for art? Maeng says Jesus could be knocking on the very door you’re sure is closed. “Look at what passions are burning in your heart that you’re saying “no” to and let Jesus into that. Let Jesus walk with you in that. It might not be jumping into the deep end, but it might be a few steps here and there moving you forward into a new stage of life.” See some of Maeng’s own art here. Connect with InterVarsity to equip young people right here.