August 7, 2006

by Pastor Connie Larson DeVaughn

I have been praying for a Baptist Church in Ajaltoun, Lebanon, since the war between Hezbollah and Israel broke out. Pastor Raymond Abou-Mekhael and the church have been under attack, but not by outside warring factions. Instead, they have been attacked by the Mayor of their own city, aided by the Bishop and Priest of their local Maronite Catholic Church. These latter have taken advantage of the dire circumstances occupying the attention of the entire country to settle some scores of their own.

Initially the road in front of the Baptist church was bulldozed, breaking it up so severely that no vehicles can come near. By taking a stand in the parking lot of the church, the threat that the church building would also be bulldozed was averted. More recently, at a Wednesday night prayer meeting on August 2, all the vehicles of church goers, parked some distance away, were vandalized. The pastor and a few others were badly beaten, and many more were roughed up, including women and children. Everything of value was stolen, including sound system and computers, and then the church was vandalized-doors, windows, pews demolished. Even though the police were called, they did nothing to stop the attackers, and, in fact, aided in the theft.

This is not a new story. This same type of persecution has been reported by evangelical churches in many other countries all over the world. So how do Christians react when their sacred space has been destroyed, when they are physically battered and bruised, when they were faithfully involved in a time of prayer, and yet God did not spare them or their building? What Scripture does one cling to in such a time of threat?

After describing the worst of the physical injuries, Pastor Abou-Mekhael wrote:
“ ‘Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Rom. 8:37-39).

“I thank the Lord that all our people practiced self control in all that happened. I thank the Lord for the safety of us all. I will be excited to know how many Souls will be saved as a result of this persecution. Our Lord is in control and He is on the throne. We still do not know how the Lord will use all this. Please pray for our church and the Lord’s leadership in this case.â€?

These brothers and sisters in Christ are holding firm to the one permanent treasure in their lives that no force or violence can rip from them: the love of God. Having just returned from Africa, where the hardship of poverty forced me to ask the same sort of questions about my faith, I am challenged also not to let materialism or comfort or freedom separate me from the love of God.

There is no indication that the persecution will end soon. Newspaper articles against the church were printed in two local papers, entitled “There is no need for a Baptist Church in an area which has a high majority of Maronites.” The congregation is currently banned from entering their property, as legal authorities officially sealed off the building. Over the weekend the congregation met in two separate homes, and are trying to decide their next course of action, which might include renting space, and taking their case to court in accordance with Lebanese law, which protects their rights and freedom to meet for worship.

Pastor Abou-Mekhael writes again:
“The persecution has affected our spiritual situation positively. Our church united in truth and love. Some people who were considered church attendees are showing more dedication to the Lord. The Lord is opening the eyes of many people to see the difference between light and darkness. We know the Lord is going to be glorified in all this.â€?

And he ends his update with a reminder that his country is still at war, with more than 1000 people killed and more than one million displaced from their homes.

May the faith of our brothers and sisters under pressure encourage us to know the love of God in all our circumstances and to cling to him in both good times and in bad. And may your heart be stirred to pray for this church specifically even as you pray for a larger peace in the Middle East.

From Pastor George:

Last Sunday I got all into my sermon and didn’t check my watch, so the Communion Service didn’t end until about 12:40 PM. Afterward, my daughter Laura gently reminded me of my father’s advice when I was a young preacher:
“If you can’t say it in twenty minutes you didn’t know what you were trying to say.â€?

Wisdom trickles through three generations.