“Normally I would say the news paints a negative picture or gives a small portion of it, but [this time] I would say it's worse than what the news makes it out to be,” shared Jeremiah*, a worker who oversees OM’s relief and development projects in the Near East, about the blast that devastated Beirut on August 4, 2020.
Since then, in fact, international news has quieted, but life remains upended for hundreds of thousands of people in Lebanon, who have lost loved ones, their homes, their livelihoods and their sense of security. Several members of OM’s team in the Near East have spent time in Beirut—close to the port area where the explosion occurred—to minister to those directly impacted by the explosion.
“The relief efforts are small but highly relational,” a team member explained. “We directly identify those in extreme need or have met them indirectly through others. In every case, we first listen to each individual’s story or situation, ask if they would like to be prayed for and, when appropriate, help practically meet a need or give a cash grant.”
For Jeremiah, who was on the edge of the zone most damaged by the blast when it occurred, the physical destruction must be measured in light of the other difficulties Lebanon had already been facing.
“Everything’s changed twice,” he said. In October 2019, the Lebanese people declared thawra (revolution) over a proposed tax on the messaging app WhatsApp and continued protesting until the government at that time resigned. Meanwhile, prices for basic goods skyrocketed, and the local currency dramatically devalued. In February 2020, the new coronavirus shut down the country, causing further economic strain. “Up until the point of the blast, …like 60% of the country was unemployed,” Jeremiah estimated. “That was the situation in Lebanon, and, then, when the blast hit, it got even worse. Everything changed again.”
Helping people who have lost hope
The explosion blew out glass in the building where Jeremiah was, shattering one of the windows and causing damage to different structural elements of the fifth-floor apartment he was in. First, he ran out of the building, concerned its integrity had been compromised in the explosion, but when he determined it wasn’t going to collapse, he turned his attention to the neighbours. “From the moment I went down, I just started cleaning up and helping people,” he said. “I went door-to-door, floor-to-floor [checking] every apartment, asking who needs help. And then the rest of the night, I was cleaning up glass in the building late into the night.”
In the following days, Jeremiah went to the port area, which was totally destroyed, and asked members of OM’s regional team to come help with clean-up efforts. As he and the other OM workers interacted with people in the hardest-hit part of the city, they encountered individuals living in severely damaged apartments and lacking a social support system. Ahmed*, a father of four, worked at the port along with the other men in his family. The blast destroyed both his home and workplace. Noor*, a widow for 24 years, used to provide for herself and her son with disabilities by baking and selling bread, but as she got older, she couldn’t bake any longer and relied on charitable gifts from others. Mahmoud*, a Syrian day labourer, made $6 USD a day but, along with his pregnant wife and their baby, had to stay with a friend after their apartment was destroyed. Talal*, a security officer for a building impacted by the blast, first directed the team members to others before thinking of himself and his wife, who was very ill. Cash gifts helped these people—and others—meet immediate needs amidst their uncertain futures. “Every house we visit, we tell them that the gift is from Jesus and we pray as well,” a team member shared.
Experiencing the explosion connected Jeremiah to the community in a new way. “People saw [me] cleaning the streets in the night and going door to door,” he said. “When you’ve been through a tragedy with somebody… that kind of bonds people together more.
“There’s this sense of, amongst the Lebanese and Syrians, even the expats, the foreigners, like we went through it and we endured it,” he explained.
Helping practically in a time of crisis has allowed him to show God’s love, even when people are not open to hearing about it. “I was just being a shoulder to cry on and being hands to help clean and work,” Jeremiah said.
Moving forward, the team will continue to direct relief funds towards meeting critical needs with food aid, education assistance, cash grants and medical help. Donations at this critical time will allow the team to consider additional ways to help more of the people in Lebanon who are in desperate need.
Pray that in the middle of what is widely seen as a hopeless situation, Christ would draw people to Himself and give them hope.
To support ongoing relief efforts, please designate financial donations as ‘Lebanon Relief’.