Worshipping over a shattered city
Two days after the explosion that devastated central Beirut, songs of faith rang out and prayers were said under a night sky overlooking the shattered city. Survivors gave testimony, pastors offered counsel and worship leaders lifted viewers’ hearts to God in a unique evening episode of SAT-7’s From Heart to Heart show.
The programme – aired from a rooftop balcony at SAT-7’s Beirut studio – was one of several live broadcasts designed to comfort a nation in shock.
Popular SAT-7 presenters and singers Rawad and Marianne Daou were joined by the B-Sharp Band, church leaders Revd Kabi Al-Awad and Hany Touq, and lay Christian Alan Khalil.
Khalil shared how an atheist friend who survived the explosion at the port gave God thanks when he found that his family were all safe. “No science or reasons could have saved my family except Jesus Christ,” his friend told him.
Public anger against Lebanon’s politicians, already red-hot over mushrooming poverty, turned to demands for executions when neglect emerged as the likely cause of the explosion. But revenge is not the answer, Khalil said. He spoke as someone who had been driven to hatred and drugs after the brutal murder of his mother. “[Against] all of the evil that exists, Jesus’ goodness is greater,” he affirmed.
Reena, a young member of the B-Sharp Band, told viewers how God had spoken to her as she called out to him: “There is no one who brings peace and hope but Jesus. Life can be extinguished in any moment, but there is eternal life with God. To all listening, let’s stop and pray together and for each other, and be positive together. God intervenes.”
SUPPORT FOR CHILDREN
One of the regular SAT-7 KIDS shows filmed in the Beirut studios is the popular Bible Heroes programme. SAT-7 contacted all the children who regularly take part in the series to check that they were safe. On Thursday (6 August) afternoon, the show’s presenters, Karen and Ellie, who both live in the city, shared their experiences of the explosion and invited viewers to join them in praying. The response was overwhelming.
“I want to pray and never stop. Jesus, be with the Lebanese, give them strength and encourage them,” shared one young boy. “God, protect Lebanon and heal the injured,” prayed a young girl. A girl from Egypt asked, “God please protect your kids, heal all injured, stay with tired people and bless them.”
SAT-7 KIDS Channel Manager, Andrea El-Mounayer, immediately began to explore how the ministry can help children over the longer term. She contacted child psychologists, other experts, and local children’s centres to find out the best ways to support those affected by this disaster. One outcome will be “The Story of This Summer”, she explained. The channel will invite children across the MENA to send in creative work, such as videos, songs, dances, and pictures, as a safe outlet for their experiences and an opportunity to participate and pray together.
With awareness growing of an estimated 300,000 made homeless, Marianne asked Al-Awad how Christians could be the salt of the earth amidst such destruction. Revd Al-Awad pointed to messages of prayer and support being sent from people all over the world.
“There is fear, but the church has light and peace,” he said. “This is not the time for us to argue with one another: it’s the time for the church to fulfil its role and be a light. There is only one who can save Lebanon and that is Jesus. The time has come for us to be light. We must be humble. The secret to life is Jesus...”
PAIN AND HOPE
Some 24 hours earlier, a live televised discussion with Christian leaders had addressed the raw feelings of believers trying to make sense of what had happened.
One of the guests in Lebanon: Pain and Hope was Dr Nabil Costa, Secretary General of the Association of Evangelical Schools. He recalled seeing the cloud of smoke rising from the port and said, “We all cried. Feelings from the heart are true. …We ought to be genuine with people, [to say] ‘I’m here for you.”
Dr Hikmat Kashouh, Senior Pastor of Resurrection Church Beirut, pointed to the example of Habbakuk who, in the midst of distress, took his questions and frustrations to God. As the prophet came to trust God more deeply, He came to thank and praise Him.
Archbishop Paul Al-Sayah answered how Christians should respond to those who are hurting. “The role of the Church and the person is to be near the other person… Pain is pain whether we are far from God or not. We should be near to others and their needs. We should listen. We should be present. Our presence should witness to Christ to help.” The key to that, he suggested, was that believers need to be listening and present to God. “Prayer is a type of presence. Let us go back to God to speak to Him and listen to Him until our life is a picture of God…the one who gives us hope.”
TRAUMA AND RESILIENCE
The trauma experienced by hundreds of thousands in Lebanon was brought home on Friday in You Are Not Alone. Journalist George Mousa, who took video footage of the explosion, remembered how “the walls started to shake around us. We were holding hands. We were shocked.” When he watched the video back again, he added : “There were many injured around us… We saw death.”
Joseph Krayam described how the doors and windows in his home were blown off, but the shock affected the various members of his family differently: “I went into the bathroom and found my family crying. I thought it was war and there would be another explosion. My youngest son didn’t care. My daughter thought this was normal; after the shock and crying, she slept.”
Although many have seen the explosion as the last straw and speak of leaving Lebanon, Joseph explained that Lebanon is his home and he will carry on there. “We must carry on with our work. We have responsibilities. We cannot give up.”
That resolve and commitment to Lebanon and its people was evident in the words of other guests too.
Pamela is a nurse who was photographed after she carried three babies to safety from a destroyed hospital. She told presenter Sirene Semerdjian: “I heard a very loud noise and the floor started shaking.” The ceiling collapsed, knocking her unconscious. When she came to, her immediate thought was for the newborns: “After removing the debris I was relieved to find them safe.” Pamela then carried the babies down flights of stairs, only to find a scene of chaos. “People were screaming and hurt.” On foot, she then carried the children five kilometers to get them to safety at a hospital that was still operating.
Another conversation was via video link with Father Majdi Alawi. He spoke while wearing a face mask and busily helping other volunteers put together food packages that were being distributed to those who had lost their homes. “Pray for the victims. We want to love today. Let’s be humane…Don’t place blame,” he said.
A message of hope and resilience was given by a final guest whose piano playing in her damaged living room has been seen around the world. Mai Melki arrived home to find glass and wreckage strewn across her apartment. But the committed Christian’s reaction was to go to her piano as an expression of gratitude for her and her family’s safety. Her daughter, Hoda, filmed the moment.
Mai explained that her calm playing of the tune We’ll meet again was her way of saying, “Thank you, God, that I wasn’t home when it happened”. She continued: “I thought of the people, how much they were injured and I looked at us here. I began the song and said, ‘Thank you, God. You are the God of the universe. You know everything. You see who is in need.’ It was a communication between me and the music and God and the people.”