SAT-7 Grants Coordinator Phil Good lives in East Beirut. In this personal blog, he shares how Lebanon’s economic collapse has added an older generation of poorer Lebanese to a church that has already welcomed hundreds of Syrian refugees.
What should a church look like? I guess a church is situated in a location and should be a reflection of the people who live there. There is a church in East Beirut that I love to visit regularly as this is what I see there.
East Beirut is on the wrong side of the tracks. It’s not a place that features in the magazines except perhaps in a heart-wrenching way associated with an appeal for charitable help. It is a living embodiment of poverty: the evidence is everywhere in what you see and smell and the people you meet.
Refuge for the unwanted
It is a place where the unwanted people find refuge, a place they share with others at the bottom of the pile. So it was here that many refugees from Syria came after the war started in 2011. They came to Lebanon hoping to find a doorway to leave the Middle East and head to the West. But the Syrian Army had occupied Lebanon after the Lebanese civil war and the memories are still very much alive. The Syrians were and still are hated by the Lebanese. The refugees didn’t expect a warm welcome from people in this country and, on the whole, they did not receive one.
Coming to East Beirut, the refugees found themselves alongside other undesirables and people who have been left behind as the world moved on. My church used its spacious building to provide relief and education to the needy refugees who came. The love of the Christians was not perfect, but it was there, tangible in bread and blankets. Many of these gifts were funded by friends in the West, and many, including Syrians from Muslim backgrounds, found a real faith in Jesus as they heard the compelling message of the Gospel.
The area’s poverty has deepened recently because of the economic collapse that is crippling this country. The Lebanese people who live here are mostly old and tired. They survived the civil war and brought up children who have moved on to find a future somewhere else – often in South America or the Gulf. But the older generation were left behind.
Marie has three sons who all live abroad with their families. They send some money back for their parents who live on the fourth floor surrounded by their old furniture. The flat looks tired and run down; the last coat of paint was applied a long time ago. Marie had a heart operation two years ago and walking to the church takes an age; she is very slow. Her husband is quite old and infirm and very rarely leaves the flat. The only family they have left here are some nieces who visit on Sundays.
They have lived here all their lives and remember days when they were young and the area would see fresh paint, working drains and electricity. There was a future. Now they find themselves living amongst the rejects and the refugees and they are the forgotten people.
Jesus among the poor
When I walk into the church on a Sunday as the band plays worship songs, I look around. A few years ago, I would mainly see Syrians here. Some of the others on the margins of society came too: Sri Lankan street cleaners and African domestic workers. Adults in scruffy clothes and many scruffy children listened to worship songs and sermons, with simple Biblical truths presented in simple Arabic. Jesus was there and that was what mattered.
Now the church has a new demographic. The forgotten locals have started to come, even with the presence of the Syrians. I think perhaps they have come to terms with the fact that they too are forgotten people. They have given up hoping that their savings or their government will help them; they are forgotten by the banks and politicians, but not by Jesus.
This church does not have a car park full of fancy cars. The people are generally dressed in tired clothes, their faces marked with sadness and struggle. They will not grace any magazine covers. But they have found the one who has found them, the one who died for them, and discovered they are no longer forgotten people.
God’s call to go abroad came to Phil and Sylvia Good after their four children left home. In 2018 it took them from running a small business selling outdoor clothing and camping equipment in Dorset to living in East Beirut. With a calling to support the local church and marginalised people, they have befriended many Syrian refugees, given them support and demonstrated the love of Jesus by their presence. Phil also serves the SAT-7 UK office as a fundraiser for its media ministry to the Middle East.