We often thought the time was ripe to allow volunteers from churches in the US to visit and experience various ministries in Lebanon. But life in the Middle East is never a dull moment and waiting for ‘ideal’ conditions can be an elusive search, particularly in Lebanon! Yet we felt this is the right moment for a Vision Team to visit us in Lebanon. So with much trepidation and prayers we began conversations with members of our MPT (Missionary Partnership Team) as well as with Jonathan Hilsher, Coordinator, Volunteers in Global Mission, from American Baptist International Ministries. With Lebanon in relative peace, we thought this summer would be as good a time as any. Despite that, the visit was very nearly scrubbed when hostilities suddenly broke out in mid May, between the Shia and Sunni groups over power sharing. However the Team was brave, and against the travel advisory of US State Department, decided to take the plunge. A decision they never regretted!
The Team was made up of 10 volunteers from churches across the US. While most of them were experienced travelers and mission volunteers, they knew the Middle East would be different. The group consisted of Gary and Mary Rice from, Coos Bay, Oregon; Ed Hobart from Somerville, Mass; Randolph and Leslie Miller from Medford, Oregon, and their daughter Sarah who was the youngest member of the Team, a student at Seattle University. Matthew Peters from Phoenix, Arizona; Fred Wear from St. Louis, MO; and Jonathan Hilsher. Also seen in the picture is Dan Buttry, American Baptist global consultant for peace and justice, who was one of the leaders of the Middle East Conference.
Since all of them, with the exception of Matthew Peters, were coming to the Middle East for the first time, we thought an in-depth immersion in religion and culture of Middle East would be a helpful beginning. With that intention members of the Vision Team attended the Middle East Conference, organized annually every summer at the Arab Baptist Theological seminary. This year’s topic was “Islam, Its Message, and the Future of our Societies”. The leaders of the conference were well known English author and expert on Islam and Middle East, Colin Chapman, who addressed the issue of “Islam and Contemporary World” and Iraqi/Lebanese Priest Suhail Kacha, who dealt with thorny issue of “Minority (Christian) Religion under Islamic Rule”, looking at the crucial issue of the state of Christian communities in Islamic countries; our own Dan Buttry, on “Values and Approaches to Peaceful Living." In the evenings there were open public discussions called “Forums Towards Better Understanding” when two Muslim scholars/leaders Sheik Jaradeh, and Sheik Muhammed Hailm engaged Colin, Dan Buttry, Martin Accad, and others in discussing about the practical implications for life together. There was also a visit to Shia Muslim Seminary, located in “Hezbollah territory”, where incidentally, majority of the seminary students are women!
After the conference, the Vision Team visited several ministries around Lebanon. They visited a Home for Street kids at Kehale, a school for Bedouin Children run by Bridges of Love in Bekka Valley. The group also visited the town of Marjoyun, and the little Baptist Church in Dier Memis, almost on the border with Israel. We saw the well-tended Israeli farms across the fence, in comparison with the in neglected tracts of land in Lebanon; result of years of neglect due to wars and conflict. We also visited a future site of a School and Community Center being developed by the Lebanese Baptist Society in the heartland of Shia Muslims in the South. This is a bold venture of faith deserving our prayers and support.
• That our seminary will continue to receive favor from God in its service & witness in the Arab World; and there would be greater interest to partner and support ministries of ABTS (Arab Baptist Theological Seminary).
• Pray, if God wills, more volunteer teams will find opportunities to come, serve, and be enthused by the Spirit of God.
Dan and Sarah Chetti
Arab Baptist Theological Seminary