Volunteer's testimony - In the shadow of the cedar, the misery and hope of Christians.

EN - Friday, 18 September 2020

SOS Chrétiens d'Orient sends volunteers in mission throughout the year. Like Louis-Marie, come and live an unforgettable experience in Lebanon. Don't ask yourself any questions. The only limits are those in your mind.

Per day, the mission of a volunteer costs 33 € to the association. If you can't leave, support a volunteer on a mission, donate.

This Thursday 17 September I am leaving Lebanon, land of eternal cedars and broken pearl of the Middle-East. My heart tightens, as it did last year when I left this same country after two months of mission. This new month spent in Lebanon has marked me for life: I will never forget the distress of a people trapped by a destiny that he no longer controls; I will never forget the determination and resilience of our Christian brothers in Lebanon.

sos chretiens orient liban volontaires nettoient beyrouth devaste

When I arrived in Beirut at the beginning of August, I can just notice the extent of the damage caused by the wounds of the civil war that had never been healed, by a year of unprecedented economic crisis, by an epidemic of COVID 19 and, as if all this were not enough for the misfortune of the Lebanese, by an explosion of unprecedented violence that ravaged the centre of Beirut and took 191 martyrs.

During my first week of mission, I clear the buildings in the ravaged districts of Beirut and assess the needs of the families hardly hit by this disaster. When the other volunteers and I walk in the streets, we can read sadness, anger and hope in the Lebanese’s eyes.

I remember this mother of three children whom we were helping to clear her flat and put windows back in her windows, blown out by the explosion. Her husband, a soldier in the Lebanese army, died in battle defending his country against the barbarians of Daesh. She is now alone to take care of her children, whom she courageously educates. Alas, because of the economic crisis, she no longer has enough money to pay for her children's schooling. And, to make matters worse, the explosion in the port of Beirut has devastated a large part of her flat.

However, she confides to us that the statuette of Saint Charbel, which proudly stands under a Lebanese flag, gives her the faith to fight for a better future for her children. Little Elias, the eldest of the family, with a portrait of his late father in his hand, describes to me in impeccable French the one he knew too little about. "My father is a great soldier! He fought for Jesus and Lebanon. When I grow up, I want to be as strong and brave as him.”

I am impressed by the faith and determination of this Christian family who alone personifies the misfortunes of Lebanon. I am proud to have been able to help them like dozens of others after this catastrophe. SOS Chrétiens d'Orient is a real comfort for the Lebanese people who have suffered and contributes greatly to improving the daily lives of these victims.

During the following weeks I continue my mission in Tripoli in the Christian district of Mina where the association provides precious help and support to minority Christians since 80% of the city is Sunni Muslim.

Between the maintenance of the Franciscan monastery of Mina, the donations of various foodstuffs to poor families and the games with the children, no day is like another. After long gardening sessions interrupted by football match, each end of the day is an opportunity to sit down at Rachid's house to share a hookah with the young people of the neighbourhood and discuss their situations, their problems and their dreams. One of them, Rony, with stars in his eyes, confides to us that he wants to study medicine in France to come back and work in Lebanon to save lives. His brother, Rudy, is in business school in Lebanon. He was supposed to go on an exchange to the United States but the economic crisis that is shaking Lebanon has shattered his dreams of travelling.

So many lives and broken dreams of youth bring a promising Lebanese youth to its knees!

sos chretiens orient liban volontaires tripoli

The atmosphere of this family-friendly and pleasant neighborhood suits us perfectly. We feel at home here. Little Mariana tries every day to teach me Arabic while Elijah and Rony call me to play football. In spite of this exhilarating atmosphere, the scourges of the economic crisis and the pressure of some ill-intentioned Sunnis are never far away. Christian families share with us their fears about the economic and demographic pressures. One mother tells us that her two daughters have not left the neighborhood of Mina since young Sunni men subjected them to a series of humiliations and intimidations as odious as they are cowardly. The ordeal of these Lebanese Christian families never seems to stop...

sos chretiens orient liban volontaires nation station

I then returned to Beirut for a few days where I joined the volunteers of the "Nation Station", a neighborhood association that distributes food, clothing and basic necessities to families affected by the explosion and the economic crisis.

During one of my missions at the Nation Station, the Lebanese tragedy imposes itself on me in all its violence and yet a vivid image warms my heart. That day, as I hand a simple man'ouché (typical sandwich in Lebanon) to a little boy named Charbel, his sad face lights up with a broad smile. As if in a few seconds, the past had disappeared and the present was radiant. I can only immortalize this precious smile which represents the guideline of the mission of SOS Chrétiens d'Orient in Lebanon: restoring hope and confidence to the Christians of the land of the cedar.

My mission ended in Qaa, a Christian village of 5,000 inhabitants located 5 kilometers from the Syrian border at the end of the Bekaa plain in the middle of a Shiite stronghold. Having spent the whole of my mission there last year, I find friends again and reconnect with what made me fall in love with Lebanon.

But when I come back, I have mixed feelings. I am delighted to meet my many acquaintances again, but this joy is overshadowed by the situation of the village, which is suffering the full force of the economic crisis and the harmful effects of corruption. Indeed, many Lebanese middle class families have lost their purchasing power and can no longer provide for their children. I am thinking of this family in Qaa who lives on the sole salary of the father, an officer in the Lebanese army, and who can no longer send his three children to school.

sos chretiens orient liban volontaires et enfants du clac qaa

Our mission is complicated in this sensitive area. We live in the middle of the great forgotten areas of Lebanon. Between the activities at the CLAC with the children, the donations with the fathers of the village and the finalization of the project to finance the school, the Christians once again give us a lesson in determination. Despite the problems, they continue to propose and believe in development projects to take root on their land. I can only admire this exemplary courage.

Marked by the war crimes during the civil war, by the attacks committed by Daesh in 2016 and the hard fighting that followed for months on end, the Christians of Qaa are clinging to their faith and to their land. When we talk to the elders and the youth, the discourse is the same: "This is our home. Our elders have paid blood money to defend our faith and our village. We are ready to defend our families, our religion and our country to the end.”

Beyond the material help and comfort we bring to these inhabitants, this discourse transcends me and gives a little more meaning to my mission. The Christians of Lebanon are at home and we must help them to stay. Without the Christians, the eternal cedar of Greater Lebanon will fall. For my part, it is unthinkable not to abandon my Christian brothers and sisters who courageously fight for what they are. Their faith and their commitment are an example for all of us to follow.

Louis-Marie, volunteer in Lebanon.

SOS Chrétiens d'Orient sends volunteers in mission throughout the year. Like Louis-Marie, come and live an unforgettable experience in Lebanon. Don't ask yourself any questions. The only limits are those in your mind.

Per day, the mission of a volunteer costs 33 € to the association. If you can't leave, support a volunteer on a mission, donate.