Friday, August 7, 2020, the volunteers of SOS Chrétiens d'Orient leave the apartment. Shovel in hand, mask on their face, they set off for the archbishopric, located near the Christian district of Geitawi, to meet the Maronite seminarians of Beirut. The day's objective is twofold: to clean the archbishopric, which was seriously damaged by the explosion of August 4th, and to prepare and distribute food parcels for the most affected Maronite families.
“As we enter the area of the explosion, everyone is looking quite tense. As a newly volunteer in Lebanon, I am stunned by the macabre spectacle offered by these torn apart houses.
In the silence of the alleyways, we cannot help but put ourselves in the place of these families who have lost everything: "What if this had happened to me?”. The emotion is great. As we continue to walk along the path cluttered with rubble and cars, with roofs destroyed because of the rock that fell, the inhabitants ask us for our help to renovate their ravaged apartments or to feed themselves. To each one, we promise a visit in the following days and exchange our contacts. Nevertheless, the mission of the day is elsewhere. We continue our way with a heavy heart because we cannot help them all.
After 10 long minutes of walking, it finally appears. This building, which once stood proudly in the heart of the Ashrafieh district, is now only a vast draught because of the windows broken by the blast of the explosion. Once inside the compound, we are greeted by the archbishopric's staff.
Two Franco-Lebanese teams are formed: one is clearing away the rubble and pieces of glass while the other is sorting through the archives and books that have fallen from the broken libraries. This emergency intervention may seem futile given the extent of the damage, but it means a lot to those who have lived through the disaster. More than a material intervention, our action is also a moral support for these Christians who, in spite of the trials and adversity, do not give up.
After several hours of work, most of the debris is removed. It is now a matter of putting together the food packs that will be used for donations. One of the seminarians invites us to follow him to the basement. We do so religiously and follow him in this staircase lit by pale neon lights, under a heat that is becoming more and more oppressive. Below, we see that there too, the explosion has caused damages. A cleaning product was spilled on the food parcels. They have to be emptied and sorted to refill the boxes, product by product.
Once the task is completed, it is already time to leave. On the way back, again, locals come to meet us. After a brief exchange with one of them, we share with her the obvious conclusion: "Your strength is your big heart", to what she answers: "We may have a big heart, but our heart is wounded".
At home, we look back at this beautiful and trying day. We are proud to have humbly accomplished our task and admire the strength that animates the Lebanese people, despite the wear felt deep inside them; a wear accumulated over the years, from the many wars and conflicts experienced by this people tired of having to fight constantly, tired of having to rebuild again and again, and tired of fearing for their lives and the lives of their loved ones.
In this sad situation, the mission of the volunteers takes on its full meaning. We, Christians of the West, not living in such a situation, must support them in these trials and help them on our humble scale. In doing so, we collect neither honor nor glory. But the important thing is elsewhere: learning to give.
By going on mission we think we are giving, in reality we are receiving much more... The bravery of each Lebanese in the face of adversity touches and inspires us. These testimonies of faith allow us to strengthen ours on a solid foundation, more solid than a rock, and this is priceless.
Come and join us in Lebanon, if you too want to help our Christian brothers and sisters and bring your stone to the reconstruction of this country.
Constance, volunteer in Lebanon.