Every time a bomb goes off near their home in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, the Najjar family reconsider whether they should be living so close to the Syrian border, surrounded by refugees and supporters of terrorist groups.
Christian educator Samer Najjar and his artist wife Rana are evangelical Christians deeply rooted to a land that Christians have occupied for 2000 years, but they are scared for their 17-year-old daughter Wafa, and wonder if they should join their son George in America.
“We’ve talked about leaving many times. After each bombing we think, is it time to leave?” says Wafa, who is accompanying her parents on a visit to Australia.
We are talking on a day when eight bombs have gone off in a Christian village close to their border town, killing five and injuring 15. Wafa proudly shows me a Facebook post of a picture of candle and the words: “# Say to them_we_are staying.”
Despite the fear and insecurity in their lives, the Najjar family believe they must stay in Lebanon because God has given them a precious opportunity for ministry among the hundreds of thousands of refugees in their area.
School student Wafa says she doesn’t want to leave, despite being unable to plan for future study, “because that’s where I belong and the people that live there are my people.”
“As a family we always live in fear of what might happen,” says her mother Rana, who works with Syrian refugees living in camps near her home through a non-profit organisation called Together for the Family.
“We don’t know, maybe today we will sell our house and just move because the situation is not stable. Our son lives in America and we also have American passports, so we can go. But the thing that makes us stay in Lebanon is we are needed there, we are making change with people, especially with the refugees.”
The change Rana refers to is historic. In a new spirit of unity, the churches in the region are bravely preaching the gospel to refugees fleeing the Syrian war, with the result that Muslims are converting to Christ in unprecedented numbers. Even former members of ISIS have become active members of the local Baptist church.
“I’m very much in admiration of many churches who are extending the acts of compassion and mercy to those in need and are doing it in the name of Christ,” says Samer, who as international director of Langham Scholars is visiting Australia on a speaking tour.
“And they are not stopping there but communicating the gospel message in a very clear and brave way even to very strict fundamentalist Muslims. It is, in fact, the first time in history that we have seen so many responding to the gospel message and some of them responding in baptism and belief, becoming members of the church, so I think God in his sovereignty in the midst of the tragic events we are facing, he has brought these people to hear the gospel in a free country such as Lebanon … so these are the rays of hope that we can see in the midst of darkness.”
An artist and art teacher, Rana now devotes about 70 per cent of her time to working as a director of Together for the Family, which is focused on helping Syrian refugees.
“We help babies and support them with milk and clothes, and we support the mothers, counselling them and training them how to adapt to the situation and accept the way they live now because it’s really very poor,” she explains.
“We raise funds from our churches and try to help as much as we can. The areas I help with are babies and also traumatised teenagers. We take care of these cases, we counsel them and we pay for their medication and for psychiatric follow-up.”
The group has recently started a sewing school for women, especially teen mothers who have been forced to marry because their fathers cannot support them and they have missed many years of school.
Rana believes God has put on her heart a passion to work with teenagers who have been indoctrinated by terrorist groups.
“It’s really important to know that [members of] this activist group [ISIS] came from very poor families, uneducated families, and they were brainwashed, especially the teenage children,” she says.
“So we feel that they are blind, but actually they are like Paul when he was going to Damascus; they are doing the same thing. God opened his eyes and showed him the truth, so we do our job to just open their eyes and show them what is really Christianity and what the road is for them.
“I want to go to these boys and girls and just let their mind think of doing something useful for their life; not only become a Christian but to let them think about something decent, something civilised, something that makes them better people – make them a doctor or engineer maybe, not guns and suicide bombs and just shoot everybody. Praise the Lord that we are given this opportunity. It’s not been given to you. We have the privilege to work with them; we don’t know for how long.”
She adds: “I just want to show them we are loving people, we are living examples of our Jesus Christ. We wanted them to understand Jesus as a person and what he did for them.
“So when I visit them and sit with them, I say ‘I don’t want you to become a Christian, I just want you to understand how much we love you. It’s not because we are something different but because the life of Jesus taught us how to love everybody … and we should live together in peace.’
“Many of them like to know more and they come to church meetings and so far so many have been baptised and became active members in the churches. Actually some of them became leaders in the churches and they started having Bible studies in their home for others and this is really the positive part of the whole picture.”
As international director of Langham Scholars, Samer is responsible for 1300 theological seminaries in nine regions of the world, which equip pastors and preachers to be immersed in God’s word in a way that is relevant to their culture.
“One of the greatest needs in a region such as the Middle East, which is in violence and war, is to be able to have the right leaders in the church and society that would bring peace and reconciliation and stability to our communities,” he says.
“Our churches are growing and they need leaders who are well equipped, who are well versed in God’s word to be able to equip others for their ministry.
“So our hope is that people would know what’s going on, pray for our region, pray for our churches and Christian communities and also support the Langham Partnership work in raising leaders who would be able to impact society in a positive way.”
Dr Samer Najjar speaks about how Australians can support their brothers and sisters living in the Middle East at a dinner on Monday, 4 July, at The Freedom Hub, 283 Young Street, Waterloo, Sydney. Bookings at Langham.org.sydney or (02) 4751 9036.