Hope springs up amid Lebanon’s Pain

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Maronite Father Elias Maroun Gharious comforts relatives of victims during a Mass to mark the one-year anniversary of Beirut’s port blast on 4 August 2021. The explosion killed more than 200 people, injured more than 6,000, and displaced more than 300,000. Photo: CNS, Mohamed Azakir, Reuters
Maronite Father Elias Maroun Gharious comforts relatives of victims during a Mass to mark the one-year anniversary of Beirut’s port blast on 4 August 2021. The explosion killed more than 200 people, injured more than 6,000, and displaced more than 300,000. Photo: CNS, Mohamed Azakir, Reuters

Young adults and families say they are experiencing a spiritual revival in this town near the Syrian border even as Lebanon is pummelled by multiple crises: an economic meltdown, mass unemployment, a fresh wave of coronavirus infections, and shortages of fuel and electricity – all made worse by the ongoing political paralysis and an unresolved probe into the devastating Beirut blast.

“Every week we intercede for Lebanon. We know that God is going to speak life over this country, because many times Jesus showed us that this is in his hands,” a 31-year-old Lebanese Catholic named Nesrine told the Catholic News Service one balmy summer night.

“We feel that God is allowing what is happening in Lebanon. His heart is for salvation. Yes, many are now poor, others are battling coronavirus, but we see many Lebanese seeking the Lord, because he is the very last shelter they have,” said the petite, raven-haired woman who was a civil servant and owned her own successful media business before entering lay ministry. Both Nesrine and her husband, Elie, once an atheist, have experienced dramatic spiritual conversions.

And so, apparently, have many others among the 200-plus attendees at the prayer meeting at The Land.

“Until now, I can’t fully explain the feeling that I had when they prayed. I felt like something was being pulled out of me, like chains breaking, and in that second, I felt like my vision changed …”

“About two-and-a-half years ago, I was suffering from severe anxiety and depression. I was far away from Jesus. I was doing everything I was raised to do, but I never knew a personal relationship with God,” Nesrine explained.

One night, Nesrine felt great despair and cried out to Jesus: “If you are real, you have to heal me.”

She said it was the first time that she called out to God from the “bottom of my heart, because I never thought I could talk to him as a sinner.” Then, she said that she suddenly felt peace.

“I told my husband that I felt that this time someone heard me and he’s going to heal me. Elie told me: ‘Stop your science-fiction. I’m going to take you to therapy tomorrow. You have anxiety and you have to take medicine.’”

Lebanese young people pray together for their country on 14 July in Zahle, a town near the Syrian border, where a spiritual awakening is taking place. Photo: CNS, Dale Gavlak
Lebanese young people pray together for their country on 14 July in Zahle, a town near the Syrian border, where a spiritual awakening is taking place. Photo: CNS, Dale Gavlak

The next day, while sitting at a local cafe, the couple argued and were overheard by a group of American visitors, who silently prayed for them.

Then a man approached them and told them that God showed him Nesrine has “anxiety and depression, and he’s going to heal you.”

Nesrine shot back, “Who told you that?” And he replied, “God’s Spirit. The Holy Spirit lives in us.” He asked her if she wanted the Holy Spirit. “I told him, ‘Yes, if he gives me that peace and salvation. They prayed for me in the cafe. Meanwhile, my husband mocked what was happening in Arabic and spoke bad words. They asked him if they could pray for him. He asked them if it was for free. They prayed.

“Until now, I can’t fully explain the feeling that I had when they prayed. I felt like something was being pulled out of me, like chains breaking, and in that second, I felt like my vision changed. Then, in that moment, I knew I was healed,” Nesrine said.

“What’s amazing about The Land is that you are going to find Catholics, Orthodox, evangelicals and other people coming to worship the Lord.”

“I wondered how I was going to tell my atheist husband how I felt. And then I looked at Elie, and he was in tears. I never saw him cry before. I asked him what was happening. He said: ‘Nesrine, as they prayed, I felt fire going from my head to my toes. And in that second, I knew Jesus is alive, and that He died for me. What did they do? What happened?’”

Both now serve as lay ministers and help to oversee the near-nightly simple meals provided to those who attend the meetings as well as vegetables grown on the property and distributed to the poor.

“What’s amazing about The Land is that you are going to find Catholics, Orthodox, evangelicals and other people coming to worship the Lord,” said Nesrine.

Candy is another Lebanese Catholic, in her 20s, who found her faith in Christ kindled in the prayer meeting.

A woman pushes a cart past damaged buildings in Beirut during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than half of the population of Lebanon lives in poverty. Photo: CNS, Mohamed Azakir, Reuters
A woman pushes a cart past damaged buildings in Beirut during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than half of the population of Lebanon lives in poverty. Photo: CNS, Mohamed Azakir, Reuters

“I didn’t believe in Jesus because I always said if he were here, I wouldn’t be suffering,” Candy told CNS.

“But one day I went to the meeting and I saw Jesus in the faces of the people gathered. I was so shocked. I asked my sister, ‘Why do they love each other like that? Did they know each other before?” she asked. “I spoke with one of the participants and all of a sudden, I saw all of my life, and it was miserable. Everything that I thought I was doing right was wrong. But I found hope. That’s why I am here,” Candy said.

Nesrine said the group always prays for Lebanon.

“What breaks my heart is that the Lebanese are suffering,” she said. “We see families selling their fridges. There is no fuel, no milk, no medicines. My small son had a fever and we searched many pharmacies simply for aspirin, and we couldn’t find it. I, too, once had a lot of money and now I have nothing.”

“We served for three months in Beirut and saw God’s mercy, because every house we stepped into experienced some kind of miracle …”

She said the Beirut port explosion last year left her and other Lebanese badly shaken, but as she prayed, she saw a vision of peace to come.

A group of the young people from Zahle traveled last year to Beirut to help clean up homes damaged by the powerful blast and pray with those affected.

“We served for three months in Beirut and saw God’s mercy, because every house we stepped into experienced some kind of miracle. Everyone had a story about how they survived the explosion,” Nesrine said.

“I met an old lady who was paralysed and confined to a wheelchair. There were glass panes in front of where she sat. When the explosion erupted, all the surrounding windows shattered and were blown out, but the window just in front of her was not even cracked. I can never forget this picture of God’s divine protection.”

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