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Can Lebanon’s Baptists and Maronites Cooperate Amid Crisis?

Elijah Brown, with Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai.

The value of Lebanon’s largest denomination of lira is now worth $4. It used to be able to purchase a ticket to a Broadway show. Today, amid a currency crisis that has pushed poverty rates to 82 percent, it can buy a gallon of milk.

The minimum wage—pummeled by the world’s third-worst inflation rate—is now barely $20 a month. And the worst suffering is in the nation’s north, where 6 in 10 children are regularly skipping meals.

Lebanon’s Baptists called for help.

“We came to express our deep concern for the suffering of Christians, and everyone,” said Elijah Brown, the US-based general secretary for the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), who visited mid-January.

“You are in our prayers.”

His words were directed to Bechara Boutros al-Rai, patriarch of the Maronite Church, an Eastern Rite Catholic community. Expressing solidarity with the 81-year-old cardinal and leader of Lebanon’s largest Christian denomination was a priority to the local Baptist convention, and Brown came with an invitation.

The BWA will call America’s 40 Baptist colleges to a conference in the US focused on supporting Lebanese education. Cohost with us, Brown asked, in partnership with US Catholic universities.

“It is a way to strengthen one another,” he said, “sending a message of unity and nonsectarianism.”

Lebanon is divided roughly in thirds: Sunni Muslim, Shiite Muslim, and Christian. Evangelicals represent about 1 percent of the 6 million population, far behind Maronites, Greek Orthodox, and other sects.

But Protestant-heritage schools like American University of Beirut and Lebanese American University stand alongside the Catholic St. Joseph’s University and the Orthodox Balamand University, akin to the Ivy League elite. All have been suffering, as few students can afford tuition.

And it is similar for Lebanon’s children. Over 700,000 of 1.2 million students attend the Christian-dominated private school system—including 20,000 within 35 evangelical schools. But the economic situation has pulled 3 in 10 students out of school altogether, and 13 percent of families sent their children to work.

Lebanon’s Notre Dame University (NDU) is eager for partnership.

“We want to help develop the Baptist mission in Lebanon,” said Bechara Khoury, president of NDU. “Struggling with a very crucial situation, bridges with others will give us the oxygen we need.”

Fully accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education, in 2020 NDU began a partnership with the Baptist SKILD program for students with special needs. It is an “added value” for the inclusive university, said Khoury, as 46 students receive support in their college studies.

The BWA provided $35,000 last year to SKILD, Beirut Baptist School, and other aid programs to support struggling Lebanese and Syrian refugees. While Brown promised to continue to raise the issues of Lebanon among Baptist donors worldwide, he assured the patriarch with a message of advocacy. He will press US lawmakers…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on February 4, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.

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