By Jeff Brumley
A deadly, demoralizing bombing in Beirut on Oct. 19 prompted a Lebanese Baptist leader to issue a worldwide call for prayer – and prayer alone.
The blast killed eight people, including a high-ranking government official, and wounded an estimated 110. The result has been religious clashes that are beginning to unravel several years of relative peace.
“We feel we are losing the opportunity that God has given to Lebanese and to Lebanon — we feel the risk of losing our country,” Nabil Costa, a vice president of the Baptist World Alliance, said by telephone from Beirut.
Costa, the executive director of the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development, acknowledged the surprise by some that his first appeal was for prayer and not money, medical supplies, food and clothing.
But he and others who have experienced tragedy – man-made and natural – say that prayer is in fact a tangible help to those in the midst or aftermath of devastation.
Top request: Prayer
“Prayer does in fact help people who are hurting,” said Reid Doster, coordinator of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Louisiana. For months, he’s been coordinating long-term relief efforts from Hurricane Isaac and has worked in the aftermath of Katrina and other storms.
“Faith is the one thing that appears to be sustaining people in these very difficult times,” he said.
It’s common in the aftermath of devastating storms to see residents putting signs up that say “pray for us,” Doster said. Those can be more common than requests for food or water.
“They ask for prayers because it strengthens them to know they are not alone,” Doster said. “So there’s that sense of connectedness.”
Establishing that connectedness is the advantage of Baptists joining together in national and global fellowships, according to BWA and CBF leaders.
With the situation in Lebanon, that fellowship is able to translate Costa’s on-the-ground perspective into a focus for Baptists around the world, BWA President John Upton said.
“Any way we can take this and make it global, that’s the role we see we can play,” said Upton, also the executive director of the Baptist General Association of Virginia and the Virginia Baptist Mission Board.
Upton added that the European Baptist Federation, of which Lebanon’s 32 churches and 1,600 members are a part, is looking into any humanitarian and social-justice efforts it may bring to bear in Lebanon.
For individuals, the benefit of global Baptist networks is the relationships established with Christians in far-flung places, said Pat Anderson, interim executive coordinator of CBF.
Anderson said he prays for nations and people in need even if he doesn’t have a personal connection to those places. But when he does, it adds intensity to his prayers.
With the bombing in Beirut, Anderson said his thoughts immediately went to Chaouki and Maha Boulos, CBF’s field personnel in Lebanon.
“When I close my eyes and pray, their faces flash in front of my memory,” Anderson said.
Costa said his connection to an international fellowship of Baptists paid immediate dividends following the bombing.
One of the first things he did that day was send an e-mail to other BWA vice presidents. Within minutes and hours, Costa said, responses began flooding in from individuals and churches in North and South America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
And that was before BWA issued a news release on Wednesday, asking Baptists everywhere to pray for those in Lebanon.
“Prayer is what we need for this country,” Costa said.