I was born in the same year Lebanon entered into what would become sixteen years of civil war. During the years of Syrian occupation, our people were killed, our women raped, our national resources plundered, and our dignity stolen. I remember how frightened we children were of the Syrian army at checkpoints. Our hearts would be in our mouths. Our stomachs were always upset from anxiety. Our house was bombed a number of times, relatives lost their lives, and beloved friends went missing. Ultimately, my father died as a result of the war.
I and many in my church have experienced the tragedy of the war; we were refugees ourselves. We moved from one place to another. It would have been easy and quite natural for us to hate when Syrians came to Lebanon for refuge. Many did.
Shortly before the war began in Syria, God convicted many in my church, Resurrection Church Beirut, about the need to serve the marginalized. One of our church leaders started visiting Syrian workers in their homes. He loved them, ate with them, listened to their stories, and then prayed for them. This touched their hearts deeply.
Many said to him, “No Lebanese have visited us and no one has ever invited us into their homes.” In their homes, he used to pray and intercede for them, demonstrate love by investing his time and energy in them, and invite them back to his house for prayer, Bible study, and fellowship. Many came to Christ, and he started a small group in his home.
Thus in 2011, when the war in Syria broke out and Syrians started to flee to Lebanon, our church was somewhat prepared to receive them. We took the bold step of obeying our Saviour to serve those who had persecuted us; you could call them our enemies.
As a result, we provoked the community to ask big questions: “Why are you doing this? Why do you love us? Why are you serving us? Why are you willing to put time and energy and resources into helping us?” And the answer was Jesus!
Now, in Lebanon, 25 percent of the population are refugees from the wars in Iraq and Syria. But in our church, some 70 percent of the members are refugees. In nine years, we have gone from having ninety members to a congregation of 1,300. We have had to learn and grow with God’s unbelievable plan.
Many refugees are rejected by those among whom they have come to live. They are despised or seen only as objects of charity. And that is how God could have related to us. He could have stayed proudly at a distance, dispensing advice about how we should live. But instead he came to live among us, sitting with people on the floor, sharing their food, listening to their stories and their struggles. He did not come to be served but to serve.
In our ministry among the refugees, we have discovered that humble service is transformational.
Following Christ’s example, one of our Lebanese pastors has refused to move to a more comfortable house and chooses instead to live among his Syrian brothers and sisters who were once his enemies.
God orchestrated my personal journey—growing up during the civil war, studying and living abroad, being a husband and father and pastoring a church right at the beginning of the Syrian crisis—and helped me tremendously to see Christ’s example of humility and incarnation as our model. He entered into our world of despair and became what we could not become in order to draw us to himself and reconcile us with God. As I reflect on the pain of the past and the lessons since, I praise God that in his economy nothing is wasted.
This article first appeared on Acts211.org and is reposted with permission. Read more about Hikmat’s story and the amazing ministry of Resurrection Church Beirut in his new book: Following Jesus in Turbulent Times: Disciple-Making in the Arab World.