The Role of Religion in Global Society at the University of CA – Santa Barbara

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to speak on a panel at the University of California – Santa Barbara’s Luce Project on Religion in Global Civil Society. The topic of discussion was “The Role of Religion in Global Society: A Focus on the Middle East and Africa.” The dialogue was very thought provoking and included questions about the significance of religion in international development.

 

Participants included academics, practitioners, and religious leaders from various cultural backgrounds and faiths.

Here is a brief response to one of the questions I was asked:

Role of Religion on World Visions’s work in the Middle East:

World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization providing hope and assistance to tens of millions of people in nearly 100 countries around the world. Motivated by our faith in Jesus Christ, World Vision serves alongside the poor and oppressed as a demonstration of God’s unconditional love for all people. World Vision serves all people, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or gender. We seek to honor God in all that we do; to honor our donors and the public by being transparent about our motivation; and to honor those we serve as well as our colleagues in the field. Our passion is for the world’s poorest children. The ability of these children to reach their God-given potential depends on the physical, social, and spiritual strength of their families and communities. To help secure a better future for each child, we focus on lasting, community-based transformation. We partner with individuals and communities, empowering them to develop sustainable access to clean water, food supplies, health care, education, and economic opportunities. World Vision works in several regions of the Middle East including Afghanistan, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel/Palestine. Throughout the years World Vision has been involved in the Middle East, serious conflicts throughout the region have had profound impact on the lives of children. As a Christian organization, World Vision affirms that all people have the right to life, food, liberty, security, education, and adequate health care.  These rights also have been enshrined in such international agreements as the UN International Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), highlighting the responsibility we all have to ensure these rights are protected for all children throughout the Middle East.

Please note: While the above paragraph speaks to World Vision’s work in the ME, this blog is personal and the views here represent exclusively the owner of this blog.

Dar El Awad: Kids Alive in Beirut

When I was in Lebanon, one of the most exciting ministries with whom I was introduced was Kids Alive (or Dar El Awad).

Pictures from some of the children involved in the Kids Alive program in Lebanon.

Kids Alive has been working in Lebanon for 62 years and has a school and residential program for troubled children. The Lebanese school has students from Kindergarten through 6th Grade with 75 children attending. The residential program is not an orphanage as the children return to their families on the weekend and the program is designed to help rebuild relationships between troubled children and their families of origin. Most of the children in the residential program are not Lebanese, but are Sudanese, Palestinian, Sri Lankan, or some other minority. In Lebanon, the darker the color of one’s skin, the more vulnerable a child (or adult) is to abuse and discrimination. Sadly, this color differentiation seems to be the case in many parts of the world. One of the primary ways the school is funded is through child sponsorship with 450 global donors and funders from all over the world. The staff of the school are all Christians although children are of all different religions. The children in Dar El Awlad have daily chapel services where the love of Jesus is shared through teaching and worship. Fifty percent of the residential children are Muslim. The programs at Kids Alive were among the most impressive that I saw in Lebanon. The school is committed to working with a terribly marginalized community by providing education, support, and care for children who are deeply troubled. There are many amazing avenues for involvement including teacher training, special programs for children, and also involvement in a new project that is beginning through Kids Alive (and Heart for Lebanon) in the south.

For more information about Kids Alive visit: http://www.kidsalive.org/around-the-world/middle-east/lebanon/.

Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan: Tumult in the Middle East

    I haven’t written in about a week… partially because I don’t know where to start. I have much to say about my time in Lebanon – visiting poor shanty-town communities, Palestinian refugee camps, and homes for street children who have been abandoned by society. A community that is governed by Christians, Sunni Muslims, Shi’ite Muslims, and Druze. Lebanon is a complex, diverse, beautiful, and harsh place… I have much to say about the things that I have learned. However, the current tumult in the Middle East once again has people all over the Arab world glued to their televisions watching the horror of people protesting against unjust governments and advocating for a better life. However, other countries protests are not as peaceful – or as non-violent – as Egypt’s recent “success” in ousting Mubarak.
    Over the past couple of days we have watched as the Libyan people protest against Muammar Gaddafi – who has ruled for more than 40 years. News reports that yesterday (Monday) more than 50+ people were killed as the government responded with violence against the people protesting. People are marching in the countryside and in some of the main cities such as Benghazi and Tripoli. Today (Tuesday) we learned that Gaddafi’s government not only shot into the crowds, but they also began using airplanes to attack their own people. The news is using words like “massacre” and unprecedented violence. The news shows pictures of people covered in blood everywhere. Like Egypt, Libya has been cut off from the world – there are no telephones – landlines and cell phones have been cut; there is no internet; no communication with the outside world. Many leaders in Libya’s government are resigning because of the “deadly force used against the protestors” (AlJazeera).
    AlJazeera made the following report: “Gaddafi’s guards started shooting people in the second day and they shot two people only. We had on that day in Al Bayda city only 300 protesters. When they killed two people, we had more than 5,000 at their funeral, and when they killed 15 people the next day, we had more than 50,000 the following day… This means that the more Gaddafi kills people, the more people go into the streets.”
    Gaddafi’s son recently went on television and threatened the Libyan people stating that the country would become a “bloodbath” if the protests against his father’s regime did not cease. He asserted that Libya is a different country than Tunisia and Egypt and that the government would not be overturned so easily. One of the cries being heard from Libya – through the few satellite phones possessed by journalists that have not yet been blocked – is this question: “Where is the West?” Libyans are asking why America and other western nations have not come to the aid of the people of Libya. I hope that my friends, family, and contacts in the U.S. and other parts of the non-Arab world are paying attention to what is happening in the Middle East. Country by country seems to be infected by an emerging group of young leaders who are calling for change, democracy, liberty, and freedom. As these “revolutions” persist – the question of what is to follow is a crucial one…
    Similarly anti-government protests persist in Bahrain, Yemen, and Jordan… as the growing unrest continues to escalate in several countries throughout the Middle East.

Beirut: The City That Lives

Beirut has the nickname of being “The City that Would Not Die” because of the more than decade of conflict it survived during its civil war… and the devastation to downtown Beirut. The war last 15 years and had many different phases. Beirut’s brutal internal conflict began in 1975… the country was divided in half with a Green Line down the center of the city – Christians (east) on one-side and Muslims (west) on the other. At least that was the first portion of the war… I have been struck by how many buildings are still riddled with bullet holes and the remnants of war – while standing next to a newly erected building that sparkles in the splendor of a new era. In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon and west Beirut was under siege by the Israeli military. The war was devastating to the people of Lebanon and finally ended in 1990. In 2006, Lebanon experienced another war with Israel. Today, in one of my meetings, I heard amazing stories of how 25% of the population was displaced. The community came together in a profound way – across racial divides, Christians and Muslims helping to meet one another’s needs during a time of war. This is certainly an oversimplification of Beirut’s many conflicts… but those years greatly influenced who Lebanon is today.

Today, Beirut should be called “The City that Lives”… Beirut is beautiful and a conglomeration of cultures and history. The city center is decorated with the Mohammad al-Amin mosque and Saint George’s Cathedral. Walking down one promenade one might think they are in a metropolitan city in Europe… walk down another and you will stumble upon Roman ruins… and another and one will be captivated by the awe inspiring beauty of an intricately decorated Arab mosque. Just for the record: The New York times actually named Beirut the “best place to visit” in 2009. In addition to the acclaim in the NYT – Beirut was ranked 9th in the “best cities of the world” list by Travel & Leisure magazine in 2006 (before the war with Israeli). Lonely Planet also listed Beirut in its top ten “liveliest cities.” Apparently others have been similarly inspired by this amazing city. One can hear several languages being spoken… and it sometimes catches one’s ear to hear a few expressions in Arabic and then “Merci, beaucoup.” After World War I, Lebanon was placed under the French mandate and the influence still remains.

One of the things that has struck me the most about Beirut is the diverse religious presence that is openly expressed. Lebanon has the largest percentage of Christians of any Middle Eastern country and their presence is clearly visible. Beirut has many different neighborhoods – most of which are divided by religious affiliation. There is an Armenian section of town (north Beirut)… and other Christian communities include the Marronites, Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Baptists, Anglicans, among others. The Muslim community is also bifurcated between the Sunni Muslim and the Shi’ite Muslim. As we have traveled in the countryside of Lebanon, it is often simple to tell where the town’s loyalties lie… There are posters of political figures according to the village’s affiliation plastered all over the place – many of the posters larger than life. Considering all that has been happening in the Middle East, the political situation in Lebanon is remarkably calm. The new Prime Minister elect is remarkably popular… and the people are hopeful that his background in economics and business can help move the country in the right direction. The city of Beirut is alive and in many ways thriving… rather than being called “The City that Would Not Die” in should be called “The City That Lives”!