By Grayson Hester
As the crisis in Ukraine continues to dominate headlines and millions of refugees travel across Europe, American readers would be forgiven for forgetting the other ongoing crises we face.
There’s the pandemic, of course. And, when we have the wherewithal, we can consider the climate crisis, existential in its escalation. But what about the persistent crises in the Middle East? What about, namely, Lebanon?
One of the seemingly countless calamities that captured our attention in 2020 was the historic explosion in the port of Beirut, which nearly shattered the nation’s already-fragile political apparatus. But as the dust settled and the fire faded from the sky, so too did the event fade from our memory.
This was not so for Chaouki and Maha Boulos. These Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel, commissioned to serve in Lebanon and among the Lebanese people and refugees, have endured cataclysm, corruption, COVID-19 and conflict to provide unending ministry to people who, nearly two years later, still desperately need it. They’ve endured a disruption that those in the United States, even at the height of the pandemic and quarantine, would have found intolerable—virtually nonexistent internet access and electricity.
When I tried to conduct an interview with the Bouloses via WhatsApp, we were relegated to an hour-long window in which rationed electricity was made available for people to use. And even then, the connection was so unreliable that we couldn’t hold a conversation for longer than five minutes before the call dropped. And dropped. And kept dropping.
In a move for which my former journalism professors would have certainly docked me a letter grade or two, the Bouloses and I agreed it was best for them to answer questions via e-mail. Excerpts from my questions and their written responses are below.
Since the filming of the “Because Presence Matters” video last year, have there been any significant changes or developments in your ministries?
Presence on the field is proving its importance day-after-day. If we were not here, we wouldn’t be able to know the needs of the people, which is becoming more difficult by the day. Because we live here, we are passing through the same hard things that the people of Lebanon, as well as the refugees, are facing daily. From basic needs such as getting sufficient food to obtaining medicine and access to medical operations, we are asked by help people every day if we can help.
Of course, some needs are harder to assist with than others—such as getting the cancer medicines that used to be covered by the Ministry of Health, the cost of which is now the responsibility of patients.
Yesterday, a man from a Baptist church in North Lebanon contacted me with a request from a family whose daughter needs a lung cancer medicine that costs $2,500 monthly. (That amount is half the cost of the actual price, only because it can be purchased from Argentina.)
In most cases, we are able to assist families with medicine, many thanks to Christian churches and individuals from the U.S., who empower us to help many suffering people. But when it comes to big needs where thousands of dollars are needed, we are unfortunately incapable of assisting. But as we believe that the Lord is the Healer, we always bring such requests to the Lord and ask for His healing for these individuals.
What is the most pressing need you address on a daily basis?
The most pressing need is to continue to provide the Lebanese, as well as refugees, with food packages until these hard times come to an end. Most recently, our humble food packages have increased in value and required number. Two years ago, we would cater for 650 families. Today, our numbers have exceeded 930 families that receive a food package every five to six weeks. Our food packages always had milk and oil, which have now jumped in price and even sometimes become scarce.
We are grateful that we can now offer food packages of greater value, having grown from $14 to $22. Today, we are able to add more basic items to our food packages and people seem to be much happier when they discover what’s inside.
In circumstances that seem from the outside to be hopeless, where have you found hope? How have you seen God work?
In hard circumstances, we know that the Lord Jesus is with us and with the people we are serving. We pray for them, as Jesus is our only hope. Many times, we have felt hopeless; but it is in these circumstances that the power of the Lord comes through and God answers our prayers miraculously.
For instance, before Christmas, R.’s 42-year-old son was kidnapped as he was trying to leave Syria and go to Europe. He was caught by a mafia that started sending videos to R., asking for a ransom to free him. He was no longer in Syria. It took some time to locate him, and we prayed fervently at meetings that the Lord would free him from his captivity.
Usually, when such kidnappings happen, people disappear for good. But we praise the Lord that R.’s son was found and was released a week after that. What a big miracle! We were all so excited about this big answer to our prayers.
Will you please update readers on your other ministries?
In 2011, war started in Syria, and Maha started a women’s meeting of 16 women at a Kurdish woman’s apartment. The numbers got bigger every week. Today, We have more than 550 women and more than 75 on the waiting list. After this success, some men started joining, which encouraged Chaouki to start a men’s meeting. Now, we have more than 100 men attending the men’s meeting.
From these meetings, we started opening the center doors for small groups to meet. Now, less than two years later, the Kurdish ministry has become a church, and another Lebanese ministry became a church, too.
A third ministry, led by an American missionary that meets at our center, has also become a church. We praise the Lord for allowing us to open our doors for those ministries. As we are doing our work here, we have experienced the Lord expanding God’s kingdom and growing the work among the Lebanese and among the refugees. Praise be to God’s name.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of fellowship! magazine. Read the issue online at http://www.cbf.net/fellowship.