Proclaiming Hope One Year Later
August 12, 2021
A Peacemaking Workshop Series with a Local Church
July 16, 2021

How the Beirut Blast Changed Us

Stories and Updates from a Yearlong Response to the Beirut Blast

The past year has been a tremendous journey for Lebanon. While the world struggled with a global pandemic and varying economic difficulties, Lebanon had the added weight of contending with the aftermath of the August 4, 2020, Beirut port blast. Thousands were harmed by the explosion. Victims of the blast lost their lives, their loved ones, and their lives’ work within seconds. Since then, there has been an outpouring of love from friends regionally and abroad who had a heart to help those impacted by the blast. We at ABTS, through the support of many of our friends and partners abroad, and in partnership with local churches and Christian organizations, were able to play a small part in serving the individuals impacted by the blast.

One year later, we know that things are not better today than they were back then. If anything, the situation in Lebanon has grown gradually worse over the past year, with no real end in sight. At the same time, however, as we look back, we can see how God was continuously reaching out His hand in support of the people of Lebanon. Today, we want to share with you the accounts of some of our team members and local partners who have served families impacted by the blast as they reflect on how they have seen the Lord reach out lovingly to the blast victims.

Walid Zailaa, Academic Dean

As I write down these words on the same day a year later, I recall the magnitude of the August 4 Beirut explosion, which pulverized not only half of the city but also the hearts and minds of many, including ours here at ABTS. The harrowing disaster left every one of us speechless, wondering what had happened. Never, even in fifteen years of civil war in Lebanon, had we experienced such a colossal explosion that shook the ABTS campus from such a distance in one single blast. Although incomprehensible, the state of utter motionlessness did not linger long. We strongly felt the need to step in and help those directly affected. Strategically, the ABTS move was administered at two levels: hosting families and partnering with local churches.

Reaching out to some of the victims of the blast, feeling their pain, and helping them out has had a great impact on us as a theological community. Theology, if not translated in action remains abstract, theoretical, and irrelevant. The ultimate example for us to learn from is the divine act of incarnation. In our helplessness, God reached out to us not only through a plan He had but also through its execution when the Word, our Lord and Savior Jesus, identified Himself with us by becoming like us to save us.

As one body, in tandem with local churches, we did our best to create a safe environment for some of those impacted by providing food, shelter, and spiritual care to a good number of affected families. During their stay on the ABTS campus, we have learned to cry with those in pain, to pray with those in sorrow, and to grieve with those who have lost everything.

I have learned that the more we engage with our community embodying the love of Christ, the more we grow and mature in our theology.

Rana Wazir Zailaa, Registrar

The small bit of work we were able to do at ABTS to support those impacted by the blast had a deep impact on me spiritually. Before, I wasn’t really good at reaching out to others and sharing the love of God. Living in a community of believers, I was used to sharing God’s love through my actions instead of my words. Oftentimes, that was the only way for me to reflect my faith. With the blast, the Lord created an opportunity for us to share His love with others, both through actions and through words. In everything that happened in the aftermath of the blast, we felt the Lord work through us and through the people we were able to support. We saw this in the people and what they would say. Experiencing people’s difficulties and pains changed how I look at life and how I reach out to others. I learned that we need to show others love and attention rather than always look for ways to solve their problems. Now, especially in this crisis, I am more aware that it is often impossible to help enough. But we can do small things, and those small things help people overcome some of their difficulties.

I have been at ABTS for 14 years, but this was the first time I experienced this side of ministry at ABTS. The experience further informed our understanding of our community and our context. We were exposed to new needs in our community. We felt the need to help others firsthand, and it changed our approach to ministry. It taught us a lot about what our students go through, and this helps us reach out to them even more contextually.

I am thankful that, at a time when people think that they are justified in blaming God, we had the opportunity to share with them His love and hope.

Sisil Al-Agha, Senior Academic Coordinator

I grew up in a church community. My childhood was peaceful and sheltered. I had never met the need that is present in our society. When the blast happened, I felt I needed to do something. As I reached out to help, I became aware of the deep pain in the community surrounding me. Yes, they suffered with the blast, but many of the people I could help had already been suffering before it. I could see why they thought God was unjust. Still, throughout this experience, I truly came to know how completely the Lord was in control. He had sent people to us so we could help them, and I felt that I needed to share with others that God isn’t the source of evil. He is there to help us understand what is happening, comfort us, and help us overcome the difficulties. He is hope. I am grateful that the people we served were able to see hope in God and learn of his mercy. I am thankful that the Lord empowered us to serve others.

The experience changed my outlook on life. I learned that the Lord had been calling me to give more to the world and do more for people in need. I learned how to share more and how important it is to share openly with those around me.

I felt that we as community at ABTS grew closer to each other throughout the past year. We were able to help and support each other. we were also able to come together and work to serve the people around us. We learned about how we often fall into the busyness of the world and forget to take time to get in touch with the Lord. We learned to pray and to always put God first. As a community, ABTS has helped me help others and supported me as I came to terms and continue to come to terms with the circumstances around me. Throughout the difficulty of the past year, I am thankful that we were able to help some people, in our limited capacity, to feel that there was still hope in the world, and that it came from our Lord.

Rabih Hasbany, Certificate in Ministry Program Lead

Knowing that God created the blast victims in His image and coming face to face with the hurt they had experienced was very difficult. It created a lot of anger and questioning in me. I often asked myself why these people had to suffer. But, while I was still learning to deal with my emotions, the Lord was hard at work through His Church in Lebanon. I am thankful that we were able to play a small role in helping support the blast victims.

The media often turns the people impacted by the blast into objects or statistics. Many of the people I was able to help shared that they had felt dehumanized by the experience, so I learned that it was very important for us to reach out to them in a manner that preserves their dignity and self-worth, and what better way is there to reach out to others than through the love of Christ? In seeing how God mobilized the Church community to serve as many people as it could, I learned to be dedicated to God’s will, regardless of the effort it might require. I learned to put my concerns aside. Through the Lord’s support, we were able to help some people regain parts of the life they used to have. Seeing people smile because of small gestures showed me that I needed to give more, and through this, the Lord taught me to give selflessly.

In sharing with others about the Lord, I felt a strong need to strengthen my own relationship with God. I felt that it was easy to be drained, and that I needed to rely on the Lord rather than on myself or on others. The Lord is the source of our replenishment.

I also learned to see God and glorify Him for who He is and for His nature rather than what He has done for me. We face a lot of problems and difficulties in our lives. Knowing how great the Lord is helped me understand that, though I am powerless in comparison, He has the ability to make a large difference where it is needed.

Joubran Hasbany, Office Representative

I have always helped with ministry needs at ABTS, but this was the first time I was able to serve people directly. Ministry is different when you interact with the people directly. You feel their suffering, and you see their circumstances. Some of them have lived in the same place for 50 years, and suddenly their homes were gone. Others wanted to move on to new homes but couldn’t afford it. Some are sick, and they can’t afford treatment.

The people we were able to serve often opened up to us. When you talk to them, you see how much they are hurt, and how often they just need someone to talk to. This changed me a lot. I did not feel this way at first. I knew it had been a difficult circumstance, so I sympathized with those impacted, but when I went and sat with them, I began to feel for them. I don’t usually ask about people or check up on them, not even my family. I share my affection through action but never knew how to communicate it effectively. That’s just how I was raised. I had been very distant for a while, but the Lord showed me how important it is for us to reach out to others. Asking people about their feelings and how they are doing really makes a difference.

The happiness I see in the people we were able to help showed me how the Lord wants us to serve others so that they can gain His eternal joy. I am not the best at talking and reaching out, but the opportunities the Lord gave me forced me out of my shell. The experience showed me the truth about the Lord and why He calls us to love even our enemies.

The Lord has shaped me a lot during my time at ABTS. When I came here, the Lord showed me that He had placed me here to better me and mold me. I am thankful that the Lord used my time here so I could better serve the people in my community.

Loulwa El Maalouf, Director of Partnerships

It has been over a year since the Beirut port explosion! The memory is still so recent in my mind. Having previously worked in the Port of Beirut, it is impossible for me to hold back tears when I see videos of the blast, when I hear the names of the people I knew who died at the port, and when I see videos of people sharing about their lost loved ones. One year later, I continue to feel that there has been no resolution and no closure, that the bridge toward justice is destroyed.

Yet, amid all of this, I found comfort in being part of a ministry that responded with all its effort to the peoples’ needs, and that opened its campus to those who needed it the most. It was also very humbling to see how many people, churches, and organizations came together to help ease the pain and fill the need.

One viral photo from the blast that continues to circulate today is that of an old man, bloodied and wounded, sitting slumped on a sidewalk. The photo does not show the depth of his wounds, nor does it show the wounds his family members sustained, nor even the damage to his home and cab, but it does show deep pain. Yet, every time I see this photo, I get a sense of relief. Why? Because seeing it reminds me that the Lord was there, amidst the debris, caring for the people through His Church. This man and his family found shelter at ABTS when they needed it most. The Lord provided for their food and drink. People they don’t know helped send them medicine and a much-needed oxygen machine. Strangers and distant relatives helped them find a new home. A church adopted them and helped them furnish their new home. Their own acquaintances and people they don’t know from the West helped buy them a new cab. It is a breath of fresh air because I see teachings from the Sermon on the Mount come to action. Initiatives from people all around the world helped comfort and relieve this man and his family.
In all this we give praise to God, and we pray that His light continues to shine through His Church in Lebanon.