Can I love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me?
For Christians and many others in Lebanon, the answer to this question can be difficult and complex.
Lebanon is home to a number of communities from different ethnic, socio-economic, and faith backgrounds. This diversity combined with historical and current events continues to divide and break apart people in this country, making Lebanon a very challenging and intricate society to navigate. Many of these communities will conduct their lives without trying to relate to people from other different backgrounds. Some would even consider others their enemies just because of their religion, country they are from, and other affiliations or differences.
Animosity, anger, and hate are passed down from parents to their children impacting the lives of future generations and obstructing any hope for possible change.
Can reconciliation happen in such communities?
Can creative and productive activities, covered with love and prayer, break down walls of division and enmity?
The city of Bourj Hammoud (municipality in the Greater Beirut area) is one of the most densely populated areas in the Middle East. Families in this municipality are not only impacted by the dynamics of diversity, but also by the reality of poverty and other social challenges. Teenagers are among the most vulnerable in this city; they are easy targets of violence, abuse, and addictions. In addition, they also suffer the effects of lack of educational opportunities, hopelessness, family instability and disintegration, and absence of social support and safe places for their healthy development.
In the midst of such a multifaceted and complicated community, IDEAS is partnering with a local organization to facilitate reconciliation among youth and promote their development. IDEAS partner is establishing a youth center to implement programs that will help address some of these social challenges and provide peace-building activities among teenagers living in the city.
What would it look like to have Lebanese and Syrian youth studying in the same classroom together?
Would Turks and Armenian youth ever work together in a community improvement project?
Could youth from different faith backgrounds enjoy a game of ping-pong or air hockey?
There is reconciliation where hope remains.
Jennifer and Stephanie (pseudo names) are teenagers from different ethnic groups living in the same city in Beirut and attending the same school. Jennifer, a Lebanese, has been taught by her parents to despise Syrians. “They are dirty people. They have done wrong things in the past, and now they are paying the consequences of their actions living as refugees in our country.” Jennifer’s parents would never allow her to befriend a Syrian person.
Stephanie is Syrian, and her parents keep telling her to stay away from Lebanese: “They will make your life very difficult. Mind your own business at school, and if Lebanese do something against you, just ignore them and leave them alone."
Jennifer and Stephanie were part of pilot reconciliation program at their school, implemented by IDEAS’s partner. At the end of the 10-weeks program, Jennifer and Stephanie became such good friends that they are now able to visit each other in their houses and spend time together.
This peace-building program is one of a number of projects and activities that will be implemented at the youth center in Bourj Hammoud in order to bring reconciliation, transformation, and everlasting hope to the lives of youth in this community.
About the Author: David is the IDEAS Project Operations Director for Lebanon and provides leadership to the youth center in Bourj Hammoud. Along with his wife and three children, David has lived in Lebanon for the past four years. Read other blog posts by David: A New Kind of Community in Lebanon