Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live faithfully...in the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Lebanon and Israel - seeing it from the ground level

I have a friend who does work with Samaritan's Purse, who has just returned from the middle of the conflict. His perpective is first hand and personal, and that's what's needed in order for us to respond. He writes:

In Beirut we were met by long time Church partners who had been ministering to the needs of the hundreds of thousands of people from the south who had been displaced from their homes in southern Lebanon by the war. The Church had set up a medical clinic on the church grounds and was distributing emergency food parcels to schools, churches, and other public places where the primarily Shiite population from the south had taken refuge. They were also giving away mattresses to individuals who were caring for displaced families in their homes. The blockade and bombing had cut off most supply routes into the country, so these essential goods were becoming harder to find. We were able to arrange for a regular sea convoy of food, medicine, and shelter materials from Cyprus to help sustain and multiply these efforts. Samaritan's Purse had a Lebanese Country Director on site already and he is now managing a greatly expanded relief program. The damage in the country is severe, so when the war ends the current relief programs will likely become rebuilding programs.
We still have two of our outside team there. Allister, an Australian, is an SP food specialist and he is organizing large scale food distribution programs. Steve is a professional photographer from Colorado who is documenting the efforts. You can see some of his work and some stories from the scene on the Samaritan's Purse website, www.samaritanspurse.org.
Beirut is a large city and the falling bombs were being targeted at the specific sites being used to store, transport, and launch weapons, so although we could hear the bombs exploding in distant areas of the city on some nights, we were not in real danger. One of our team took passage back to Cyprus on a vessel which was evacuating Canadian citizens. My boss and friend Ken Isaacs stayed on to continue the evaluation. Our plan was to leave via Syria on the one road still open to Damascus. However the day before we were scheduled to depart, the major bridges on that road leading out of Beirut were bombed. Our hotel had a view of the highway so we could see some of the trucks loaded down with weapons from Syria which were the target of the bombing. The nearest destroyed bridge was about two miles from our hotel.
Since there were no other routes out of the country, we were able to get passage on a helicopter from the US Embassy. I am never anxious to board helicopters, but it was better than staying there. The helicopter was a USAF war machine holding about 20 passengers with rocket launchers strapped to the sides and manned machine gun positions fore and aft. The in-flight entertainment included a mid-air refueling from a huge C-140 cargo plane out over the sea. Since we were restricted to one suitcase of less than 15 kg, I had to leave my luggage and most of my clothing in Lebanon. I'm sure that my friends at the Church have put it to good use.
We spent the night in Cyprus and bought some new clothes. The next evening Ken and I took a commercial flight to Tel Aviv, Israel. We met with government officials in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but our main contact was with the council of local government officials. The administrators there arranged for us to travel to the towns in northern Israel which had been hardest hit by the rocket attacks. The Hezbollah had been using primarily a Katusha rocket which is fired in banks or two to thirty at a time. These are somewhat primitive weapons by today's standards in that they are aimed very generally by backing a launching truck into an approximate position and firing. They destroy by spreading over wide areas rather than hitting specific targets, so most often land in civilian areas. The warheads contain a high explosive and thousands of small projectiles which have the potential to kill for about 1/2 mile. The towns which we visited each had a population of under 50,000 and had each been hit by 300 to 600 of these missiles. The results were pretty devastating. Cars with holes spaced 2-3 inches apart covering one entire side and exit holes out the entire opposite side. 1" thick steel plate cratered and dented. Groups of homes entirely destroyed. Israel has the advantage that it is a developed nation, so rebuilding occurs while the damage continues. There have been few fatalities because there are reinforced bomb shelters for the people. The problem is that many people have now been living in those shelters for over one month. We visited one windowless shelter about 30' square which housed 45 children and 15 adults. Those Israelis who have family elsewhere or have enough money, have left for the south. Primarily the poor are the ones left in the towns.
We decided to do what we could for the towns of Karmiel, Kiryat Shmona, and Nahariya. We met with the mayors and other town officials and each had different needs which we were able to supply. In one town we provided air conditioners and televisions for 30 shelters. In another we provided vouchers for the residents to buy whatever they needed, primarily food and clothing, from a series of large stores in the area. In the third we provided milk, cheese, fruit, infant formula, etc. to supplement the dry rations which the residents had been living on for the past month. Since we don't have a permanent staff in Israel, our intervention was in the form of this one time gift. However, we have cemented relationships which will help us to return as needed both now and as the war ends.
When the air raid sirens go off, you have about 30 seconds to find shelter before the missiles began to hit. On one occasion we got very close with our driver in a culvert next to the road after a siren sounded. There was another alarm while we visited with one of the mayors. We stood in the interior hallway to be in the safest position. I got to see first hand the terror on the faces of the old people standing there with me. I watched tears of anguish on the face of a 70 year old peasant woman with a bandana wrapped around her head as she desperately held on to her husband. Not a good thing to see. One of the mayor's offices was temporarily in an underground bunker. As we sat and talked a siren sounded and we could hear 12 muffled thumps over us. Business continued as if nothing happened. The phone rang with the report. Nobody had been killed. The property damage was thus irrelevant. Just after we left the office, the siren sounded again. We sprinted to a nearby wall and squatted against it until the attack was over. These towns look just like any similar sized town in America.
As we drove back toward Tel Aviv the driver told us when we had entered the valley of Armageddon.
It is good to be home.

3 Comments:

At 16/8/06 23:33, Anonymous ksmith said...

Thanks for sharing, Richard. It is helpful to read informed, unbiased coverage.

 
At 17/8/06 14:33, Blogger Josiah said...

It's sobering to see suffering on both sides. Thank you for giving your readers perspective.

 
At 3/9/06 05:53, Blogger Terry Hamblin said...

Thanks for this posting. After all the propaganda it is helpful to see some unbiased reporting. I have purloined your friend's report (with attribution) for my own blog at http://mutated-unmuated.blogspot.com/.

I found it because my own son Richard and his family, who have moved to Seattle from England for a year, tells me he will be visiting your church this Sunday (3rd September) in the hope they will find a spiritual home for the next 12 months.

 

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