June 10, 2015
“…The righteous flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
to declare that the Lord is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.”
Al-Chouf Cedar Nature Reserve, Barouk, Lebanon
BEIRUT: Believers from all over Lebanon gathered for an unprecedented evening together on Sunday, May 17 on the campus of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary. The event was hosted by Dar Manhal al Hayat publishing house and the Convention of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Lebanon. Entire church congregations arrived together by bus, and long-time friends in the ministry reunited with warmth in a crowd characterized by both enthusiasm and solemnity. Being celebrated was the collective fruit of faithful lives, some of them named and honored, but many known only to the One who called them. It was a day heavy with remembrance and grateful worship.
This crowd gathered because of the release of a long-anticipated book written and published in the Arabic language, The History of the Baptist Churches in Lebanon. This work is rich with the stories of believers who were steadfast in their devotion to Christ throughout the last 100+ years of Lebanese Baptist history. It tells the story of faithful men and women of God, including those who served between the world wars and others whose ministries took place during Lebanon’s own violent civil war. It preserves historic data like a slogan that was popular almost a century ago among Lebanese Baptists – “A free church and a free country” – which became a reality when Lebanon achieved its independence in 1943.
Photo taken at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in the 1960s
Due to a lack of written records, the author gathered the details of this history by interviewing current pastors and ministry leaders who received the mantle of ministry from now-deceased Lebanese pastors and leaders. His research did uncover some treasures like this letter, however, written almost one hundred years ago by a Lebanese pastor in Beirut and read at the event by ABTS President Elie Haddad,
“For what do we have in this life? My only preoccupation in this life is the spread of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ …Therefore I exhort you, O beloved, to serve the Lord as long as we have life …I give my life to work freely in all faithfulness and good conscience toward God and men, so that maybe God will show me the Church spread across this country, even from a distance as God showed Moses the holy land from the top of the mountain. I am not coveting anything in this life, to have a name or fame, nor am I immortal in it. I am going quickly, so what benefit do I have in owning this life? However, I do not want to leave from this life without leaving for Jesus a memory and a name that cannot be washed away, however the days turn. Do not waste time, because time is very precious. Ask the Lord to make our heart and thoughts holy and to give us wisdom so that we can glorify Him and so that we would not bring blaspheme upon His name. May the grace of our Lord Jesus be with your soul. Amen.
Your brother in the Lord,
Salim as-Sharouk (1919)”
Now an elderly woman herself, Pastor as-Sharouk’s daughter was presented with an invaluable keepsake discovered in a desk at Dar Manhal al Hayat publishing house before the release of The History of Baptist Churches in Lebanon. After she made her way to the stage Sawsan Tannoury, Publishing Manager of Dar Manhal al Hayat, presented her with the well-worn Bible used by her own father during his ministry.
DMAH Publishing Manager, Ms. Sawsan Tannoury (back, right), presenting Pastor as-Sharouk’s daughter with his Bible
As the crowd of old and young, Baptist and non-Baptist followers of Jesus listened to the perspectives of respected Lebanese church leaders and watched fifteen pastors be honored for thirty years (or more) of faithful ministry, the picture painted in Psalm 92 seemed particularly appropriate. “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon,” the ancient psalmist expressed. “They still bear fruit in old age,” and they live to “declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock.”
And declarations about God’s faithfulness and glory were the resounding theme of the day. As speaker after speaker rose to the podium, the emphasis was not on any one denomination. The celebration did not focus on any one church, any one leader, or any one organization. Each person who stepped onto the platform overflowed with sincere awe at their faithful God whose work through His people in Lebanon was clearly evident in the history being remembered that day.
Before Psalm 92 refers to the “righteous” who flourishes “like a cedar in Lebanon,” the psalmist exalts, “For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the work of your hands I sing for joy” (Psalm 92:4). It was “His work,” the work accomplished by God Himself through “weak vessels,” as they described themselves, in the spotlight that day. As Rev. Dr. Samuel Kharrat, president of the Lebanese Baptist Evangelical Convention expressed from the stage, The History of the Baptist Churches in Lebanon is “not just the story of Baptist churches, but the story of God.” This reality was stewarded reverently during the creation of the book, as expressed by Rev. Dr. Ghassan Khalaf, who served as editor and wrote its forward. He stated, “Our first responsibility in this history is to God the Father, Son, and Spirit, which ties us with a common history to all Christians.” The author, Rev. Dr. Pierre Francis’ sentiment was the same. He stated with gravity, “We’re talking about the history of the salvation of sinners.”
Those gathered were not only interested in the history of God’s work through faithful believers in Lebanon, however. It was evident that the hearts of Lebanese Christ-followers beat for continued Gospel witness in their country. Pastor Kharrat exhorted the audience saying, “The harvest is plentiful and the workers are few. We need to look for those called by God to spread the gospel.” His perspective of the current state of the Church in Lebanon was that of a modern-day prophet. “We see the Spirit of God moving over dry bones from the mountains to the sea,” he said. “We will behold the salvation of the Lord.”
A crowd gathered at “History from History,” the book release event. An overflow room upstairs was also full.
Given the opportunity to share that day were younger pastors and leaders who are currently in the throes of fruitful and growing ministry in Lebanon. They expressed a focus on Christ and His Gospel that is reminiscent of the pastors who have gone before them and cast a vision for the continued health and growth of local churches in Lebanon. Pastor Jihad Haddad, serving in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, stated, “The only solution for all of the Middle East is Jesus Christ.” Dr. Hikmat Kashouh, pastor of Hadath Baptist Church in Beirut, challenged the audience with the necessity of unity among churches for the purpose of the Gospel. And Mrs. Sawsan Tannoury, a leader exuding unmistakable passion for serving the Church in the Arab world by equipping it with theological resources in the Arabic language, described the role of Dar Manhal Al Hayat: “Five loaves and two fish. Five small stones in the hand of a boy,” she said. “This is the story of our publishing house. We started small, and we’re going to carry our books and continue giving water to millions of souls.” This year, Dar Manhal Al Hayat is publishing sixteen Arabic language books from both Arab and Western authors. These include works by John MacArthur, Chuck Swindoll, and a theological resource by Arab author Hanna El Helou.
The May 17th gathering was a testimony to the faithfulness of God through His people in Lebanon. In this lush and tumultuous nation, may Christ’s followers continue to flourish like the cedars that are such a cherished and elegant part of their landscape and history. May they, as Pastor as-Sharouk urged, live to “leave for Jesus a memory and a name.”