It feels like it’s a physical manifestation of all of our grief over 2020, the whole world standing agape at the cataclysmic mushroom of horror that exploded over the port of Beirut this week.
The pandemic may be invisible.
The corona virus may feel like an elusive, evasive stalker that lives by its own logic.
But that seismic explosion, the third most powerful explosion that’s ever happened on planet earth? That explosion feels like all our global grief, all our consolidated losses, all our cumulative confusion, all our shared pain on full display, rupturing the the whole shocked sky.
That mushrooming cloud of decimation feels like a cataclysmic metaphor for our collective 2020.
I first walked the streets of Beirut in June of 2017.
Electricity wires loop and serpentine across streets, like every apartment’s trying to charm a bit of power their way in a country where citizens suffer through daily blackouts.
More than half of the day, most Lebanese struggle without electricity, smothering a Middle Eastern country day after day with no AC, no running water, no refrigeration. While electricity lines run undetectably through most cities, it’s like Beirut’s intestines are splayed and gaping for any passerby to witness the desperation.
On a Beirut street corner, I stopped to watch a canary in a cage still sing.
I’d been to the Middle East a few times before, but this time, humanitarian photographer, Esther Havens, and I had come seeking out real cruciform, Gospel-motivated humanitarians on the ground who were genuinely being the hands and feet of Jesus — and were doing it unashamedly in Jesus’ name.
We meet Pierre Houssney, a Lebanese-American living in Beirut. He’s director of a nearly 30 year old ministry, Horizons International, a global missions organization dedicated to proclaiming the gospel, discipling the nations and equipping the church, founded by his father, Georges Houssney, who is widely and well-known for his work supervising the translation and publication of the Bible into clear modern Arabic. This is a family who gave the whole scope of their lives to translate the Word of God into Arabic, changed the Middle East, and the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, a family who believes:
Humanitarian aid doesn’t deeply aid unless it points to the Son of Man Himself.
Unless humanitarian aid ultimately points to Jesus, what would ultimately be the point?
When I read this week that 300,000 people — 12% of the city of Beirut — has been left homeless after the unfathomable catastrophe, I think of what Pierre said:
“Evangelical churches in Lebanon are responding by showing Christ’s love through humanitarian aid and sharing the gospel to an unprecedented extent,” Pierre’s a man who speaks with deep assurance, deep integrity.
When I had flown home from Beirut in 2017, I’d told the Farmer that Esther and I had found ministries doing real Gospel-centred work in the Middle East, that Pierre and Horizon’s was changing the Middle East, not just with a handout but as the genuine hands of Jesus.
As a family, of all the work we’d seen in the Middle East, we chose to support Horizon’s School of Hope because Horizon schooled me in what it looks like to show up in the middle of heartache when Jesus is your certain, unshakeable hope.
When I see the looming plumes of smoke climbing the stratosphere over Beirut, and our already reeling 2020 feels suckered punched in the gut, I pound out a stunned email Pierre, a humble man whose made his life more than only helping people but about saving souls.
And Pierre shoots me back a shell-shocked few lines:
“We are now trying to obtain rolls of plastic and tape so that we can help people get their window frames covered, with expectations that these makeshift coverings will need to last for the next few months.
We pray that before the rainy and cold winter comes, most will be able to find better solutions, but plastic will have to do for now.
We are going to be mobilizing multi-church teams of volunteers to go out through the city and repair as many windows as possible.
And our sandwiches project is also super urgent, as they are currently estimating that up to 300,000 people are homeless in Beirut right now.
They say that days later in Beirut, after the explosion knocked out every window for miles and miles, that “every waking hour, every sleepless minute is punctuated by the sound of broken glass: cracked window panes crashing, shards being swept, piles of shattered glass dumped on street corners. More glass, more shards in our hearts.”
All our hearts are shattered shards in 2020.
One explosion over Beirut may feel like the manifestation of the catastrophe that feels like our 2020, and all our windows have been blown out — and honestly, some days, these days, there can feel like a blackout of Hope.
But never doubt: hearts on fire for Christ can detonate Hope.
Which is exactly what happened when just yesterday, Samir, a Lebanese staff member at Horizons, went to a local bakery in obliterated Beirut to purchase 600 bags of bread for Horizon’s food distribution and Sandwich Project, as people are direly hungry and “wheat stored at port, which is Lebanon’s main gateway for imports, made up some 85% of its grain supply, and no longer can be used after the explosion.”
The bakery owner asked who Samir was, looking to buy that much bread.
“‘We’re with Horizons… remember Boutros, who comes and buys bread from you?” This is the fruit of people, like the team at Horizon’s, serving in a crisis being people who actually live and having long-term relationship in that community: Boutros knows the bakers well, sharing with them on previous visits that Horizons is a ministry motivated by the heart of Christ, that distributes food to everyone without prejudice, serving Muslims with Christ-like love.
On the spot, buying these 600 bags of bread, Horizon’s Samir starts sharing the hope of Jesus and unchanging Good News with the bakers, because the bottom line always is:
Are you really doing good work if there’s no sharing the really Good News?
“I have wonderful news for you!” The Baker in Beirut smiles to Samir. “Someone just told us this week, they want to donate 1,000 bags of bread to someone who deserves it. They said they don’t want it going just to anyone.”
And right in front of Horizon’s Samir, the owner of the bakery makes a phone call to the potential bread donor:
“What you asked for is here in the store!” The Baker is talking fast, animated — hopeful: Horizons is a Christian ministry that shares more than just bread — they share the Living Bread of Christ.
The donor replied:
“I don’t know anyone more deserving than the people of Horizons to take and distribute these 1,000 bags of bread.”
Horizon’s Samir came to buy 600 bags of bread — and walked out with a gift of 1000 bags of bread.
There is certain Hope on the Horizon — and it is always the people who show up with Living Bread in their hands, because He is our certain Hope.
“Pray that the Holy Spirit would be ripening the hearts of the people in Beirut that are in despair, that have no other valid place to put their hope,” he said.
“That they will transfer that hope away from whatever it was: their money that is now gone, the institutions that they relied on, their schooling, their jobs, their companies—whatever they had their hope in, that they would transfer that hope to Jesus.”
In the streets of Beirut in 2020, when rescue efforts are being hampered by scarce electricity, there can be bread handed out and windows replaced and the sparking of a far more powerful current of Hope looping around the world on full display.
We can show up now to be the power grid of Hope that shows up and keeps the Light shining, that shows up and keeps people fed, that keeps people protected from winds and rain.
While we’re all fighting all kinds of invisible enemies, nothing can stop Hope from being clearly visible.
In the middle of a global pandemic and an otherworldly explosion — there can be a surge of Love that lets an otherworldly Hope break in.
The shockwaves of 2020 can meet a rising wave of Hope.
Because: There is nothing like being part of a worthy cause that claims Jesus is worthy.
In the middle of a pandemic, Pierre’s buying rolls of plastic for windows for those with damaged homes, and Samir’s buying bread for those on the streets and desperately hungry, and all of us right now, in the middle of all the things, get to choose:
When it feels like the end of the world — we can show up to prove Hope never ends.
And maybe that caged canary on the Beirut street corner has taken wing, flying through this wide open window of opportunity, to sing Hope all across the sky.
How can we Show Up Now to be the hands & feet of Jesus?
Unless humanitarian aid ultimately points to Jesus, what would ultimately be the point?