Why We’re Church Planting in a Conflict Zone

Acts 29: Churches Planting Churches

What’s the first thought that comes to mind when you think of Beirut, Lebanon? War? Fashion? Refugees? Food?

There’s no place like Beirut. It’s one of the oldest cities in the world, continuously inhabited for the past 5,000 years.

Beirut is world-renowned for its food and hospitality. Food-and-culture authority Anthony Bourdain has highly recommended visiting the city. In the center of Beirut, you can find a church building and a mosque standing side by side. You can also see 2,000-year-old Roman ruins at the local mall.

Every Western country strongly warns against any travel to Lebanon—and not without reason. This place has a broken and violent past. Beirut has been destroyed and rebuilt seven times.

The effects and remnants of the 15-year civil war (1975–1990) are still seen today. We can’t walk more than two minutes without seeing a bullet-riddled building. Even our friends at the U.S. embassy can’t come over for dinner due to where we live in the city.

We can’t walk more than two minutes without seeing a bullet-riddled building. Even our friends at the U.S. embassy can’t come over for dinner due to where we live in the city.

So, then, what are my wife and I doing here? We’ve come to plant a church. We’ve been in Lebanon for a little more than a year, and in that time the country has been relatively stable. Sure, there are the occasional bomb threats or foiled attempts, along with the devastating nearby war in Syria. Yet for the most part, our life feels much as it did when we lived in Dubai or the States.

It seems a bit odd to highlight the lack of conflict, since tensions have risen recently. I understand a little better what a friend meant when he said, “Everything in Beirut is great until the moment it’s not.” Yet we press on.

Hard Places

As my wife and I followed the call to serve Christ in Lebanon, we weren’t ignorant as to what life could look like. We knew the history of the country and the constant instability in the region. We considered the decision through prayer, counsel, and often with tears.

We moved to Lebanon understanding the situation and counting the cost. But it was not in spite of the situation that we chose to come; in fact, it would be more accurate to say we came because we understood the times—and were convinced that the costs of not coming were far greater.

Most of the unreached in our world remain unreached because they live in hard places: whether they’re in closed communities, hard-to-access villages, or other dangerous places. The biblical call to go to them is not void because of these challenges.

If anything, this ought to be a more urgent matter for the church. Christ calls us to take the gospel to hard places. And the gospel will always conflict and confront; the setting or location is irrelevant.

Christ calls us to take the gospel to hard places. And the gospel will always conflict and confront; the setting or location is irrelevant.

All church plants face conflict and opposition, since the church is the kingdom of light piercing the darkness. In our context, that opposition might manifest itself differently than it does in the West, but our battle isn’t finally against flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12).

Opportunity in a Dying World

Tim Keller has written much about the dynamics of cities and how they afford great opportunities for the sake of the gospel. The same is true in conflict zones. I’ve spent many hours in conversation with individuals who may have never spoken to me if it not for wars in the region or fighting in their homeland.

People are asking questions they never would’ve asked before—questions they didn’t even know they had. They’re considering things about their beliefs they never would’ve considered if not for the conflict they see and experience.

There’s something about being in a conflict zone that strips away all that is fleeting and confronts you with the big questions of life—questions of purpose, significance, and eternity.

There’s something about being in a conflict zone that strips away all that is fleeting and confronts you with the big questions of life—questions of purpose, significance, and eternity.

These are incredible opportunities for the church to show a hurting, dying world the sacrificial love of Christ.

From the day we arrived in Lebanon, we’ve carried Bonhoeffer’s example as a banner, and today it’s fresher than ever. He chose not to leave Nazi Germany during World War 2 because he believed he wouldn’t be able to minister to his people if he didn’t endure the same trials they were enduring:

I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.

We are thankful for this brother’s example of leadership and love, and we pray that God might grant us the strength—albeit on a much smaller scale—to do likewise.

Anchor in the Unknown

There are so many unknowns in this part of the world, especially now. It’s quite possible we could wake up tomorrow and learn that Lebanon has been pulled into war. What’s been taking place in Syria for the past six years could be our next six years. And the cost weighs even more heavily when you have responsibility for a family.

But while the list of unknowns is much too long, we can’t live in a way that puts too much weight on temporal things. God’s promises in Christ are eternal and sure, and in Christ and his finished work we anchor our hope and trust.

The church has stood the test of time—through countless hard places and conflict zones, she has been kept standing because her Savior is strong.

We can trust a God who is sovereign over all lands and all peoples. He will accomplish his purposes, and he will continue to build his church (Matt. 16:18).

We pray and hope for peace in Lebanon, but in the meantime we have a commission from our King.

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