Building hope in Lebanon

On a war-torn Lebanese mountainside, about an hour’s drive southeast of Beirut, young lives are being healed and hope is being restored.

Zinab-closeup-300x200The Beit el Safa girls home, nestled in a pine forest just a few miles down the road from Lebanon’s famous Al-Shouf Cedar Reserve, looks like the church conference center it once was. That is, until you step inside.

The home’s cook, Nada Fayad, has been preparing lunch. The aroma of Lebanese cuisine — meats, vegetables and flat bread – permeates the building. A teenager checks herself in the mirror, then joins her giggling friends in the narrow hallway. A 9-year-old girl, Amina, scoots down the hall to join the others in the dining room.

The girls have just returned home from school. After lunch, they’ll do their daily housekeeping chores and then settle into studying. A girl from the nearby village helps with tutoring. In the evening, they’ll have devotional time with singing and prayer.

A place of peace

In Arabic, Beit el Safa means “home of serenity.” It represents a place of peace for 10 girls whose family lives have been torn apart. Some are orphans, but not all. All sorts of abuse are represented – verbal, physical, sexual. The girls come from several Arab nationalities and many backgrounds. Within Lebanon, they come from urban Beirut, the Bakaa valley and the recently war-torn south.

“Here, I feel more safe than when I stay in my home,” says Heba, 12, who came here from Sudan with the help of a pastor with connections to Beirut. She has lived at Beit al Safa for three years. “I have fun here.”

The girls who live here range in age from 9 to 18. Most will stay until age 18 or 19, although they can choose to leave earlier. The home has accepted girls as young as 4. Beit al Safa often receives girls through the Lebanese government’s Ministry of Social Affairs.

Long waiting list

Beit-el-Safa-homework-girl-300x200There’s room for more girls – the main building could house up to 20, and with some rehabbing a second building on the compound could hold a few more. There’s a long list of girls waiting for an opportunity to come. But none of that can happen without a larger budget and a larger staff. That’s the challenge for Director Alain Farhat: finding people who want to come here and serve.

“It’s not a simple job,” he says. “There is a salary, but it’s more of a ministry.”

Support comes from various international Christian agencies like ReachGlobal, via the Beirut Free Evangelical Church (BFEC). Also, Kids Alive International, of Valparaiso, Ind., helps sponsor the home, and also a boys home in Beirut, Dar El Awlad. Some of the girls at Beit el Safa have brothers at Dar El Awlad.

Besides Alain, the home’s five-person staff includes a house mother, a cook, a driver and a tutor. Alain’s wife, Rolla, also lives on-site and works as a secretary at the nearby Lebanese Evangelical School. The girls living at the home do their share of the home’s day-to-day maintenance – physical and social.

“I have three small girls in my room,” says Iman, a 16-year-old Egyptian girl who has lived at the home for 11 years. “So I have to take care of them, help them, teach them sometimes – like, not to fight, take care of each other.”

For additional long-term staff, Alain needs Lebanese people – perhaps a couple who wants to serve together – because foreign missionaries have difficulty getting a visa longer than a year.

Beit-el-Safa-vista-300x196“I want somebody who can continue with the girls,” he says. “It’s not really healthy to have, every year, different people who are caring for them.”

That doesn’t mean, though, that the home doesn’t also have opportunities for foreign missionaries.

“We need short-term volunteer helpers as well, for 9 months or 12 months,” Alain said. “They can help with tutoring and activities.”

Shadows of war

The name of the nearby village, Naba el Safa, means “spring of serenity.” But behind the Shouf region’s picturesque landscape lurks a particularly bloody history.

In the early 1980s, during Lebanon’s long civil war (1975-91), the Mountain War occurred here, between the Israeli-supported Lebanese Forces and Druze militia. Civilian villagers, both Christian and Druze, were caught in the middle. Thousands were massacred and more than 60 villages demolished.

The Beirut FEC had built a conference center on this site in the 1960s. But during the Mountain War, Druze militia occupied the camp and buildings were badly damaged in fighting.

After the Lebanese civil war ended, one of the Beirut FEC’s first priorities was caring for devastated families. With the camp available again, the church reopened it as a girls home in 1996, welcoming girls who had been orphaned or whose families were otherwise unable to care for them.

Two years later, Alain, a draftsman who worked for an architect in Beirut, signed on as the home’s director. He’d grown up in a village 20 minutes from here. But, coming back to the mountains in a ministry role was a big decision for him and Rolla.

“At church, I wasn’t much involved, except with the youth ministry and with the teens,” he says. “I really love ministry with youth and teens.”

The Beirut FEC pastor, Joseph, asked Alain and Rolla where and how they would like to serve God, and if they’d like to go to the Shouf mountains and operate the girls home.

“That was a strange idea after the civil war,” Alain says. “This is a Druze area, and many massacres took place in the mountains here. When the pastor suggested this idea, we said ‘No, no, no.’ Not because of the civil war, but because we weren’t thinking about serving the Lord full-time.”

As time passed, Joseph kept mentioning the need, and Alain and Rolla began to sense God’s call.

“We started to pray seriously, and we fasted for one week,” he says. “We asked the Lord to give us a sign. Not a supernatural sign, but just a sign to make us sure if the Lord wants us to come up or not. And then, after one week, he gave us an inner peace – my wife and I both at the same time.”

Friends, even within the church, weren’t so sure. How could they stand being away from the city and the church? The church issue wasn’t an issue at all; every Sunday they load the girls into a van and drive to Beirut for worship.

“It’s only 50 minutes’ drive,” Alain says. “It’s nothing.” Mainly they were concerned for them because of the political problems.

“But thank God, we believe we are in the midst of his will.”

They’d just love to have more help and be able to serve more girls.

What you can do

Give

Donate today. The home has struggled financially in the past five years. Prices for necessities like heating oil have risen dramatically.  Transportation – to school and to Beirut on Sundays – is a continuing issue. If the home does take on more girls and more staff, they’ll need a 25-seat bus instead of the van they use now.

They’d also like to provide the girls with new bicycles, scooters, roller skates and a playhouse.

Pray

  • For ways the home can reduce expenses (a solar heating system is being considered).
  • For God to call a Lebanese couple to join the home as full-time staff.

Consider

Serving in a short-term position at Beit el Safa. Write to beitelsafa@terra.net.lb

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