“They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.”
I wish you could have seen Beirut and Aleppo when we did. Carol and I were in our early twenties when work and wanderlust took us to the Middle East. We lived in Iran for several years, and our travels throughout the Islamic world between Turkey and Afghanistan took us as well to Lebanon and Syria.
Our time in Beirut, back when it was still referred to as “the Paris of the Middle East,” was memorable. We had hardly been there a few weeks, visiting friends who lived just south of Lebanon’s capital, when the sectarian tensions we had sensed almost on first arriving spilled over into violence. I doubt we’ll ever forget the anxious taxi ride that took us safely out of Beirut as the fighting raged. Beirut had rebuilt to a point perhaps rivaling its more carefree days before the plight of Palestinian refugees brought the Arab/Israeli war to its palm-lined streets and Mediterranean shore, only to be devastated by a pandemic and a chemical fertilizer explosion with the power of a small nuclear device.
Our favorite city in the Middle East (next to our hometown of Isfahan, Iran) was Aleppo. Its architecture spanned a millennium, from Alexander the Great to the Ottoman Empire. Its souk (or, as we would say in Farsi, “bazaar”) was a feast for the senses, including taste — thanks to a profusion of bakeries, kebab and falafel vendors, and coffee houses. But what we remember above all else was the friendliness and urbanity of a society that prided itself on hospitality and friendship. Pictures of Aleppo today do more than break my heart — they make me fearful of what our underlying prejudices can do when distorted, amplified, and bent to the will of an authoritarian ruler.
While I despair that I will ever see Beirut and Aleppo restored, if not to their former glory, then at least to places of safety and civility where hospitality once again reigns, I do believe it will happen…because it has happened before. This is ultimately something I leave in God’s hands, but with the awareness that if we are going to be recipients of and participants in the healing and restoration of the world, then we need to give God some help.
Lord, remind us of our gospel obligation to shelter the refugee, and our country’s obligation to be an advocate of peace, justice, and mercy throughout the world. Guide us toward opportunities to live into the gospel through our generosity and shared humanity. Amen.