By Wissam Nasrallah
In October 2019, many Lebanese took to the streets in a festive manner with dancing and chanting to denounce mounting economic pressures and demand political accountability for three decades of corruption and mismanagement of public resources.
This time however, there will be no dancing and joyful chanting. Angry and desperate citizens are starting to occupy the streets again, defying the coronavirus because they are hungry.
While the October Uprising accelerated the downward spiral and exacerbated the structural deficiencies of Lebanon’s economic system, the coronavirus and subsequent lockdown were the final nail in the coffin for Lebanon’s economy.
From a social perspective, the coronavirus put anger and desperation on mute for a month and a half letting them simmer quietly at home; however, the post-lockdown phase is already looking explosive with widespread social unrest and escalating street violence looming in the background. Massive job loss, pay cuts, daily price hikes eroding purchasing power and wiping out savings, dissimulated haircuts on deposits, are becoming too much to handle for ordinary citizens and those relying on daily wages. The scale of the unemployment crisis is still unknown as the receding coronavirus fog is slowly revealing the extent of the catastrophe especially in a country that has no unemployment benefits and no social safety nets. Furthermore, for a country that imports most of what it needs using foreign currency, the devaluation of the Lebanese Pound by as much as 160% vs the dollar makes buying groceries feel like playing the stock market. According to the World Bank, the poverty rate is expected to surpass 50% with food security becoming a major issue.
On April 30th, the government adopted an economic rescue plan that aims to put the country back on its feet after defaulting on its foreign debt in March. With this plan, the government hopes to attract much needed foreign aid from the IMF and international donors. While this is a step in the right direction, the economic, social and political obstacles that need to be surmounted are massive. The legendary feet dragging of the Lebanese political class and deeply rooted interests in the current system will not make things easier.
All of the above have had a visible impact on LSESD and its various ministries. The Beirut Baptist School has been severely hit as many families are not only struggling to pay tuition but also to make ends meet. The Arab Baptist Theological Seminary took the decision to send its students back home and finish the school year on-line while losing much needed income from the guesthouse. SKILD, the special needs ministry, had to stop its public and private school programs while MERATH, the relief ministry, had to pause its non-formal education centers. BCYM, our children and youth ministry, had to put its children’s camps and programs on-hold while Dar Manhal Al Hayat, the publishing house, postponed several book launchings. However, as shared in last month’s newsletter as well as in this newsletter, all ministries have adapted (sometimes painfully) to the situation either by shifting their work online or by responding to the crisis directly on the ground, and by God’s grace we will continue to do so.
This season has been particularly hard on many of us, but it has also been rich in ongoing lessons. As the “wannabe developed country” phase fades away and the Lebanese painfully adapt to a new reality with lower standards of living (we have been living beyond our means as a country), we are learning how to be content and love the Lord for Himself alone and not for what He gives us. We could call it the Habakkuk state of mind: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab 3:17-18). Finally, as we reflect on what the next season will look like for LSESD, we ask the Lord for wisdom and faithfulness “so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” Colossians 1:10.
We are grateful for all of our team members as they continue serving in their respective fields despite pay cuts and difficult financial and sanitary conditions. We want to thank you, our partners and friends, for your faithfulness as you stand by our side to support churches, vulnerable families and students in the Middle East during this time.