The small Lebanese village of Deir Mimas, about 3km from the Israeli border, is described in travel guides as a “hidden jewel”, “a village lost in olive groves”. It traces its origins back to 1404 when a monastery was built on a hill surrounded by olive trees in honor of Saint Mema, a 3rd-century martyr. As time went by a village grew up around the monastery which, set on a headland at an altitude of 600 meters, commands the whole valley, and overlooks the Litani River, with the snow-capped peaks of Mount Hermon to the east.
The village is home to approximately 350 people whose primary source of income is derived from the production of olives and olive oil, harvested annually from the estimated 130,000 to 150,000 olive trees, some of which are hundreds of years old. The olive oil from Deir Mimas is said to be the best in Lebanon and has won international acclaim.
At the time of writing – the end of October 2023 – the future of the whole country of Lebanon hangs in the balance as tensions are rising between Hezbollah and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The daily rocket fire from both sides of the border is sparking memories of the summer of 2006 when Hezbollah and Israel fought a brutal month-long war. Many Lebanese have fled their village homes in the border area, moving to safer locations.
As our thoughts and prayers go out to all our brothers and sisters in these border villages, we are also seeking practical ways in which to put our faith into action in order to show them that we are one with them in their suffering. With this in mind, we caught up with Maroun Shammas, pastor of the Baptist Church in Deir Mimas, who was willing to share with us his thoughts and concerns about the current situation in his home village.
There is never a good time for war, but the present threat to pastor Shammas’ village could not have come at a worse time. The inhabitants are already crippled by the ongoing catastrophic economic crisis in Lebanon which has forced many people to leave their villages and seek employment elsewhere. This year’s failed olive harvest in Deir Mimas has further compounded the problems of those who have remained in the village, whose future already looked very bleak.
When the bombing became more frequent two weeks ago, Pastor Shammas evacuated his family to his sister’s house in Maghdouche, not wanting to expose the children to the sound of it. Along with him, almost half the citizens of Deir Mimas have moved to safer areas in Lebanon because they fear that the border conflict may escalate into a full-blown war. They leave behind a small number of people.
We asked pastor Shammas what this meant for his church, and he told us that out of his total congregation of fifteen families, more than half have decided to leave the village and only four families are now remaining. He explained that the only reason some people still stay in Deir Mimas is that they are completely dependent on their work there, particularly in the olive harvest, which unfortunately coincided with the onset of the border clashes. Even a bad year’s harvest would yield about 30 gallons of olive oil for each local farmer, but this year’s harvest has so far only produced 10 gallons each. This is barely enough for their own annual consumption, so they have none to sell.
When asked about how the situation has affected the youth in his village, words failed us when the only answer he could give was: “they stay up all through the night, working in shifts, to guard our village homes”.
“How has all of this affected your faith and the faith of the members of your church family?”, we asked. Pastor Shammas assured us that most of the believers, like him, were keeping faith and trusting in God. Although the physical church gatherings have temporarily ceased, he makes sure that he still leads the church service, live via Facebook every Sunday. He confided to us: “We are really living by prayer and faith according to the Lord’s prayer: ‘give us our daily bread’, day by day. Their answered prayer comes through the loving care of family and friends, both in Lebanon and abroad, who send financial help whenever they have the means to do so.
How does Pastor Shammas see the future? “This will be the 7th time we have had to leave our village in the past fifty years. We have paused our physical church gatherings temporarily until things go back to normal. After the tensions are over, we will go back and pick up where we left off.”
How can we pray for you?
“Pray for peace, pray that the war will not escalate and that things will soon go back to normal so that we can all return to our homes. Pray that I can continue with the ministry and that we can all live a good life.”
We thank the Lord for pastor Shammas whose faith and hope serve as an example and an encouragement to all believers, in whatever situation they may find themselves.
“Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls –
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The LORD God is my strength;
He will make my feet like the deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills.”
Pray for Deir Mimas Church
Pray for peace, pray that the war will not escalate and that things will soon go back to normal so that people could return to their homes. Pray that the church can continue with the ministry there, proclaiming and demonstrating the Gospel.