There are four main religious groups in Lebanon: Maronite Christians, descended from the old Syriac church and united with the Roman Catholic Church, yet maintaining some of the old ways, including a married priesthood; Shiite Muslims; Sunni Muslims and Greek Orthodox. A power sharing agreement was worked out after the Second World War that worked well for a number of years. Lebanon prospered, became a major tourist destination and Beirut became the banking and financial centre of the Middle East.
That changed in 1975 with attacks by radical Muslims, PLO and Hezbollah, and a civil war ensued that lasted until 1990. Peace has never been fully restored.
Our friend Helen, from a Maronite family, was attending university in Beirut in the 1980’s. She told us that practically every building in the city had suffered some damage from the war. She rode the bus to the university every morning, carrying with her a bag with extra clothes and supplies in case she wouldn’t be able to get home that night.
Her parents home was a peaceful haven amid the strife and turmoil of the war. Her father’s presence in the home gave her a feeling of security and peace. He told his sons that they were never to think of enlisting in the army, or of getting involved in the conflict in any other way. The war was to remain outside, thee should be no strife in their home.
When she finished university the economy of Lebanon was in ruins. There seemed to be no hope of finding work, no future at all in this war torn country. She applied to immigrate to Canada and was accepted. She obtained a passport, but could not seem to obtain the document needed to leave the country. By this time the Beirut Airport was controlled by a Muslim militia. She left for the airport with her documents and ticket, praying that somehow she would be able to get on the plane.
As soon as she walked though the doors of the airport a man approached her and asked for her documents. She handed them over, then panicked as she realized how foolish that was. The man asked her to come with him and she followed in an almost dream-like state. He led her through every step of the way, ticket counter, baggage check, security and so on, always going directly to the head of the line and getting her passed through with hardly a glance at the papers. Finally she was to the boarding ramp of her airplane; he handed her papers back to her, wished her well and was gone.
It wasn’t until her plane was airborne and she was safely on her way to Montreal that it sunk in how wondrously her prayer had been answered. She has no idea who the man was, or why he helped her. Her family has no idea either.