“We are all going to die.” Julie Tegho recalled to herself as the entire building shook and glass shattered around her. She is one of many Lebanese who were in Beirut when a massive explosion at the port flattened entire neighbourhoods and sent billowing red and orange mushroom clouds towards the sky. “At first I thought it was an earthquake,” Julie said. “I thought the entire building was going to collapse on us.” Julie had been shopping for a birthday present for her father when the port exploded. She and her family are grateful to walk away with only stitches. But today, like many Lebanese, she is grieving the death of close friends and loved ones who were killed in the blast. The port explosion killed at least 100 people and wounded more than 4,000.
Officials expect the toll to rise as countless people are missing, believed to be trapped under mountains of debris. Julie, a Lebanese Christian and researcher at the Philos Project, said two predominately Christian neighbourhoods in Beirut, Mar Mikhael and Gemmaye, were hit particularly hard. “Everyone was either lightly wounded or they were just in disbelief.” She explained. “The extent of the damage left us speechless.” The blast devastated numerous churches and religious centres in Lebanon. Lebanese officials say it appeared the explosion was caused by the detonation of more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate that was being stored in a warehouse at the port after it was confiscated from a cargo ship in 2014.
Whatever the source of the explosion, many Lebanese blame their leaders. “People are angry at the government because whatever the cause is, nobody in government is taking responsibility,” Julie explained. “They’re just sending out empty promises.” The blast came as Lebanon is on the verge of collapse caused by an economic crisis that has spiralled out of control due to corruption and mismanagement. Before COVID-19 hit, tens of thousands of Lebanese took to the streets to demand new leaders. Julie said the explosion is “just another nail in the coffin” for many Lebanese Christians who were considering leaving their country for better opportunities.
“For many Christians who were thinking about leaving, yesterday’s explosion may be the reason they were waiting for. The Christian community has been feeling recently that they’re left out by the international community,” she said. Many Christians in Lebanon feel targeted and trapped by the Hezbollah’s grip on the government and are urging the world to take notice before it is too late. They blame the Iranian-backed terror group for running their country into the ground. “The Christian community seeks a stronger stance from the international community, notably France and the US, to guarantee a future for them. They don’t see that happening any time soon,” she continued.
Lebanese Christian leaders are asking Christians around the world to pray for their broken country. “We ask you to carry Lebanon in your hearts at this difficult stage and that the Lord will protect Lebanon from evil through your prayers,” they said in a statement. While Julie said prayers are appreciated, the Church must work towards ensuring Christianity has a thriving future in Lebanon through lobbying and political efforts. “Prayers can help of course, but prayers need to translate into tangible efforts to make sure that Christians can have a safe home in Lebanon and not feel scared to live in their own country.”
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