Beruit open to good news;

Steve Washburn, a Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam, remembered something of Beirut?albeit through photos and news reports. It was the bombed-out shell of the United States Marine Corps barracks in October 1983 after a suicide bomber drove his truck into the compound, killing himself and 241 Marines and Sailors.

Today, Beirut’s smartly designed downtown buildings, trendy sidewalk cafes, McDonalds, Burger King and Starbucks?and a slew of BMWs and Mercedes Benzes?all attest to a largely affluent, educated and Westernized culture. It’s not what Washburn expected of a city ravaged by 10 years of civil war that ended 13 years ago.

Muslim women there dress with Western style minus traditional veils. Muslims comprise about 2/3 of the populace and are often open to dialogue with evangelical Christians and very hospitable, as Washburn learned through door-to-door Bible distribution.

As pastor of First Baptist Church of Pflugerville, Washburn was part of a Southern Baptists of Texas Convention contingent in Beirut over the Christmas holiday to investigate a potential missions partnership with Baptists there. He left with his appetite whetted for more, he said.

“I was surprised to find out how many Baptist churches there were,” Washburn said. There are about 20 Baptist churches meeting. “I did not know prior to gathering information about the trip that Lebanon, and Beirut in particular, has a strong Christian element.”

Jim Richards, SBTC executive director, said a partnership could include cooperation between the Lebanese Baptists, the International Mission Board and the SBTC to strengthen existing churches, plant new ones, bolster the work of the Baptist seminary there, and aid Bible distribution and evangelism.

“Lebanon is the gateway to the Middle East,” Richards noted. “If we want to change the mindset in the other Arab nations, we can do it through the work in Lebanon.”

Mac Brunson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, took about 20 church members with him on the trip and said the experience changed many of them.

“They loved it,” Brunson said. “I have never taken laypeople on a mission trip that it did not dramatically change their lives in a number of ways. One is their personal relationship with the Lord (is strengthened). I think two is an appreciation for what we have here in our church, certainly our country, but in our church. And a love for people and a hunger and a desire to be more a part of missions.”

Brunson said he was blessed to preach at a church plant comprised of mostly young, English-speaking people in a very upbeat, contemporary setting. First Baptist will likely continue work there through partnerships with the SBTC and The Criswell College, he said.

Terry Coy, SBTC ethnic church planting strategist, said the IMB volunteer coordinator there hopes SBTC churches will adopt Beirut neighborhoods and return several times to do gospel work in the same areas with the end goal of starting churches.

“Currently, the SBTC and IMB are in a three-year partnership assisting “Beruit & Beyond,” as the IMB endeavor there is known.

“Expanding the partnership would strengthen existing churches there, plant new churches and impact the Muslim world through the training of Baptist pastors, many who are former Muslims, at the Arab Baptist Seminary,” Coy said.

Washburn said he is particularly excited about potentially partnering with the seminary, which trains Arab men and sends them to do gospel work in countries such as Saudi Arabia, the Sudan, Egypt and Jordan.

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