Christian foreigners depart war-torn Lebanon, but leave behind thousands changed and being changed by the Gospel

LIMASSOL, Cyprus — Hundreds of foreign Christians may have left Lebanon — but the Gospel hasn't.

In the past month, Christians who work in the Middle East have seen Muslim friends go deeper with them than ever before in spiritual conversations about the Bible and Jesus Christ.

"I can say with the very fiber of my being that [Muslims] are a people who God is going after for Himself," said a Southern Baptist woman who was evacuated by ship from Beirut to Cyprus. "God is jealous for their allegiance. He's jealous for their very lives. He is very much stirring up the nations for Himself."

Hundreds of Christians joined thousands of Americans and other foreign nationals in a massive evacuation from Lebanon to Cyprus after Israel began bombing the country July 12.

A Southern Baptist who works in the region was encouraged to see Lebanese Christians reach out quickly and try to ease some of the suffering of local Muslim communities amidst the chaos and fear. Local Christians have turned their schools into dorms where thousands of families and individuals from southern Lebanon have taken refuge. Other Christians have distributed aid boxes of food, water and medicine.

One Christian friend took it upon himself to start distributing as much aid as possible, the woman recounted.

"This is hugely significant," she said. "This [man] is a follower of Jesus, but not necessarily one whom you would think would want to reach out to Muslims.... More and more we've got believers all over the land [who] are providing food and clothing. They are collecting toys and taking them to children who have lost all their toys, all of their clothes. It's a sweet time in the midst of the disaster."

There have been many reminders of God's care during recent days, said a couple forced to evacuate. They and other parents saw God care for their children in a very personal way amid the suffering and chaos of war.

One mother pulled all the children together and began to explain that the families would have to leave most of their possessions behind during the evacuation.

"Even before I finished speaking, one of the children spoke up and said 'That's OK, I'll just take my cat and my Star Wars toy.' He had already narrowed it down," she related. "We then gave them the hard news [that they couldn't take] any of the animals with [them] on board the ship. There was a swell of emotion. The children immediately moved into a wail of sorrow and they began to cry. They could not leave the pets that they loved. They couldn't leave the friends that they loved.

"We cried with them and said that we knew that it was a pain that felt like it would never go away. But we challenged them and said, 'If God can do the impossible, then why don't we ask Him to provide homes for our animals in the next few hours before we leave?'"

Within 24 hours, a home had been found for every animal that had to stay behind, she added.

"I realized that just as God is so active in letting us know that He is with us [adults], He was just as committed to giving His presence to our children. He was just as serious about our kids realizing that He is on His throne, that He cares about the minutest detail, [even] finding a home for a kitten."

The evacuation has forced some Christians to close the doors to their homes for months, maybe years. But there is also a sense of something beginning.

"There are a lot of people who are spiritually hungry and I think that this war has started to stir up the spiritual hunger even more," one of the evacuees said. "There's a part of me that's thinking that maybe God does not want a lot of foreigners there right now. Similar to China ... maybe it's time for local believers to step up to the plate even more.

"God knows. I don't know, but God knows."