It’s 6 p.m. in Beirut, Lebanon. Father Richard Abi Saleh is praying in his church when everything goes wrong.
“I started seeing the ceiling dropping on me,” he says. Still, he continues the service. When the windows break, Saleh realizes what’s happening: A gigantic blast is shaking Beirut.
A shockwave moved through neighborhoods, destroying thousands of apartments. Glass and debris blanketed the streets. Nearly 180 people were killed, 6,000 wounded, and 350,000 left homeless after the explosion.
The disaster’s cause is partly unknown. But we do know that 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a chemical used for making fertilizer and bombs, were stored at the city port. Dock workers and government officials knew about the deadly load. Yet the chemicals remained for six years. Every moment was dangerous, becoming more so as time passed and the chemicals deteriorated. Something ignited the ammonium nitrate, causing the blast and leading to incredible devastation. The explosion destroyed most of the city’s grain supply, which people rely on for food.
So Lebanon needs help. But who will help . . . and how?
Officials around the world want to give aid. But they don’t want to just hand it to Lebanon without conditions. That’s because the explosion shows how deeply corruption has seeped into the Lebanese government. Leaders there use their power for selfish gain instead of for the good of their people.
French President Emmanuel Macron promised money for rebuilding but warned it would not fall into “corrupt hands.” The United States and its allies sent investigators to Beirut to find the truth about what happened. They will offer help only as Lebanon makes changes. On Lebanon’s “to-do” list: Oust corruption, create a plan for good government, and make sure the Lebanese people agree with it.
Church-goer Fadi Saadeh was injured in the blast. Bandaged and heartbroken, he asks, “Should I forgive?”
Many Lebanese people were angry with their government before the explosion. Now they’re furious. Protesters say their politicians should resign and be punished for ignoring the dangerous problem.
The blast caused losses up to $15 billion. Lebanon, already crippled by debt, can’t afford that kind of expense.
It’s hard to find a good side to the Lebanon tragedy. But we know God is sovereignly working there for His people’s good. These could be bright spots: The explosion exposed corruption in the Lebanese government, including its close ties to a terrorist group called Hezbollah. Now the Lebanese government may be forced to cut those ties. It also created a city of needy people. That’s an opportunity for both Christian aid work and forgiveness to triumph.
“If we did not have faith in God, we would not come to church,” says Saadeh. “We came here to ask God to forgive them.”