Protecting Creation in Lebanon

One tree at a time, the Near East School of Theology puts faith into action

by Rima Nasrallah van Saane | Mission Crossroads

Students and staff of the Near East School of Theology (NEST) plant trees as a way of caring for Creation in Lebanon. (Photo by Rima Nasrallah van Saane)

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The Near East School of Theology (NEST), a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) global partner, recently joined the Christian conservation organization A Rocha for a day of projects aimed at protecting God’s many beautiful creations in Lebanon.

The project provided an opportunity for NEST students to put their faith into action regarding Creation care, as well as social impact. They enjoyed working the soil and planting. Staff and faculty joined in.

A Rocha Lebanon was founded in 1996, with an initial focus to save the Aammiq marshes from destruction. The Aammiq Wetland is Lebanon’s most significant remaining natural freshwater site, one of all too few in the Middle East. This major stopover site for migrating birds was under severe threat. The work was a success.

Due to the work of A Rocha, the reduction of its habitats has been reversed and the wetland is now a designated Ramsar site (Ramsar designates wetland sites designated to be of international importance). Beyond Aammiq, A Rocha has gained valuable experience by working throughout the country on behalf of government departments, nature preserves and international conservation bodies. This includes scientific research, practical conservation and environmental education.

A Rocha has worked in the Bekaa Valley, the fertile valley in eastern Lebanon, for more than 20 years to protect and restore nature as part of its witness to God, the Creator, Savior and Sustainer. The Bekaa is a vast, open valley nestled between Lebanon’s two mountain ranges, known since ancient times as the “bread basket of Lebanon.” It is a checkerboard of fields, dotted with small villages, and is a visual testament of the region’s agricultural heritage. The Bekaa Valley is a transit point between Damascus, Syria’s capital city, and Beirut.

More recently A Rocha has begun looking into the social dimension of conservation as well. The West Bekaa has become overpopulated, particularly with refugees. So, A Rocha started several small projects with local municipalities to create green spaces where families can enjoy nature in its full biodiversity. A project with a prayer maze was already planted in Qab Elias a couple of years ago. It proved to be very helpful for families and schools as well as for church groups.

Interest in environmental stewardship is growing in Lebanon. (Photo courtesy of Martin Bernard)

NEST students and faculty worked on a park project in Mekse. The plot of land they planted was one of the very last unbuilt plots. They planted 125 trees in one day, then a few hundred more trees were added later and a small pond was installed. The idea was not only to create a green space but also to involve locals in its creation and develop awareness of its importance and the many different types of trees, bushes, flowers and, since there is water, insects and animals.

The community park will become a clean and safe environment for local families to enjoy. And, with a school nearby, it will offer an outdoor classroom for students to take part in practical lessons about nature, native plants and pond life. Over the next three years, A Rocha Lebanon will coordinate additional landscaping work, including laying paths, planting and removing a significant amount of rubbish and building waste.

A Rocha Lebanon’s local initiatives offer a fascinating model for biodiversity conservation and environmental education. In a little more than six months, the site at Mekse has been fenced, irrigation pools have been dug, and trees and bushes have been planted by a group of refugees and volunteers from a wide range of backgrounds.

NEST
The Near East School of Theology (NEST), formed in 1932 by the merger of the School for Religious Workers in Beirut and the School of Religion in Athens, is built upon a history of Protestant theological education in the Near East, which goes back to 1835. In that year, the Rev. William Thompson, author of “The Land and the Book,” founded the first Protestant seminary in Beirut. In 1843, the seminary moved to Abey, in the mountains not far south of Beirut, under the leadership of Dr. Cornelius Van Dyck, translator of the Bible into Arabic. It offered classes in theology and general education.

Out of the Abey Seminary grew, in 1866, the Syrian Protestant College, now the American University of Beirut. With the founding of the college, it was decided that the seminary pursue only theological studies, while the college would be responsible for general studies. The seminary had several locations in the subsequent years and, in 1905, moved back to Beirut.

Make a difference
Consider supporting the work of Scott and Elmarie Parker in the  Middle East:   pcusa.org/donate/E200504.

Consider making a gift to support the  work of the Near East School  of Theology (NEST): pcusa.org/donate/E862612.

The Rev. Dr. Rima Nasrallah van Saane is an assistant professor in practical theology at the Near East School of Theology (NEST) and an ordained pastor in the National Evangelical Church of Beirut, Lebanon.

Mission Crossroads is published three times a year by Presbyterian World Mission. To subscribe free within the U.S. or to access the magazine’s archives visit pcusa.org/missioncrossroads.


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