Christians and Muslims need to live in peace in the Middle East
Nabil Costa is the CEO of the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD), and Secretary-General of the Association of Evangelical Schools in Lebanon (AESL). In the framework of these institutions, in cooperation with the Evangelical and Baptist Churches, they work to help the youngsters in Lebanon to get an appropriate education.
At the end of January, Costa visited the Hungarian Baptist Aid at Budapest and met Tristan Azbej, State Secretary for the Aid of Persecuted Christians and the Hungary Helps Program. During his stay, he gave an interview to our newspaper. In the interview, we asked him about the operation of their schools in Lebanon, his country’s present situation, and how the Hungarian government supports the middle-eastern country, which faces many difficulties at the moment.
– You have an important role in two educational institutions. What are the responsibilities of these institutions?
– Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (from now on: LSESD) is a Baptist institution, which includes six institutions. Each institution has a different role. One of them, for example, called SKILD (Smart Kids with Individual Learning Differences), supports children with learning difficulties. In Lebanon, one child out of ten has some learning difficulty, but many of them do not get the appropriate education. In the framework of this institution, we raise awareness for this phenomenon, and we help the children to get the tools and conditions that they need.
– Is the Association of Evangelical Schools in Lebanon also part of the LSESD?
– No, it is not, but they are in cooperation with each other. Thanks to this cooperation, we could launch a great program this year. 1,400 students are studying at Beirut Baptist School, and we have more than 100 additional students who follow the lessons online. Among our students, there are adolescents from many different ethnic and religious backgrounds, which is a great pleasure and success for us. Only 10 per cent of our students are Christian.
– How is it possible that more than 90 per cent of a Christian school are not Christian?
– When the Beirut Baptist School was founded it was in a predominantly Christian neighbourhood. Yet following the Lebanese Civil War, the demographics changed such that today the majority population in the vicinity of BBS are non-Christian. As a result, today the majority of our BBS student body are non-Christian. This opens up the opportunity for students of different faiths to learn together in peace and love.
– Don’t you have difficulties because of living in a Muslim-majority area?
– Not at all. In Lebanon, there are no religious conflicts. The tension is mostly generated by political leaders even though the citizens manage to live in peace with each other.
– Even if your country is facing a severe economic and sanitary crisis now?
– Lebanon is facing many difficulties now. Since the revolution in October 2019, there has been a financial crisis in the country. The income of the people has been reduced to a tenth. If you were earning 3,000 dollars a month, now you earn 300. Moreover, the banks took away our savings, so we have nothing left. Add to this situation the coronavirus pandemic. Our country is not strong enough to face the crisis and support the inhabitants. However, luckily, in Lebanon, there are no religious conflicts.
–Eight years ago, you said in an interview that giving visas in Western countries is not a solution to the problem of Syrian Christians. Now, when Lebanon is also living a difficult time, do you think the same?
– I still believe that the best solution is to solve the problem on the spot. Lebanese people have to stay in their country and recover from this situation. The beauty of the Middle East consists of the coexistence of the different religions and cultures. The society of Lebanon, Egypt, Syria or Jordan is stronger from the presence of Christians.
The Western people have to understand that Christians and Muslims need to live together in peace in the Middle East. They do not have to be pitted in a fight against each other.
Minorities have to be supported and helped to survive. At the moment, Christians are in the minority in the Middle East, but it does not mean that they cannot influence the majority through culture or education. Thus, this is what Christians need in the Middle East: provision and access to education.
– One of the greatest threats in the Middle East is Islamic extremism. How can education solve this problem?
– Extremists represent only five per cent of Muslims, a minority that spoils the reputation of a peaceful majority. In the Middle East, we can fight against the spread of extremism with the help of Western countries. However, we do not need to be supported with arms but with humanitarian assistance. They should support our schools and hospitals, as the Hungarian government and the Baptist Aid do. They help us survive in difficult periods, remain in our homeland and spread peace.
If the extremists see that we are supported and we are strong, they will realise that they do not have power against us, and we can get rid of them. That is why we ask western countries to help with the maintenance of our schools.
– You mentioned the support of the Hungarian government. Is this the reason for your visit to Hungary?
– Yes, I am here to raise awareness of our problems. Every three years, I have been coming to Hungary to visit our supporter, the Hungarian Baptist Aid. This year, I am also visiting Tristan Azbej, State Secretary for the Aid of Persecuted Christians and the Hungary Helps Program. I can see that Lebanon and our fate is important for the Hungarians. They care about us, they support us. Hungary shows a great example to other Western countries, and hopefully, they will follow the example soon.
– You said that you come frequently to Hungary. During these journeys, do you go to other European countries too?
– Yes, I mostly go to Germany and the United Kingdom. But this time, I came only to Hungary, because travelling is very complicated due to the COVID19 restrictions. But I did not want to miss Hungary, because I like the country and like coming here.
Photo: Nabil Costa, Source: Krisztián Szennyes/ Vasarnap.hu