BIBLE SOCIETY NEWS | Kaley Payne
You would be forgiven for thinking life for a child in Lebanon is traumatic. They are surrounded by bitter conflict zones – to the south lies Israel, to the west: Syria.
Yet Joyce Doumit at Bible Society in Lebanon says that, most days, Lebanese children are just like children anywhere else. They play. They go to school. They spend too much time on computers and mobile phones. And, as with any modern child, it’s getting harder to impress them. But they still love to listen to Bible stories.
In Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, Joyce helps to run Bible Society’s interactive Bible playground called Bible World. Lebanon is a country historically connected to the Bible stories, and through Bible World a new generation of Lebanese children is seeing them afresh. She says:
“It’s very important for the children – and adults as well – to know that we’re living in the lands of the Bible. It’s a land that Jesus passed through many times.
“Jesus was here, in Lebanon. We don’t want to forget that history. We must share it from generation to generation.”
Joyce says that while some children arrive at Bible World knowing some of the “big” Bible stories, such as Moses, that’s not the case for the majority.
“Bible World is a great adventure for them,” she says. “They’re hearing a lot of these stories for the first time.”
There are three sections at Bible World. Children pass from BC to AD and into the future. In the land of BC – before Christ – children learn about how Bible stories were passed on and then written down. They watch video clips of Bible stories and try their hand at translating a Bible verse from hieroglyphs into Arabic, writing on papyrus, as did the early Old Testament writers.
Passing through to the AD (Anno Domini) section, children watch a 3D movie about the life of Jesus, learning about his personality and miracles, his death and resurrection, and then the beginnings of the early church. They find out more about how the Bible was put together and its early translations and how we came to have a Bible to read ourselves.
“The children get the opportunity to test out an old printing press, like what Gutenberg used to print the first Bible,” says Joyce.
“They print their own copy of the Lord’s Prayer in Arabic and learn about how the printing of the Bible gave access to millions of people to God’s Word.”
From there, children pass through to a room full of computers. Activities are all about how we read the Bible now and how that is changing through technology. “I like that we were first in the old century, but now they’re in the new,” says Joyce, of the journey the children take. “We think it helps children learn that the Bible is an old book, but it can talk to us here, in this century. They discover they can read the Bible online, on their computers, and there are games for them to play to interact with the stories in new ways.”
The majority of visitors come through school visits, with some schools visiting Bible World annually. In 2012, Bible World celebrated its 30,000th visitor. Each child receives a New Testament, with an activity book of games so they can continue to learn about the Bible stories at home.
Joyce says she loves seeing the enthusiasm of those who visit.
“One boy at the beginning of the year came to Bible World with his school,” she says.
“He loved it so much that he got his mother to bring him back with a group of 15 of his friends for his ninth birthday party.
“He was so excited to tell his friends about the Bible stories!”
While Lebanese children’s lives are “pretty normal”, there is a fast-growing group of children whose lives are anything but normal. They’re refugees and their lives are very difficult.
Lebanon’s biggest neighbour, Syria, is the world’s largest source of refugees, with almost four million having fled the country, according to UNHCR statistics released this year. Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees from the Syrian conflict. Today, there are 257 refugees for every 1000 inhabitants in Lebanon.
“The children stay in the camps mostly. They rarely go out. There’s no normal routine, no normal life for these children. They don’t go to school; there’s not much for them to do,” says Joyce.
It’s summer in Lebanon when we speak to Joyce. School students are on holidays. Bible World welcomes some children visiting with summer camp groups. But, mostly, it’s been welcoming refugee children.
“We’ve seen about 250 to 300 refugee children this summer come through Bible World,” says Joyce. “They come as part of a day trip, one of the rare occasions that they’ll get out of the refugee camps.”
Though their lives are so very different, the reaction is the same to the Bible stories, says Joyce. “Children love them.”