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A letter from …


Lebanon


Growing up in a war zone leaves scars that run deeper than physical wounds, says Rita Elmounayer, executive director, SAT-7


A


s a child in Lebanon during a period of relentless conflict, I was exposed to violence and horrors that no youngster should see.


Massacres,


bombings, corpses and blood were the scenes of my childhood. Following a conflict with the


Palestinians in the early 1970s, Lebanon erupted into civil war, which wracked the country between 1975 and 1990. As well as fighting within, Lebanon was also a battleground in a complex regional power struggle between warring factions without. The civil war formally ended in 1990,


but the violence did not. In 1991, Syria, which had occupied Lebanon since 1976, launched an attack, resulting in one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I was just 22 when Syrian militia neighbourhood.


invaded my Finding


me hiding below a window, a couple of soldiers captured me and took me to their commanding officer. As they discussed among themselves what they should do with me – kill me; let me go; take me hostage – I thought this was the end. Along with other residents, I was held captive for over 24 hours while the soldiers raped, looted and killed. My family, who lived in a different area, heard about what was happening and thought I must be dead.


The soldiers took my jewellery and money but, thank God, they did not touch me. The night before the attack, I had spent a lot of time in prayer and I felt God saying, “This place is protected”. As soon as I was freed, I went to my


family’s house. When my dad saw me, he burst into tears. He couldn’t believe I was alive. I was grateful for my survival, but a good friend of mine who worked for the Bible Society was killed before my eyes, and many women were raped. This caused me to question God, “Why? Why them and not me?” I left Lebanon in 2003 to study in the


UK and have since lived in Cyprus, but I frequently return to Lebanon to visit my relatives who still live there. My work as executive director of SAT-7 ARABIC and SAT-7 KIDS, two Christian satellite TV channels that broadcast in the Middle East, also regularly takes me back to Lebanon. We have recently opened a new studio in Beirut, and around half of our productions are made there. Although Lebanon has been relatively


more peaceful in recent years, the conflict in Syria has been spilling over into the country, raising the spectre of another full-blown war. Lebanon is also feeling the strain of the Syrian civil war because of the huge numbers of refugees it has taken in. This is arousing old tensions


because, understandably, there remains a great deal of suspicion towards Syrians among Lebanese. Many still consider the Syrians as enemies, and feel no sympathy for their current plight. They say, “Why shouldn’t they suffer like we suffered?” For many years, I too saw the Syrians – and indeed the Palestinians – as enemies because of the acts of violence they had committed in Lebanon. As a Christian, I knew that the right thing to do was to forgive and to love my enemies, but this is not a one-off event. It is a long process of being healed from the trauma, the fears and the hatred. I have learnt that healing comes when


we love the other, even if the past still hurts us. And now it is our chance in Lebanon to show mercy and grace and love to the Syrians. The churches are really exemplifying this in the way they are opening up their


buildings, and


indeed their hearts, to welcome and care for the refugees. My own healing process began when I joined SAT-7. As a presenter on the channels, I had a lot of interaction with viewers from all across the Middle East. I began to realise that Syrians and Palestinians were not so different from me. They just want to live in dignity and peace, to educate their children and to provide a decent life for their families. SAT-7 gave me the platform to extend friendship to these people, to accept the other. Through our programmes, we seek to be agents of reconciliation, promoting peace and forgiveness rather than revenge and bitterness; to restore hope and show the love of God in a broken region.


This is a critical message for the next


generation of the Arab world. The children today – like I was – are exposed to so much violence, both on and off screen. Groups like Islamic State are using media to recruit youngsters to their destructive cause. SAT-7 KIDS stands in stark contrast. It has been described by many parents as a “safe place” for their children; a haven where they can learn positive values and how the love of Christ makes it possible for us to love, accept and forgive others. + Rita Elmounayer is executive director at SAT-7. For more information about their work visit www.sat7.org


womanalive October 2015 21


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