Looking Through the Eyes of Civil War: A Lebanese's Reflection on Faith

Jan 10, 2003 10:58 AM EST

FORT WORTH, Texas -- A student, native of Lebanon, shares her experiences in Lebanon, and presents her reflection on the Sept. 11 tragedy. Smyrna Khalaf, student of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, recalls watching the news on television, with vivid memories of war in her own country streaming through her mind

"When [9/11] happened, we just went to the TV and we were watching, and it was such a tragic thing," Khalaf said. "Everyone was sad."

To Khalaf, the attacks sounded an alarm of fear over the threat of war that may have been stirred within the fanatics in Lebanon. Khalaf when attending the 1-year memorial service on the seminary campus last year recalled the prolonged civil war the plagued he own nation for 15 years. Eleven years after the end of the war, she still remembered the daily memorial services held during the time of her youth.

"Muslims would kill Christians [during the war] just because they are Christians, because they have the Christian name. Even Christians killed Muslims as well because this was huge fighting. We don't want that to start again in Beirut," said Khalaf, South Western's first international student from Lebanon.

"No one knew what time you were going to die," she continued as she recalled the "routine" sounds of mortar shells exploding in the streets.

"I was brought up hearing all the noises, being in [a] shelter," she said.

As she grew older, Khalaf thought began to think more deeply about life and death.

"You start to know what life is about and the meaning of life and that you want to survive."

One nigh, Khalaf recalled, her mother asked her where she would go after death.

"I said I don't know, and that night she explained the whole salvation story, and I committed myself to Jesus that night," Khalaf said.

Although she became Christian after that night, Khalaf attended college after the war in a part of Beirut that was considered a Muslim area during the hostilities.

"It wasn't difficult for me to interact with them [Muslim students] or for them to interact with me," she said. "It was a new generation."

Noting the typical misunderstanding of Lebanon as a Muslim country, Khalaf commented, "It's a free country, you have Christians and you have Muslims."

Khalaf said she seeks to share Christ with whomever God puts in her path, including Christians in Lebannon rather than seeking to share Christ exclusively with Muslims, since not all Christians share an individual relationship with the Lord.

"I think God has given us a great opportunity [in Lebanon] because we can spread out the gospel easily and you can talk wherever you want. You can have churches wherever you want."

Khalaf recalled a Muslim friend from college who attended church meetings with her and the opportunities God gave her to share Christ with her friend.

"Even with Christians I always do the same," she said. "If I was friends with someone, they would know me and how I lived, and I would be able to share more," she said.

Khalaf found, while teaching English as a Second Language to youth last year that a major part of sharing her faith was simply listening to the hearts of others. While counseling the youth, she found the road she wished to take in life. She wished to minister as a counselor to Southwestern.

As someone who experienced a traumatic childhood, she noted many similarities between the struggles of the American and Lebanon youth. One difference however, was the wide generation gap that arose in Lebanon society through the civil war.

"The younger generation has been brought up thinking more modernly. Our parents lived in the war. It was different and they were very protective because there was war," she said.

"I think there has to be a kind of awareness for parents ... to know how to deal with their children as they grow up ... because they don't know how to listen," she said. Many parents in Lebanon mean well, she said, but "they don't know how to express it to the kids."

Her own parents still reside in Lebanon. Her father, Ghassan is president of Arab Baptist Theological seminary and came in 2001 to Southwestern to sign an "agreement of fraternal relationship" between the two campuses. ABTS is the only Baptist seminary in the Middle East-North Africa region.

"I talked around," she said. "I did my research, and then later I told Dad. I told him I think I'm going to do counseling ... at Southwestern Seminary. He said, 'Oh great, we know those people.'"

Khalaf plans to return to Lebanon after her studies at Southwestern, and is open to ministering wherever God might lead. She hopes her degree in marriage and family counseling may help her relate to youth and entire families.

"I wanted to do something that relates to all kinds of ages," she said. "I want to be who I am and be what God wants me to be."

By Pauline C.