A Holistic Mission Guide

The Church’s Response in Times of Crisis

A Radical Change Toward a Full Conversion

For ages, poaching and illegal hunting has been and still is a major problem in Lebanon. It was a survival mechanism during the numerous wars this country has been through. But when the situation became stable, it became one of the worst nightmares for the birds and added to the other problems that our nature is facing such as air pollution, hard waste, sewage water that is mixing with the potable water, and many other problems. Every year, more than 4.9 million birds are killed in Lebanon. This country has a nickname “The Bottleneck” because it gathers the bird migration lines from different places of Europe into one line toward Africa, twice per year during fall and spring seasons.

I live in a town called Kfarhabou located in the north of Lebanon. One of the most famous traditions that my town is well known for is hunting. But sadly, it went way beyond its limit. Poaching became a priority here, and many youngsters were distracted by this act and broke the rules just to have the joy of killing birds and animals in unlimited numbers. This act has pushed many students to leave school or even quit their job because they became addicted to it. Young men sit together and talk for hours. Most of these talks are not constructive, often leading to smoking, drinking, cursing, and adopting many bad habits. They enjoy these acts, so poaching became a priority to them. They not only practice it during the day but also at night, especially because the bird migration is at its peak during the night. They lure the birds with LED lights and calling machines and then kill everything that flies, gamebirds and non-gamebirds. 

This bad habit did not save our youth, but many of them have been filling their free time or replacing their productive time with this outlaw behavior. Therefore, I made the decision to do something about it. I started awareness sessions among youth. I visited their schools, and I started a raptor rescue center where I take them from time to time to show them how much time it takes from my day to take care of wounded birds. I explained that a few seconds of their unexplained joy will cost lots of money to treat the birds medically and a significant time investment to care for them. I even started taking them on birdwatching tours, and I explain the importance of these birds to nature and how amazing our God is who created these birds for a reason. 

I also encourage them to shoot birds with a camera, not a gun. I remind them there are more important things in life to do than hunting and illegal poaching. And I always tell them that this so-called hobby is chaining them as a sin. It’s taking from the time that should be consecrated to God and to be in partnership with him.

This was very hard to do at the beginning. But when the economic situation in Lebanon became totally devastated, they started to realize that they need to think about how to survive for the next period that will come. They started to think more seriously before they decided to go hunting.

Many troubles face me in achieving this radical change and turning it to a complete change: 

  1. The corruption in my country that impacts enforcement of the law and the police soldiers who are supposed to apply the law but often participate in the illegal poaching themselves. 
  1. The gadgets to practice the substitute hobby are not available in every house here (cameras, binoculars). 
  1. The need for medical supplements that we need to treat the wounded birds that some of the youth bring to us (shot or found). 

Therefore, I decided to start my own non-governmental organization and ask for funds to supply all the needs. But due to COVID-19, the procedures to secure permission are very slow. I started to go across the country to spread awareness among the people, especially students. Sometimes I take one of the youth whose behavior has changed as a witness, and we talk about the creation of God and how beautiful it is. It is beautiful indeed and worth caring for.

For Reflection and Discussion

  1. How is creation care a reflection of our calling as Christians?
  2. What steps can we take to break cycles that are impacting creation in a negative way?

About the Author

Michel Sawan is a doctor specializing in Physiotherapy and a member of Kfarhabou Baptist Church in north Lebanon. He holds five first records in birdwatching in Lebanon and has been a bird rescuer since 2009. He is a recognized wildlife photographer with three Daily Dozen winning photos from National Geographic and the founder of Lebanese Association for Migratory Birds.
Dr. Michel Sawan

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