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Beirut's downtown streets were littered with debris and damaged vehicles after a massive explosion rocked the Lebanese capital on August 4. All photos courtesy of Pastor Chady El-Aouad.

Chady El-Aouad was born in Beirut, Lebanon on August 4, 1971.

He could have died five days ago on August 4, 2020, on his 49th birthday.

But God saved his life, once again.

“Can you imagine if the blast took place during our service? Can you imagine if there were kids here?”

The Senior Pastor of Abundant Life Church and Ministries and President of the Pentecostal Alliance of Churches in Lebanon and Syria had a close shave with death back in 2005.

That was the year when former Prime Minister of Lebanon, Rafic Hariri, was killed when 1,000kg of TNT detonated as the leader’s motorcade drove near a hotel. Pastor Chady was driving in front of the motorcade, just 1km away from the explosion and his car flew into the air from the impact of the explosion.

He survived.

Explosion like no other

If you were in your 40s and living in Lebanon, you would have lived through more than 15 years of war, two Israeli invasions, 30 years of Syrian occupation, several rounds of economic collapse and currency devaluation, two Israeli bombing campaigns, a revolution, a wave of political assassinations and a financial and economic crisis.

Yet even for a man who has stared at death in the face multiple times, the horror of Tuesday’s explosion was like no other.

The explosion, caused by the detonation of about 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate at a warehouse near the port in Beirut, shook the earth with the power of a 3.3-magnitude earthquake. The blast could be heard 100 miles away in Cyprus and it created a crater at the port that is well over the length of a football field.

A crater created by the explosion appeared to be roughly 124 m in diameter — well over a football field in length.

A crater created by the explosion appeared to be roughly 124 m in diameter — well over a football field in length.

This time, Pastor Chady was saved by the very occasion of his birthday.

It felt like an earthquake and the whole building shook.

Since it was his birthday on August 4, he felt entitled to stay at home with his family and “do nothing”, Pastor Chady told Salt&Light. Yet his staff members kept calling him that day, urging him to come into the office to sign some high-priority forms. He agreed to drop by the office at night after he had had his shower.

So he was in the toilet of his home and down to his boxers when he felt the blast at about 6pm. It felt like an earthquake and the whole building shook.

Immediately, Pastor Chady thought of his two-year-old son and six-year-old daughter who were playing in the living room outside with his wife, Zeina. He dashed out of the bathroom to hear them screaming and wailing, but otherwise safe.

Pastor Chady and his family

Pastor Chady and his family.

Their house is a 20-minute drive from where the explosion occurred, unlike his office which is just two minutes away. If it had not been his birthday and if he had stepped into the office earlier in the day, he could have been killed.

Glass shards from the window were found deeply lodged in the wall and sofa in his office. A 10-year-old boy from his church had to have 110 stitches on his body due to injuries caused by flying glass shards.

Pastor Chady pointing out a glass shard that penetrated the sofa in his office.

Pastor Chady pointing out a glass shard that penetrated the sofa in his office.

“It is God’s grace that preserved my life so that I have another opportunity to continue being faithful to my calling as a pastor and apostle of Christ,” Pastor Chady said.

That night, he was relieved to hear of another miracle. All the staff who were in office that day happened to be in the only two rooms in the church building that were not completely destroyed so they did not sustain severe injuries.

A handful of church members had their homes completely destroyed and some of them also lost loved ones and friends to the explosion.

State of emergency 

At least 137 people were killed and 5,000 wounded in the massive disaster and more than 300,000 people have been displaced from their homes. A two-week state of emergency has been declared by the authorities.

Pastor Chady’s church is one of the few churches in Lebanon which has suffered massive damage from the blast.

Pastor Chady’s church is one of the few churches in Lebanon which has suffered massive damage from the blast due to their proximity to the site of the explosion.

Lebanon is home to the highest concentration of believers in the Middle East and the only Arab country that promotes religious freedom

About 30 huge vertical glass windows of his church have been shattered and fixing those windows would require expensive equipment such as a crane to haul the new windows up and install them from the exterior. The main entrance of the church’s sanctuary, which fits 500 people, was blown off.

The impact of the explosion also destroyed a few of the pews at the back of the hall. The church’s air-con units, lights, overhead projectors and speakers had all come crashing down from the ceiling and walls.

“Can you imagine if the blast took place during our service, how many casualties there would be? Can you imagine if there were kids here?” said Pastor Chady.

Pews in the church sanctuary destroyed from the impact of the blast

Pews in the church sanctuary destroyed from the impact of the blast.

He oversees two church campuses in Beirut and many other house groups in Syria.

He has helped plant more than 100 churches and house groups in the Arab world, including among the Kurds in Lebanon.

Abundant Life Church has two services a week with around 600 worshippers and 40 small groups.

Glass shards pepper the floor of the service hall

Glass shards pepper the floor of the service hall.

Pastor Chady said Lebanon is an important country because it is home to the highest concentration of believers in the Middle East and the only Arab country that promotes religious freedom, where people are allowed to preach the Gospel and distribute tracts in the streets.

People are still counting the dead, accounting for the living and digging for those buried alive.

“We need people to pray and support us so that Lebanon can continue to play its role in the turmoil of the Middle East,” he said.

Outside in the streets, its people are still counting the dead, accounting for the living and digging for those buried alive.

The air is filled with ash and faces burn from the chemical fumes. Rubble and glass are everywhere and every minute is punctuated by the sound of broken glass.

Scenes of destruction on the streets of Lebanon

Scenes of destruction on the streets of Lebanon.

Where does one start when faced with such devastation?

He has been rallying teams of 50 to make hundreds of sandwiches every day for workers cleaning the city.

Pastor Chady has decided to take one step at a time and start by feeding the hungry and praying for the sick.

He has been rallying teams of 50 people to make hundreds of sandwiches every day and distribute them to workers who have been cleaning the city and removing the rubble in the streets. They also go out to comfort the grieving in the streets and in the hospitals as many have lost their loved ones and their homes.

“We are all in a state of mourning. Of course I feel discouraged but I believe God can turn such a situation around and use it for His glory. Perhaps we will see a revival, of more hearts softened to receive the gospel of Jesus in these end times,” said Pastor Chady.

Church workers and volunteers preparing sandwiches to distribute to the grieving and workers who clean up the streets

Church workers and volunteers preparing sandwiches to distribute to the grieving and workers who clean up the streets.

“It is the favour of God that I am still alive and the lives of my congregation are spared. Please keep us in your prayers and keep us before the Lord.

“The loss is great yet God is good.”

Funds frozen

The restoration of Abundant Life Church and Ministries is estimated to cost more than $150,000 (USD) to continue operating again, Ps Chady said.

Its church funds are frozen in the bank. Only currency freshly wired from outside Lebanon can be cashed out from local banks in US dollars, due to the extreme devaluation of the local currency which is now almost worth nothing.

Those who are led to make a donation to the church in Beirut, Lebanon, can do so by transferring the money to the Evangelical Abundant Life Church B-H:

Bank account number: 898235 461 002 039 02 under bank Audi
Bank branch: Ain El-Remmaneh

About the author

Janice Tai

Salt&Light senior writer, Janice, is a former correspondent who enjoys immersing herself in: 1) stories of the unseen, unheard and marginalised, 2) the River of Life, and 3) a refreshing pool in the midday heat of Singapore.