When did you first meet Bruce?
I first met him in the early 1970s when Peter [her husband] and I used to go on visits to Ann Arbor. He was already a key figure in that community. I am not sure we met personally, but I remember him clearly from that time. My earliest memory of him is a young man with a pack of cigarettes in his pocket ‒ that was before he quit.
What was Bruce’s role in your community in Lebanon?
Bruce visited regularly during the 1980s and 90s to help us in building the community, and he did so as a real shepherd. He was there for us, even during the civil war in our country. I remember in 1982, during the Israeli invasion, no news got out and he was concerned. So when the airport opened up again, he was on one of the first planes to Beirut. He then negotiated his way to us via taxi, since we did not know he was coming. So when he arrived and knocked on our door, we thought we were seeing a ghost. This is just one example of his boldness and courage when it came to caring for us.
Another story happened in June 1984: he had come to give us a Pentecost retreat and to talk about “The Sword of the Spirit.” As he was going to the harbor to board a ship to Cyprus, shelling began. Missiles fell all around them, one of the brothers taking Bruce to the port was killed, two others injured. But that did not keep him from visiting us again and again.
One last example: one of our sisters in the community was sick and quite possibly contagious. But that did not keep Bruce from visiting and praying over her.
He would have countless meetings, both to care for people and to make decisions. He would patiently listen, then disappear into his room and type up the minutes and decisions. He helped establish the leadership of the community, but it never felt institutional: he created order for the sake of peace. He gave numerous talks and retreats, and a bit later on, helped us set up our movement.
How would you describe his personality?
The first thing that comes to mind is his remarkable sense of humor. One day I had to help him put drops in his eyes after an operation and his first comment was: “Najwa, you are terrible nurse!”
But he was also a very loving and faithful friend, which does not mean he never provoked me or that we never argued. But over those 50 years he kept up our friendship, offering encouragement, always being there…
Of course he had his idiosyncrasies: for example, he was not a morning person. But all his shortcomings did not compare to everything else he had to offer. And he had a great love for our country. Once, being back after a long absence, he said: “This morning, I was very happy. I woke up in Lebanon”.
How would you describe his prophetic ministry?
While he never prophesied over me, his ministry left a deep mark on my soul, my spirit – for example when he prophesied during meetings.
One particular example comes to mind: he wanted me to help work with our community in Belfast (Northern Ireland), but when he spoke to me I had a list of personal limitations to offer which meant I could not do this service. But in a very undramatic fashion he helped me see what I had to offer. He encouraged me to pray about it, and in the end I agreed to the service, and I have never regretted it.
Which does not mean that he could not be dramatic. I recall an instance of real, real anger that he displayed because of sin in a person’s life. That also was prophetic.
Any final thoughts you want to offer?
I will miss him dearly, as a brother, a spiritual father, a faithful friend. And I think I am not the only one: many in our community were deeply impacted by his life.
Najwa Shebaya and her husband Peter helped start “the People of God”, a community based in Lebanon. She still lives near Beirut and serves the community and its many movements.