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Why Do Young People Stay in Lebanon?

Thimar team

If you want to experience contrasts, go to Lebanon. It is a beautiful country with the green and fertile Bekaa valley, snowy mountains, more than 2000-year-old cedar trees, and the Mediterranean Sea. At the same time, you can still see houses and villages destroyed during the civil war between 1975-1990, many of them abandoned ever since. The Muslim and Christian areas of Beirut differ from each other like day and night, offering another perspective of contrasts present in Lebanese society. Another contradiction, much more remarkable in my opinion, is that although 80% of Lebanese families live below the poverty line, their exceptional hospitality and delicious food make you feel like royalty.

You can experience all this when you visit Lebanon for a short time.

But what is it like to live there?

How bad can it get?

The Lebanese economy collapsed in 2019, and since then, the country and its people have been experiencing crisis after crisis. Everyday life in Lebanon has become increasingly difficult, yet a Lebanese optimist might say that even if they have reached the bottom, it can still get worse. The country has no Prime Minister to convene the government and run the country for the benefit of its citizens. It is a ‘cash only’ society as the banks are not trusted after they confiscated and misused people’s savings. If you somehow manage to buy a car and want to register it, it will take about two years because the registration office doesn’t function properly. Likewise, getting a new passport may easily take a couple of years. No holidays abroad! No visiting friends and family living in other countries!

These are only a few examples of the dysfunctional society in Lebanon. And many people with the ability to leave, leave the country. Young people cannot find hope or see a future for themselves in Lebanon. No matter how hard they try, it is impossible to break through the political barriers and corruption that define their country. So, it is better to leave; it is better to go somewhere where their gifts and efforts can contribute to a better world and where they can earn a fair salary for their work.

Competing story

Yet when I visited Lebanon and Thimar (meaning ‘fruit’ in Arabic, formerly called LSESD) this April, I met young people who have decided to stay in Lebanon and work, whatever it takes, for the communities around them. I am told that more than 51% of the Thimar’s staff are currently under 35 and 74% are under 45 years of age.

When I asked them why they had not left the country like many other young people and instead had decided to work with Thimar, I received many different answers. Here are some of them:

I want to be part of equipping the churches and see new churches emerge from this work.
I see the fruit of Thimar’s efforts, and even if my role is only in one area, I can see the result of the whole process and I want to be part of it.
I see my faith growing because of the work of Thimar.
It is not just work anymore, but also a family and a church.
It is so good to have “a pastor on the floor” to share with him about my Christian journey, and to get advice and encouragement.
Our devotions on Mondays are such an important part of my spiritual growth and formation.

When these young people share their stories and hopes for the future, three things are very noticeable: their trust in God, the influence of inspiring leadership of those going ahead of them, and their willingness to serve and be part of a bigger story of God’s Kingdom.

Young people worshipping

This is why these young people have decided to stay in Lebanon and keep working despite all the hardships. They have decided to embody God’s future of restoration and healing for those struggling in a society where, humanly speaking, it is impossible to see any flourishing future for the country and its people. Yet through these young people, God is changing the reality here and now for so many struggling with their everyday lives. The hope they embody gives meaning to their own lives and changes the reality for others. 

Stories of hope

One of these hope stories I was invited to witness was at a school supported by MERATH, the relief and development arm of Thimar, and run by a Baptist Church in the Bekaa Valley. This school offers education for 150 Syrian refugee children who have no access to quality education.

On the day of our visit, the school celebrated Easter and all the 150 Syrian children from different backgrounds enthusiastically sang Christian Easter songs. Different age groups had formed different choirs and so they sang to each other and to us, their guests: “Jesus paid all my depts by dying on the cross.”

Children performing

When I asked these refugee children and young people what they most liked about this school, they said that they love their teachers and they love to study. Many Syrian refugee children are forced to work because their families need every bit of income they can earn to survive. Yet an opportunity to study has the potential to make a huge difference for the lives of these kids and young people. And during their studies, there are many who come to know the Lord, says the pastor of the church.

This school, and other “church schools” for Syrian refugee kids in Lebanon, can operate because of the support of Thimar and their partners. For Thimar’s young staff members, this is only one of the ministries that inspires them to stay in Lebanon and work for God’s Kingdom. Yet there are many more, you can find out about these on Thimar’s website and in the recent issue of their Newsletter.

Get involved

There are a good number of young people who have found their calling and now work for Thimar’s different ministries. However, Alia Abboud, Thimar’s Chief Development Officer shares:

“It’s been weighing heavily on our hearts and minds that the young generation is giving up on Lebanon and are leaving the country, and if we aren’t proactive in helping our young generation of Christian believers find themselves in Kingdom work, they too will pack and leave.”

This concern has shaped Thimar’s vision to run workshops for young women and men to help them identify their spiritual gifts and guide them on how and where to use them in local churches and ministries. Watch this video about the first workshop held for three churches in the Bekaa region, pray for these young people, and if you want to support this ministry, contact Thimar’s leadership or take action as offered on their website.

Young people in Lebanon need our support to remain there, to be salt and light in this country and ultimately transform the crisis into blessings.

Read Hunter Williamson's thoughts on recent events related to a possible war situation with Israel.

Photos: Pamela McDowell, Thimar, Helle Liht


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