[Photo Courtesy of the Middle East and North African Union]
Beirut, Lebanon | Maria Shajiei, Middle East and North Africa Union

In these economically challenging times, God is still blessing. This has been particularly evident at Middle East University (MEU), the only Seventh-day Adventist institution of higher learning in the entire Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Vital to continuing the rich heritage of preparing missionaries in various careers to spread the gospel, MEU has seen many difficult times over the years. Yet God’s hand of protection has always remained clearly over it.

The recent challenging times began in October of 2019 as people protested for their economic and social rights in the country of Lebanon. Over the next several months, the local currency lost more than 80% of its value, people’s purchasing power dropped drastically, and an estimated 2 million Lebanese dropped below the poverty line.

Then COVID-19 hit and its effects escalated the already-depressed economy. Country-wide lockdowns lasting several months took effect. At the time of writing, Lebanon had passed 50,000 COVID-19 cases with the number continuing to grow by about 1,000 cases daily. Education had already gone online during the previous year’s protests and continued on due to the coronavirus restrictions.

On August 4, 2020, a huge explosion of ammonium nitrate in Beirut’s port killed more than 200 people, injured 6,500, and left about 300,000 homeless due to property damages estimated in the billions. The explosion has been called “one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in history” according to BBC and was felt as far away as Turkey and Cyprus. The people of Lebanon had already endured so much and this catastrophe really shook them to the core. There seemed to be no end to the crises beleaguering the beautiful land of Lebanon.

When preparing the budget for the 2020-2021 school year, MEU’s administration anticipated there would be a drop in enrollment due to the country’s difficult situation. Travel was limited, if not completely restricted between many countries, making it difficult for international students to come. In addition, as basic household items continued to skyrocket in price, such as cucumbers ordinarily sold at 50 cents a kilo jumping to more than $3 a kilo, it was logical to conclude that Lebanese households would also struggle to find the money to attend university when it was becoming difficult to put a balanced meal on the table.

Yet, God worked miracles. The business manager created a plan whereby Lebanese students were able to pay their tuition in Lebanese pounds at last year’s rates. This was in contrast to other local universities that required payment in USD or Lebanese pounds at the prevailing market rate which fluctuated widely. International students’ tuition rates were reduced, and as MEU operated on a competitively low tuition rate already, the costs were very reasonable in comparison to other international universities. A student could attend MEU, stay in the dorm, and eat 3 meals in the cafeteria for less than a third of tuition alone for a year in a university in the United States.

A 555 program was created, offering Lebanese students from a worthy academic background but financially challenged situation the opportunity to attend MEU at a greatly reduced cost. Nearby high schools were invited to submit nominations for their high achievers and 8 students from the 555 program enrolled at MEU in the fall of 2020. The Lebanese students themselves, strong believers in the liberating power of higher education, registered for classes despite the depressed economic situation they were undoubtedly facing. After the enrollment period ended, 152 students had enrolled in undergraduate and graduate degree programs at MEU.

“With all the chaos in Lebanon, on top of the COVID-19, the fact that we have actually increased enrollment is a real miracle,” says Dr. Ronald Vyhmeister, academic dean at MEU. Last fall, enrollment was 144 students. This fall, at a time when it would be logical to see enrollment drop, enrollment increased by nearly 6%.

Coming from around the globe, from Brazil to Zimbabwe, from Angola to South Korea, from Denmark to the US, like a mini United Nations, students representing 31 nationalities met at MEU in the fall of 2020. They came to study, they came to prepare for the mission field, and they came to follow their dreams. Many of the international students came as a response to the appeal by Dr. Larry Lichtenwalter, MEU president, who invited them to be part of a missional study experience alongside vulnerable Lebanese students.

MEU is here to prepare students to grow, to change, and to find their place of service in the world. We count our students, not because of the financial increase, but because we recognize the potential in each student. We are thankful for God’s blessings in entrusting us with more students this year and look forward to how He will work in and through each of the faculty and students to serve Him.