The Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Middle East University unveiled an off-campus community center last month, a move that underscores how school administrators are now offering services to their neighbors when for so long they struggled to maintain their own institution in the wake of Lebanon’s civil war.
The For Your Life Community Center, two kilometers away and down the hill from campus, offers classes in health, cooking, art, music and computers. Already, more than 600 people have participated in health classes sponsored by a visiting health group – the Weimar Center of Health and Education – from the United States.
“I’m absolutely thrilled about the new center,” said university President Leif Hongisto. “It wasn’t obvious that people would support it or that it would get such a warm acceptance. God is really blessing these endeavors to reconnect this community with its first settlers,” he said of the Adventist community who first inhabited the area in modern times in 1939.
The opening of the center – located on the ground-level, retail floor of a 10-story apartment building – drew dozens of supporters, including Antoine Kaysar Jbara, the mayor of Jdeidet-Bauchrieh-Sed Municipality. The opening also gained media coverage in newspapers, television and radio.
The center came about after Hongisto held a community 5k health walk last year. The outreach event corresponded with the country’s growing awareness of health issues, he said.
“People realize we were early adaptors,” he said of the Adventist Church’s long commitment to healthful living.
The university itself is experiencing a resurgence after years of rebuilding. The campus was in shambles following the Lebanese Civil War from 1975 to 1990.
Homer Trecartin, president of the Adventist Church’s Middle East North Africa Union, says the campus has undergone a dramatic change since the time he served as the union’s secretary-treasurer.
“You should have seen [the campus] when I visited 12 years ago. Most of the houses were still bombed out and had birds and other animals living in them. There was one student in the dorm. Only a few teachers were Adventist.”
Rebuilding got serious about a decade ago. “It’s now an exciting and a beautiful place,” Trecartin said of the campus, which overlooks Beirut and the Mediterranean Sea.
The school is now home to 250 students from 23 countries.
The university has a long and well-respected history in Lebanon. It’s located atop Sabtieh hill; “Sabtieh” an Arabic word meaning “Sabbath keepers,” after the Adventists who first established the campus in 1939 in of the foothills of Mount Lebanon. It was then a rural area.
In 1946, the cornerstone of the men’s dorm was laid by Lebanon’s President Sheikh Bechara El Khoury.
During the civil war, enrollment dropped to 40 students and classes were sometimes held in a bomb shelter. Still, it was the only tertiary institution in the country to continuously operate during the war, according to the Adventist world church’s epartment of Education.
The institution achieved university status in 2001.
Another turning point for improved enrollment occurred in 2007 when the union headquarters moved back to Lebanon after a 20-year relocation in Cyprus.
The university offers programs in business – including an MBA – philosophy & theology, education, graphic design, computer science and English. Its also offers the only Arabic language program in the Adventist world church’s education system. Last year the school accepted its first students through the Adventist Colleges Abroad program.
Trecartin said the university compound is again full of Adventist families and children. All of the university’s fulltime teachers are now Adventist.
“It’s been a passion of many people to do what it took to make this an Adventist school again,” Trecartin said.