“It’s a miracle”. I heard this phrase more than once with regard to the same ministry- Beirut Baptist School. The work of this originally small school, certainly lives up to that. You could almost call BBS “the little school that could”. For almost 60 years, BBS has been providing top notch education for students of various backgrounds, and education which includes an introduction to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We gathered over coffee with BBS Principal Pierre Rahal and Chaplain Toni El-Haddad to listen to their passion for ministry to the children of Beirut. As they reflected on what’s happened and what is happening there now, Toni summed it up, saying “It’s crazy”. It really is.
BBS was started by American missionaries in 1956, and has continued to not only survive, but to thrive in spite of the obstacles. BBS currently offers education from Pre-School to Grade 12, and has over 1300 students, 90% + of whom are from non-Christian families (and roughly 1/3 of the staff are also non-Christian). All students attend chapel and take bible classes.
When BBS was originally founded the neighbourhood in which it is located was largely a Christian area, and the student body reflect that. But the civil war shuffled (which is a nice way to say displaced) significant numbers of people, and now, BBS finds itself in a majority non-Christian neighbourhood, but they refused to move, or see this as an obstacle. Instead this is an opportunity- an opportunity to break down barriers and build connections. Children at BBS are loved indiscriminately and taught to love each classmate the same. Pierre and Toni reflected on the serious attempts to eliminate any students from forming cliques based on faith backgrounds- it is even speculated that most children don’t even know for sure whether their peers are of their own religion or not. There is a zero tolerance policy when it comes to religious hatred. Pierre lived for many years in Montreal, and in his office he displays the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which he uses as a tool to guide the school to reject hatred, persecution and discrimination. All students are welcome, all students are offered the same excellent education, and all learn from Scriptures about God’s love and salvation revealed in Jesus Christ.
In spite of the demographic shifts, and even a very serious attempt during the civil war to shut BBS down, it remains, and continues to grow. The results are incredible. In the 2012 standardized exams, BBS had a 100% success rate, and 5 BBS students ranked among the top students in Beirut. The level of excellence is incredible. Pierre clearly stated, “I want BBS to be the best school in Lebanon”. They push the bar high and strive for greatness in education.
Not only do they strive for the highest of academic standards, through wise stewardship, BBS is able to offer this high level of education at a lower cost than other schools. BBS remains almost entirely self-supporting, receiving only small amounts of outside donations (the school is currently expanding its facilities, so some additional funds are needed to increase capacity and try to meet demand).
So what does BBS tell us about integral mission?
First and foremost, education is a gift and a service. This is reflected in the BBS Mission Statement: “The BBS mission is to prepare the students in mind, body and spirit to meet the challenges of the world around them. The school continues to share the spiritual concerns of its founders and their mission to promote love of God and country and to liberate the mind and soul from the bondage of ignorance and fear, hence its motto: ‘You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free'”
While on earth Jesus taught. He gave wisdom. He opened up the Scriptures to his disciples. You know, all that stuff between the Christmas story and the cross? Yeah, Jesus did stuff. If we see Jesus only in terms of personal salvation through the atonement offered on the cross we miss so much. Jesus is the great teacher. His followers called him Rabbi. Providing excellence in education is to mimic Jesus. To break down ignorance and to bring knowledge is to bless the community with access to understanding.
Secondly, we should pursue excellence. That pursuit should be in our impact as well as our own personal devotion. When we pursue Jesus we strive to mimic him. Paul tells us to imitators of God and to love as Jesus loved (Eph. 5:1-2). We are called to give our very best to others; love others the best we can; serve them with our best, not our leftovers.
Thirdly, BBS goes beyond its students. In 2006, when a believed 25% of Lebanon’s population was displaced during the Israel-Hezbollah conflict, BBS took action. This conflict came during summer, and so the school flung its doors open and housed roughly 1000 displaced people fleeing the areas being targeted, and in partnership with LSESD housed and fed these folks for a month, and provided recreational programs for children until the ceasefire was in place.
This school is a testimony to the power to make a serious impact, to inspire, to equip and to make a difference. Pierre is an alumni of BBS, as is LSESD Executive Director, Nabil Costa. Now these alum, along with many others are giving back, impacting their communities, and pursuing excellence. BBS grads have among the highest rates in Lebanon for acceptance into Post-Secondary schools, and leave BBS equipped to be leaders.
All this from a small evangelical school in majority non-Christian neighbourhood; simply because they saw the opportunity to make a difference and be a blessing to their community. As Pierre shared “it’s not our work”. They simply saw a chance to be obedient and incarnate Jesus.