Hope of the Gospel Shines in Refugee-Filled Lebanon
Contributed By Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News associate editor
- An estimated 1.6 million refugees live in Lebanon.
- A branch of about 30 members meets in Beirut to help move the work along.
“I know this branch will grow one day. I know there is a time Heavenly Father is preparing for Lebanon.” —Garabed Khanadenian, president of the Beirut Branch
As a small child, Garabed Khanadenian did not know anything about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or of the scriptures.
So when he came across a book he had never seen before, he asked his grandfather a question that would change his life. “What is Mormon?” he said.
His grandfather “took me by the hand and walked me to a safe and showed me the scriptures. ‘These are scriptures. These are treasure,’” he told his grandson.
In time, President Khanadenian, who today serves as president of the Beirut Branch, would learn of his family’s deep roots in the Church.
President Khanadenian’s grandfather, also named Garabed, met the missionaries on the streets of Beirut in 1960, joined the Church, and was called as president of the Armenian Branch in Lebanon.
Soon, however, civil war rocked the country.
President Khanadenian’s grandfather received a letter from Salt Lake City. The LDS branches in the country closed, and most Latter-day Saints left Lebanon.
But the branch president did not leave. Instead, he gathered all the branch materials and locked them in a safe. He told his grandson that someday soon the Church would return to their country, and they would need to share their treasure.
President Khanadenian’s grandfather passed away, however, before he was able to again meet with Latter-day Saints.
In time, the Church did return to Lebanon and opened the Beirut Branch.
President Khanadenian’s father, Kevork—who was a teenager when the Church left Beirut—found the Church on the Internet. “My father was happy. He wanted to come and rejoin the Church.”
President Khanadenian was immediately baptized; he was 23. “I knew about the Church and about the importance of the Church. But we were without the Church my whole life. At that time my life changed and the blessings of my Heavenly Father came to me.”
Today, he says the most important thing Church members can do in Lebanon is “reach out to all Christian people and tell them there is a restored Church of Jesus Christ in Lebanon.”
President Khanadenian said many people are currently living in hard times in Lebanon. A country with a population of more than 4 million is housing an estimated 1.6 million refugees—the majority of whom have fled the Syrian crisis. The crisis has strained local resources in Lebanon, where some 30 Church members gather each week as part of the Beirut Branch. The members regularly assemble food kits and do other service to help those in their city impacted by the crisis. (Please see “We Are in a Real Crisis,” Church News, Oct. 19, 2014.)
Members find hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ and long to share that hope.
“We don’t have young missionaries in Lebanon. All members must be missionaries, talk about the Church, and invite their Christian friends to meetings.”
Karim Assouad is president of the Amman Jordan District, which includes Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt.
President Assouad said many challenges for members in the district are “related to traditions that are rooted in time.”
“The Middle East is a tribal society. Everything is governed by local custom,” he said.
Children are raised to respect the elderly, making it difficult for young people to embrace a church not familiar to their parents and grandparents.
“The weight of tradition is very heavy,” he explained. “So for a young man to join the Church will take a lot of courage, but also a lot of interdependency.”
In addition, when members grow up and leave the country, they rarely return, he said. “This is why we see little growth.”
Other members have jobs that require them to work on Sundays.
But as all the members do their part, the work is moving forward in Lebanon and other areas of the district, he said. The Church “gives hope when there is no hope,” he said.
“It is very hard because nobody has heard about the Church,” said President Khanadenian’s wife, Lena. “They don’t know it is the Church of Jesus Christ.”
But she is happy her children were born into the Church. “I am happy they are learning about Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith. I am happy they are learning at a young age.”
President Assouad’s mother, Andrée Assouad, has been the branch Relief Society president for the past four years. She joined the Church 16 years ago.
She said members struggle to attend Church on Sunday because there is no good public transportation in Beirut. On Sundays, Sister Assouad gives at least four members a ride to Church.
When she joined the Church many of her friends said she would change her mind within a year. But she has remained faithful. “I trust God,” she said. “All my life I trust God. I want to thank Him and be a good member in His true Church.”
President Khanadenian often thinks of his grandfather and his desire that the scriptures of the Church remain safe during the years there was no organized Church in Beirut. “I know this branch will grow one day,” he said. “I know there is a time Heavenly Father is preparing for Lebanon.”