They left their homeland in the midst of a civil war with nominal Christian commitments. They returned as Christian leaders in time to see their country descend into another war. They shared their story this week with EthicsDaily.com.
Reared in Lebanon, Elie and Mireille Haddad moved separately to Canada at the end of the horrific Lebanese Civil War that raged from 1975 to 1990. Its destruction was still evident in Beirut in September 2004, when EthicsDaily.com traveled there to cover a Baptist World Alliance leadership meeting.
It was at Toronto’s Middle East Baptist Church where their Christian faith was renewed, where they met and married, and where they unexpectedly heard God’s call to return to Lebanon.
Elie Haddad, provost at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, grew up in Sidon, a city connected to Noah’s grandson, visited by Jesus and a port of call for one of the Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys.
In 1974, when Elie was 14, his family left the seaport city neighboring another biblical town, Tyre, and moved south to Beirut. The civil war began the next year.
“In 1975 and 1976, we were still counting the war in rounds: round one, round two, etc.,” he said. “Every time a round ended people would feel hope, only to be crushed when it started all over again.”
Haddad said, “Because of the war, I was deprived from living a normal life. It felt like I was cheated of the prime years of my life.”
Four years after moving to Beirut, he graduated from high school and moved to Washington, D.C., to study. He returned in 1981 to Lebanon to work at the American University of Beirut. The war was still being waged.
“The fighting parties changed so many times during the war. It started between Palestinians and Lebanese Christians, then involved all the Lebanese, then Syrians and Israelis, then the war ended with the Christians fighting among themselves,” he said.
In 1990, at the age of 30, Elie immigrated to Montreal, Canada, with the sponsorship of his sister and her family. Lacking fluency in French, employment there was impossible. Four months later he moved to Toronto and found a job within two days. But before leaving Montreal he experienced a faith renewal.
“Although I was born in a home that was committed to Christ, and although I gave my life to Christ at the age of 10, I drifted away from God for a long time between the ages of 18 and 30,” he said. “It’s only by the time that I immigrated to Canada that I recommitted my life to Christ.”
Elie said he was “already feeling fed up with the ways of the world,” so he had to make a choice whether to make new friends inside or outside the church. He started attending church, and “was attracted again by the love of Christ” evident in the members of the Canadian congregation.
Moving to Toronto, he began attending the Arabic-speaking Middle East Baptist Church, located in a suburb. There, he said, “I started growing in my faith, and I was quickly immersed in ministry in that church.”
Mireille Haddad, meanwhile, was on a separate track. She grew up in Beirut with summers in her family home in the mountain town of Bteghrine. She, too, left Lebanon a year before the end of the civil war.
“It was not possible to continue to live under the bomb-shelling, the fear of explosions,” she said. “I felt there was no future to look for or to plan a normal life. It was a very unstable life.”
Mireille said war was terrible. It covered the country and placed every person at risk night and day to bombs and snipers.
“As a young person, I was living day by day, no hopes for the future just trying to be in safe places and having no big dreams,” she said. “It was like living in a big jail where politicians are deciding about your destiny and you do not have any say in it. The war made me hate my country.”
Her brother, who was living in Toronto, helped her get an immigration visa and move to Canada.
She said she accepted Christ as a teenager, but because of war and family issues she did not attend church regularly. As a result, she did not grow spiritually. “I can say I was astray,” she said.
Upon arriving in Canada, “I started to attend church regularly with my brother’s family, and there I experienced God and got to know him more personally in leading and directing my life,” she said.
Elie and Mireille met in 1992. They married the following year and became leaders in their church. A computer analyst/consultant, Elie started attending Tyndale Seminary, where he eventually obtained a master’s degree in theological studies.
While they never expected to return to Lebanon, Mireille said, “God had other plans for us.”
“One day we received an e-mail from the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary asking Elie to consider the provost position,” she explained. “Before responding by yes or no, we wanted to know if this is from God. After exploring it, we felt it is a call from God.”
During their decision-making process, they learned about Canadian Baptist Ministries and became field personnel with the partnership of four Canadian Baptist conventions, serving 1,000 churches.
Elie became the Beirut seminary’s chief executive officer in January 2006. His hillside office overlooks Beirut, giving him a bird’s-eye view of devastation from Israel’s current bombing campaign, now in its third week.
“What took 15 years to build was destroyed in less than a week,” he told EthicsDaily.com. “The most frustrating thing is the international community that is watching as our county is being destroyed in front of our eyes.”
Hezbollah guerillas demand a ceasefire before any negotiations for prisoner exchange. Israel, with backing from the United States, opposes an immediate truce, desiring first to disarm Hezbollah so they are incapable of future aggression.
From his perspective, Elie says the two issues should be separated.
“Ceasefire and peace are two different things,” he said. “There should be an immediate ceasefire. Then talks about peace can follow.”
He said it is “naive” to view the struggle as between a good people and a bad people and the solution is for the good people to prevail. “I wish things were this simple,” he said. “The politics of this region are much more complex. The global community cannot just deal with the symptoms without dealing with the core issues.”
Lebanon’s Christian community, he told EthicsDaily.com, “is caught between a rock and a hard place. We want peace without eliminating any of our neighbors.”
“Christians in Lebanon lose no matter who wins the war,” he said. “The only time Lebanese Christians win is when there is a realistic attempt at justice and peace.”
Elie said he has a hard time understanding how any Christian can condone violence. “Violence only breeds violence,” he said.
“What I think American Christians should do is to ‘fight’ for true peace and justice based on the Christian values for loving and caring for all humanity, including our ‘enemies.'”
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.