The 2021 graduating class of the National Evangelical School in Nabatieh (NESN) is entirely Shiite Muslim.
While certainly not the image of a typical Christian school in the United States, it is hardly an outlier in Lebanon, where 35 evangelical schools average student bodies that are two-thirds Muslim.
Located 35 miles south of Beirut, Nabatieh originally had a 10 percent Christian population when American Presbyterian missionary Lewis Loe founded the school in 1925. Based in the city’s Christian quarter, NESN drew students from all sects until the civil war drove the once integrated communities apart. From 1978 to 1982, Israeli occupation forced the school to close altogether.
When the city was attacked again during the 2006 war, the school’s bomb shelter gave refuge to frightened children. Relative peace since then has allowed the shelter to become a storage room, but less than 40 Christian families remain in the city. Even so, NESN draws from surrounding villages to maintain a Christian share of 10 percent among its 100-some faculty.
But the new crisis facing Lebanon is financial. Year-end inflation for 2020 was 145 percent, as food prices surged over 400 percent. The World Bank judged the economic collapse to be one of the world’s three worst in the last 150 years.
Teacher salaries have lost nearly 90 percent of their value.
Three years ago, NESN’s 100-foot Christmas tree was Lebanon’s largest. This year—as debt equaled the entire operational budget minus teacher salary—the school could not afford even the Charlie Brown version.
A highlight of the school calendar, Christian elements are welcomed by the local Shiite population—including its substantial number of Hezbollah-affiliated families, said principal Shadi El-Hajjar.
Since he assumed leadership in 2013, the student body of 1,400 has more than doubled.
“We teach compassion, forgiveness, and love of enemies,” Hajjar said, “but as culture and practice, not religion.
“This makes us unique, and draws people to the school.”
It was not always this way.
Decades of appreciative tolerance…
This article was originally published on June 16, 2021, at Christianity Today. Please click here to read the full text.