The Sphere of Christ’s Presence: A Christmas Compass through the Holy Land
January 5, 2023

Things We Carry as We Go: Reflections on Lebanese Youth Who Left

Teresa Sfeir

“All the Lebanese immigrants I know keep talking about Lebanon, but no one wants to come back,” Samar shared. Samar, 27, has been in the UAE since 2020. Returning is not an option for her because she has gotten used to the sense of stability that the UAE offers her. “I started from the bottom and have been through a lot here. It’s hard to go back to the chaos back home, but I really hope things get better because Lebanon is where I have my memories—and everything.”

Lebanese migration isn’t anything new. In the 19th century, specifically from 1880 to 1914, Lebanon witnessed its first wave of migration after the collapse of the Lebanese silk economy; its second wave came during the 1975-1990 Civil War; recently, it has been experiencing a third wave. Today, twice as many Lebanese are living outside Lebanon as inside it. Undoubtedly, Lebanon has recently been losing a national treasure once more. It has been losing its youth. I have witnessed it in my own family. Two of my siblings currently live abroad. I have also witnessed it in my church. Samar is one example. Elsie is another.

Elsie, 29, is currently pregnant with her second daughter. Things weren’t easy for her and her husband when they first arrived in France in 2021. Today, they are settled in and are thankful for their new life there. Like Samar, Elsie does not consider returning because, in her words, “All our education and hard work would have been wasted had we stayed there. We didn’t have life insurance. We didn’t even have enough money to just live. It’s sad that, as Lebanese people, we grow up wanting to leave.”

But leaving is never easy. Away from their homeland, people struggle with feelings of vulnerability and, in some cases, inferiority or insignificance. As an immigrant, one feels like an outsider in their host country and, gradually, in their home country as well. The visits back home become rarer, and with every visit, things feel a little less the same. Their loved ones have aged and changed, and the ties are not as strong as they once were.

Staying isn’t easy, either. The young generation is feeling trapped. They leave because they have no future in Lebanon. As soon as they reach their host country, however, they realize that they have been thrown off into the deep end, but they must keep swimming because they cannot return to shore. Lebanon has deserted them. They are on their own now.

But might they instead have unknowingly deserted Lebanon? People have different motives for leaving. Some may endure what others may not. But it is worth remembering that, when God wants us somewhere, we shouldn’t take the nearest exit at the first sign of hardship. I would like to believe that  God’s people always ended up where God wanted—mainly because it is a comforting notion. They left Egypt and arrived at the Promised Land because He willed it. They were led as captives to Babylon because He willed it. The remnant returned to Jerusalem because He willed it.

Surely, God’s sovereignty is an indisputable constant across history, and it is, indeed, a comforting notion. But what if Moses had stayed in Midian, for instance? What if Ruth had returned to Moab? Would God have used someone else as in the words of Mordecai, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place?” (Esther 4:14) Or, on a more sobering note, would their disobedience have disrupted God’s work in that specific time and location?

The debate about migration is quite complex because migrants’ real-life experiences cannot be neatly grouped into categories. I do not aim to give any answers within the scope of this blogpost; neither do I claim to be an authority on the subject, which several scholars have already studied at length. I write this blogpost as a salute to young Lebanese people who have recently had to leave this country. Can you hear their aching in the spirit of Nehemiah 1 and Psalm 137?

My people are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Beirut is broken down, and its gates are burned down. When I hear these things, I sit down and weep. I had been desperate to move abroad. I left in search of the future I lost, yet the memories of home and loved ones haunt me. They are ever present before me. How shall I sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Beirut, let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you.

The city of Jerusalem was in ruins in the days of Nehemiah—a mere shadow of its former existence. When Nehemiah prayed, He reminded God of His covenant and asked Him to do something. Then he volunteered to be the vessel through which God would move. A scattered people united with Nehemiah to re-form a settlement that was suffering from economic exploitation. To say that they were undertaking a laborious affair would be an understatement, yet they held onto their vision and pressed forward. Similarly, could the Lebanese diaspora someday join hands with those remaining in Lebanon and change things? Could they someday come back and bring reformation, just like Nehemiah was commissioned to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall?

We often hear of the plight of people who are stuck here in a swamp of corruption. But we don’t always remember those who were forced to leave. To our friends and family members who are away: God has not given up on you. I pray that He is your home. He hasn’t given up on Lebanon, so don’t give up on Lebanon either, even if you may have felt that Lebanon gave up on you.

2 Comments

  1. Mike Kuhn says:

    That’s a beautiful reflection, Teresa. Thanks for sharing it. I love the way you recognize the challenges and hardships for both groups–those who stay and those who leave. I also appreciated the way you identify with Nehemiah and Psalm 137 in your lament for Beirut. Well-written and thoughtful…it helped me enter into your lament and hope for Lebanon.

  2. teresasfeir says:

    Thank you, Mike! I am glad you found the blogpost helpful. It’s definitely something that’s been on my mind lately!

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