I gained new insight into the value of hospitality from Rev Dr Paul Haidostian, President of Haigazian University in Lebanon, during his visit to Australia for the 50th anniversary of the Armenian Evangelical Uniting Church in Sydney.
In his lecture, Christians in the Middle East: Between Effective Presence and Marginal Survival on 4 May, Dr Paul spoke about the experiences of Lebanese Christians.
The proportion of the Lebanese population who identify as Christian has greatly declined in recent years. This has been put down to high emigration, low birth rates, economic decline and the hostile political environment across the region.
At the same time, the country is hosting around 1.1 million Syrian refugees, with refugees making up one in four of the population, the highest per capita concentration of refugees worldwide.
Dr Paul explained that in the past 60 years Lebanese Christians had experienced an identity crisis, going from a majority to a minority in their own home country.
The refugee issue is so real for Lebanese people. In the past, people knew their neighbours but it’s no longer the case. Now the neighbourhood has become a more complex mix of nationalities, ethnicities and faiths.
But in the midst of this uncertainty, Lebanon’s culture of hospitality is key to sustaining community. Lebanese people welcome, accept and offer this hospitality to any stranger or visitor regardless of people’s ethnicity, language, culture and religion.
During question time, Dr Paul was asked about the future of Lebanese Christians. He responded:
“Of course, if we only look only at the statistics, the future of Lebanese Christians is very pessimistic, declining from 60 per cent to 40 per cent and now nearly 20 per cent.”
“But we are people of faith. What’s important for us is looking at what Jesus did. Jesus was concerned with the marginal, the outsider, widows. He then responded with care and love. The message is very clear for us, particularly for Lebanese Christians, that we continue to love and care for our neighbours. Our love for one person is more important than the statistics about the future of Lebanese Christians.”
Practical care and love is at the heart of the hospitality shown by the Lebanese people. The future for Lebanese Christians will be marked by their ability to offer a space of grace for everyone.