Beirut Boys Return to Maine for Another Year of Schooling

Ralph (left) and Marc with the Rev. Suzannah Rohman, rector of St. Andrew’s, Newcastle, Maine

By Neva Rae Fox

Two sons of an archdeacon in Lebanon, called the Boys from Beirut, are returning to the United States for another year of schooling and cultural exchanges. This is thanks to a partnership among the Diocese of Maine, the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, a prestigious private school, an active Maine church, a pair of mission-minded adults, and two teens seeking an education.

Their journey started two years ago with a visit to Lebanon by Heidi Shott, communications director for the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. She met the Ven. Imad Zoorob, archdeacon for Lebanon and Syria, his wife, and two sons, Marc and Ralph.

“I became acquainted with Archdeacon Zoorob in the wake of the August 2020 explosion in Beirut,” Shott said. “On that (Zoom) call, he also shared the deep concern he and his wife, Hind, have for the future of their sons and their hope that Marc and Ralph might be able to study abroad someday. There’s where the Holy Spirit comes in.

“My husband, Scott, and I have a crazy commitment to respond to opportunities to serve that God places before us. They need to be so obvious that they are impossible to miss.” This, Shott said, was one of them. “Listening to Fr. Imad talk, I found myself profoundly moved by his anguish for the welfare of his sons. It was clear that God had plopped the Zoorob family directly in our path.”

The brothers had no problem fitting in. “Teenagers are teenagers are teenagers, no matter where you come from or what you look like,” Abbot said with a laugh.

Her husband agreed. “Within a week we had talked with the Zoorob family, Bishop Thomas Brown of Maine, the rector of St. Andrew’s Church, our local Episcopal congregation, and the headmaster of Lincoln Academy about how together we might bring Marc and Ralph to Maine to finish high school,” he said.

That kicked off the adventure, but Shott doesn’t take credit for what transpired next. “Scott and I may have gotten things started, but the faithful and caring people of the Diocese of Maine and Lincoln Academy made it happen.”

Brown recalled the genesis of this international relationship. “Heidi called me Thanksgiving weekend (2020). Our phone conversation sparked other ones, and within a couple of weeks the Diocese of Maine made a commitment to raise $100,000 to ensure Marc and Ralph could attend high school in Maine.” A website, Lebanon to Lincoln, tells their story and seeks support.

The brothers arrived in March 2021.

“Heidi didn’t know me,” Zoorob said. “This was an act of the Holy Spirit that continues with church members and with Bishop Thomas and the good people in Maine.”

He remembers a life of bombs and shelters. Zoorob explained that although the decision to send his children to America was hard, “it was a must. I don’t want them to face what I faced.”

Brown shared why this ministry was so important. “We were in the middle of ‘all things COVID,’ and in front of us was an opportunity to welcome a family into our diocesan family. It was an incarnational expression of our commitment to the church in the Holy Land.”

Lincoln Academy was ideal for the Zoorob boys. Dean of Students Jake Abbot explained that an international boarding program began at the independent school in 2013. Lincoln has housed students from 19 countries, and “Lebanon makes number 20.”

The brothers had no problem fitting in. “Teenagers are teenagers are teenagers, no matter where you come from or what you look like,” Abbot said with a laugh.

The boys identified the challenges they faced. Marc’s was “probably having to adapt to a whole new culture, starting from scratch.” Ralph’s challenge was “online learning for a while.”

As with most teenagers, life wasn’t all books and schoolwork. Ralph played soccer and basketball, “but it was with masks,” which “was really hard.”

Marc, on the other hand, is “not much of a sports fan. I do my best to keep fit, like with the cross-country team. Running is hard. But the team was very fun. In the winter I participated in cooperative team games, which is playing with people with disabilities.”

This summer, Abbot and his family, including his Lebanese father, visited the Zoorobs at home. “It was a true sharing,” Abbott said.

Abbott called Marc and Ralph “incredibly compassionate, and after being in Lebanon, I understand that.”

Another important factor in the relationship is St. Andrew’s, Newcastle, near Lincoln Academy. Brown praised the church’s support. “St. Andrew’s became Marc and Ralph’s home church in Maine. They have committed themselves to raising money for Marc’s first year of college at the University of Maine. The blessing continues!”

John Ward, senior warden of St. Andrew’s, described Marc and Ralph as “very generous, candid young men. They are very congenial.

“We call them the Boys of Beirut,” he said, laughing. They are more than six feet tall “and very bushy-headed, which adds to the tallness. When they come to church, they make an impression.”

St. Andrew’s became a part of the Zoorobs’ adventure through the church’s Outreach Committee. “We were trying to figure out post-COVID how to redesign our outreach — both individual involvement and distribution of cash,” Ward said. After looking at options, the committee zeroed in on assisting the two boys.

“The parish was challenged to match the commitment from the Outreach Committee,” which was $7,500. The challenge, Ward said, was quickly met. “The money just came in.”

For St. Andrew’s, the funds went beyond supporting the Boys from Beirut. “In some practical way we were supporting the archdeacon’s mission in Lebanon,” Ward said. “This isn’t just a way of helping a couple of attractive young men to continue their education. It’s a direct link to a threatened ministry in a threatened part of the world.”

While the boys were separated from their parents, the Shotts happily filled in the gaps. “Since Marc and Ralph arrived in March 2021, we’ve served as their local host family. They’ve spent holidays and vacations with us, and we’ve taken Marc on college visits,” she said.

The boys offered advice to anyone considering an adventure like this. “It is the happiest I have ever been in my life,” Marc said. “I got to experience so many things. Wonderful journey. Knowing how much people care has made it better.”

Ralph agreed. “If you get a crazy, insane opportunity to go anywhere far away from home, and if you want to do it, do it. I believe God is always near. I don’t think anyone should fear any obstacles.”

Zoorob expressed deep gratitude. “I am really speechless. Words of big thanks, words of gratitude, for planning with me and paving the road for a secure future for my kids. It’s not only a dream, it’s a future — making their future secure — because Lebanon, most beautiful place on earth, it’s our country, but the problem it is facing is the worst since the 1970s. It’s not a place to live. I don’t want my kids to face the same. For us it’s securing their future in the best and safest place. It’s a place to make dreams come true — the U.S.”

Marc thinks the entire experience is a Holy Spirit moment, “from the beginning to end.” For Ralph, “The journey was a really big deal for me personally. Maine is our second home. America was a dream for us to go and study there.”

The bishop mentioned lessons learned. “A primary learning-reminder is from St. Paul: ‘We can do all things through Christ who gives us strength’ (Phil. 4:13). Second, the church in Maine has long had a commitment to global ministry; in the early 1820s, the first Bishop of Maine connected us to Haiti, and that connection continues between several local faith communities in Maine and Haiti. Third, we learned again of God’s blessing to us when we partner with others — with Lincoln Academy, individuals throughout the Episcopal Church, and with the Zoorobs.”

When they return in the fall, Marc plans to major in biomedical engineering at the University of Maine while Ralph begins his senior year at Lincoln Academy.

Brown offered advice to churches or dioceses considering a similar international ministry: “Listen to the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the inspiration of one or two people can ignite a whole community. I believe God’s people yearn for invitations to act or to speak or to love. Lay and ordained leaders play a key role in listening and responding to what comes from the grassroots.”

Heidi Shott added: “Fr. Imad has said, ‘In Lebanon we don’t send our children away, so it was very hard for us to let Marc and Ralph study in the U.S., even though that is our dream for them and their future. What made it easier was knowing they were coming to be cared for by their new big family in Maine.’ To me that sounds like the Holy Spirit speaking to us about what it means to be the body of Christ across geographic and cultural boundaries. It’s a message so clear it’s impossible to miss.”


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