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Beirut Overseas School building.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Scoggins.

Beirut Overseas School (1965–1984)

By Sven Hagen Jensen

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Sven Hagen Jensen, M.Div. (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA) has worked for the church for over 50 years as a pastor, editor, departmental director, and church administrator in Denmark, Nigeria and the Middle East. Jensen enjoys reading, writing, nature and gardening. He is married to Ingelis and has two adult children and four grandchildren.

First Published: April 25, 2024

Beirut Overseas School was a 12-grade coeducational day school on the senior high school level. It was first operated by the former Middle East Division, then later by the Afro-Mideast Division in Beirut, Lebanon. The purpose of the school was to provide a fully accredited secondary school for the children of missionaries living in the Beirut area.1

Early Developments

In 1953, the Beirut English Church School (also known as the Beirut Overseas Elementary School) was opened after the Middle East Division leadership saw the need to provide education in English for the children of its overseas employees.2 There are no clear records who the first principals were. In 1959, Izella Stuivenga and Mildred T. Olson were listed as teachers, and an enrollment of 14 students was recorded.3 In June 1961, Pastor Harold S. Johnson was appointed pastor of the Middle East College church. He was asked to oversee the school for a year, which at the time had eight grades.4 Stuivenga assumed the principal position in 1962 and was assisted by Mrs. W. R. Lesher until 1966, by which time the enrollment had increased to 22 students.5 When in 1965 grades 9 and 10 were added, the name changed to Beirut Overseas School. By 1967, the high school was complete with 12 grades.6

The school was initially housed in one of the buildings on the division compound on Sabtieh hill. As more grades were added and the number of students increased, there was a need to extend the facilities. So, in 1967 a second story was added.7 The Middle East College approved a proposal that the college’s dormitory facilities be made available on a limited basis to high school students desiring to attend the nearby Beirut Overseas School. Families from all over the Afro-Mideast Division could now keep their children closer to home.8

The teaching staff mainly were missionaries called directly to serve at the school. Among those were James Stephan, Gerald Robert Reynolds, Ruby Faye Ratzlaff, Barbara Beaven, former pilot E. B. Barton, David R. Carpenter, Leroy R. Kuhn, David B. Meyer, L. E. Laabs, Wesley D. Peterson, Dwight and Donna Rose, Mary I. Barley, Mark and Carolyn Miller, M. A. Morford, Arlis Stanley Miller, Charles William Witter, and Aaron Dennis. Other teaching staff included the spouses of missionaries already serving in the division office, Middle East College or Middle East Press (Mildred T. Olson, Mrs. R.L. Jacobs, Wilma Gramkow, Mrs. W.R. Lesher), student missionaries (John Eugene Skidmore, Linda Lee Swanson as a librarian, Denise M. Mitchem, Brenda Cowles and Paula Potter), and teachers from the Adventist Volunteer Service Corps (Myrna Lee Swayze and Miss Esther Feltus).9 The list is not exhaustive.

The Middle East Messenger reported in January 1968: “Beirut Overseas School buzzed through its first week with 39 students (including the progeny of several Nazarene missionary families), three full-time faculty (Principal George Unger, Barbara Beaven, and Phyllis Miller), and five part-time teachers (Shirley Bowen, L. Hugh Cowles, John Damerell, Yves Gosmot, and Frances Unger).”10 A typical ad from the Adventist Review ran like this:

The Middle East Union is in need of a volunteer science teacher with a Bachelor of Science degree and some teaching experience or teacher certification, capable of teaching secondary biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. This person is needed for two years beginning September 1982, to teach at the Beirut Overseas School, Beirut, Lebanon. Round-trip transportation will be provided, plus accommodation and a stipend. A single male or female, age 25 to 30, is preferred.11

The students and faculty were involved in numerous extracurricular activities over the years. Some of the ones recorded included the summer of 1965 when principal Miss Izella Stuvenga assisted with the vacation Bible school in Baghdad.12 Also recorded was when Mrs. Kenneth Vine and students from Middle East College used the school building on Sabbath afternoons to conduct a branch Sabbath School in 1967.13 In December the same year the Beirut Overseas School Choir was featured on CLT in a pre-Christmas telecast.14 In 1969 students participated in the annual ingathering campaign with the students of Middle East College and Middle East Secondary School and raked in a record LL4,350.15 A year later in 1970 the children’s choir visited two hospitals in Beirut. Directed by Mrs. H. Johnson, they were dressed in white choir robes and red bows.16

In War Times

The Lebanese Civil War began in 1975 and lasted 15 years until 1990. The war impacted the steady and progressive life in the Seventh-day Adventist institutions and churches. In 1976, a provisional office for the Afro-Mideast Division was set up in Nicosia, Cyprus. It was decided that the Middle East Union, Middle East College, Middle East Press, and Beirut Overseas School would remain for the time being. There would be some limitations in their operations, however. The personnel and children should always be ready to run for shelter when the bombs and rockets hit.17 18 It was further decided that “[t]he Beirut overseas school will operate one branch in Cyprus to take care of families who have left or may be leaving, and the other operating on the college campus for those who remain.”19 Immediately, a group of teachers went to serve in the Beirut Overseas School branch in Cyprus, later to be called Nicosia Overseas School.20 In 1978, when the war intensified, the division office and staff moved to Nicosia.

In 1977, Dwight Rose was called the principal of the overseas school that remained in Beirut. His wife, Donna, was to serve as a teacher.21 There were three full-time teachers, several part-time teachers, and 40 to 50 students. Most of them were overseas students, but some national Adventists joined as well. Dwight and Donna served for seven out of the nineteen years of the school’s existence. They implemented a work-study maintenance program. Each student, from the youngest to the oldest, was responsible for cleaning a particular area of the school every Friday during regular school hours. It was reported that the school never looked cleaner.22

An active Student Association started during those years. The school organized special programs and events to bring joy and happiness during those tense political times. Students referred to those days as some of the most memorable of their school experiences.23 Wilma Gramkow described the situation under which the school was operating during the war:

April 8, 12:00 noon. I think of our small Beirut Overseas School on our former division grounds, which continues to operate since all the children live on the hill – I hope that they got into the bomb shelter in time… 2.00 P.M. Two rockets also fell on our division grounds where the Beirut Overseas School is. Just one hour before this happened, Dwight Rose, principal of BOS, had called a drill in order that everyone might know what to do in case of emergency. When the shelling started, the students and teachers knew exactly what to do and where to run for shelter. Brother Rose’s drill surely was providential.24

On February 5, 1984, an all-day emergency meeting was called in the Middle East Union with the implementation of an evacuation plan for all overseas personnel: “VOTED: to affect an immediate mandatory temporary evacuation of all non-Arabic speaking personnel to Cyprus, and optional evacuation of all non-Lebanese Middle Eastern personnel to their homelands.”25 The Middle East Union office and personnel moved to Nicosia, Cyprus, and the Beirut Overseas School became the Nicosia Overseas School. The Roses moved to Cyprus with the rest of the overseas staff and stayed for the duration of the school year before they returned to their homeland in Canada.26 Other personnel were subsequently called to take over the leadership of the school until it closed its doors a few years later.

Principals

Izella Stuivenga; J. R. Stephan (1966-1967); G. J. Unger (1967-1973); F. N. Chase (1973-1974); L. R. Kuhn (1974-1977); Dwight Rose (1977-1984).27

Sources

“Branch S. S. Work Grows in Lebanon.” Middle East Messenger, March-April 1967.

“Breakthrough in Broadcasting.” Middle East Messenger, November-December 1967.

“Brief News of Men and Events.” ARH, December 6, 1962.

Brown, Walton J. “Middle East College Plans to Remain in Beirut.” ARH, January 29, 1976.

“College Park Lay Activities Bands at Work,” Middle East Messenger, July August 1970.

“From Here and There.” Middle East Messenger, 4th Quarter, 1959.

“From Here and There.” Middle East Messenger, 4th Quarter, 1961.

“From Here and There.” Middle East Messenger, September-October 1970.

“From Home Base to Frontline.” ARH, November 4, 1976.

Gramkow, Wilma. “Beirut Diary.” ARH, July 23, 1981.

Jensen, Sven Hagen. “Afro-Mideast Division (1970-1981).” Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventist, January 29, 2020. Accessed March 20, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=6HMH.

Middle East Union Committee Minutes, February 15, 1984. 84:14. Middle East and North Africa Union Archives. Beirut, Lebanon.

“News Notes from the world divisions, Afro-Mideast.” ARH, November 24, 1977.

“On the Run.” Middle East Messenger, September-October 1967.

“Transition.” Middle East Messenger, January-February 1969.

“Transition.” Middle East Messenger, September-October 1968.

“Vacation Bible Schools Win Youth, Parents Throughout Division Territory.” Middle East Messenger, September-October 1965.

Williams, Roy F. “Middle East needs volunteer teachers.” ARH, April 22, 1982.

Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia. Second revised edition. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996.

Notes

  1. “Beirut Overseas School,” Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia (SDAE), dcccl.

  2. Ibid.

  3. “From Here and There,” Middle East Messenger, 4th Quarter, 1959, 3.

  4. “From Here and There,” Middle East Messenger, 4th Quarter, 1961, 4.

  5. “Brief News of Men and Events,” ARH, December 6, 1962, 22.

  6. “Beirut Overseas School,” dcccl.

  7. “On The Run,” Middle East Messenger, September-October 1967, 3.

  8. “Here and There,” Middle East Messenger, September-October 1970, 5.

  9. ARH, 1962 to 1982.

  10. “Transition,” Middle East Messenger, September-October 1968, 7.

  11. Roy F. Williams, “Middle East Needs Volunteer Teacher,” ARH, April 22, 1982, 31.

  12. “Vacation Bible Schools Win Youth, Parents Throughout Division Territory,” Middle East Messenger, September-October 1965, 10.

  13. “Branch S.S. Work Grows in Lebanon,” Middle East Messenger, March-April 1967, 4.

  14. “Breakthrough in Broadcasting,” Middle East Messenger, November-December 1967, 13.

  15. “Transition,” Middle East Messenger, January-February 1969, 7.

  16. “College Park Lay Activities Bands at Work,” Middle East Messenger, July-August 1970, 5.

  17. Sven Hagen Jensen, “Afro-Mideast Division (1970-1981),” Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventist, January 29, 2020, accessed March 20, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=6HMH.

  18. Walton J. Brown, “Middle East College Plans to Remain in Beirut,” ARH, January 29, 1976, 15-16.

  19. Ibid.

  20. “From Home Base to Front Line,” ARH, November 4, 1976, 30.

  21. “News Notes From the World Divisions, Afro-Mideast,” ARH, November 24, 1977, 21.

  22. Dwight and Donna Rose, email message to author, February 5, 2024.

  23. Ibid.

  24. Wilma Gramkow, “Beirut diary,” ARH, July 23, 1981, 10-11.

  25. Middle East Union Committee Minutes, February 15, 1984, 84:14. Middle East and North Africa Union Archives.

  26. Dwight and Donna Rose, email message to author, February 5, 2024.

  27. “Beirut Overseas School,” SDAE.

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Jensen, Sven Hagen. "Beirut Overseas School (1965–1984) ." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 25, 2024. Accessed June 18, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=BJNQ.

Jensen, Sven Hagen. "Beirut Overseas School (1965–1984) ." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 25, 2024. Date of access June 18, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=BJNQ.

Jensen, Sven Hagen (2024, April 25). Beirut Overseas School (1965–1984) . Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved June 18, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=BJNQ.