ROLA SLEIMAN PARKED HER CAR in the only empty spot outside Tripoli’s evangelical church—a small, sand-coloured building with a simple façade and large wooden doors in the middle of the city, cramped in between two busy streets lined with vendors selling seasonal fruit, plastic toys and sweets. It was Sunday morning and, like every Sunday at around this time, Rola was headed to work. She’s a pastor, and at 37, she’s younger than most of her colleagues. But that’s not the only thing that makes her unique. Rola is also, as far as she knows, the only female pastor in Lebanon—and perhaps even in the entire Middle East.
Rola locked her car and crossed the street. She popped her head into the bakery on the corner to say hello, greeted the man selling colourful socks outside the church, then greeted the church caretaker. She’s a familiar figure in the area: in Lebanon, neighbours know each other well. Rola entered the yard and walked through the back door, into the small and spotless church.
“Already at fourteen, I knew that I wanted to serve,” she said. “I felt I wanted to do something to influence the lives of those around me.” At 17, Rola was ready to send in her application to study theology at the Near East School of Theology in Beirut, but was told she was too young. Instead of waiting until she was old enough, she went ahead and studied on her own for one-and-a-half years. Impressed, the synod decided to accept her and she completed the final two-and-a-half years of the four-year theology program.