We recently talked with Sawsan Tannoury, publishing director of Dar Manhal Al Hayat in Lebanon, one of the key Christian publishing houses in the Arab world. Sawsan talks openly about the struggles of the people of Lebanon and how the team at DMAH keep publishing quality Christian books despite the obstacles caused by the nation’s current economic and political crises.
Tell us about yourself and Dar Manhal Al Hayat.
Prior to joining Dar Manhal Al Hayat in 2006, my expertise was built in the publishing and media ministry field, having worked for many years with Trans World Radio and Clarion Publishing House. I now supervise and manage all aspects of the publishing process, from contracting authors to printing, and regularly represent DMAH at conferences, seminars, and workshops.
Outside of work, I am involved in women’s and youth ministry and regularly speak at churches and Christian organizations in addition to being a member in several committees in my church and other Christian organizations.
I am married to an elder in our church and we have three children.
Dar Manhal al Hayat is a publishing house located in Lebanon, whose geographical scope reaches out to various countries in the Arab world (Middle East and North Africa). It was established in the 1960s to develop Arabic Christian resources that meet the needs of the church in Lebanon and various countries in the Arab world. The harvest is abundant in this region, which makes it a high priority for us to make Arabic Christian resources accessible at rates that are affordable for Christians.
Because the church in the Middle East and North Africa faces many challenges, we do our best to serve and provide it with resources that enhance its daily walk with God.
Our publications cover a variety of topics such as evangelism, discipleship, Christian living, leadership development, theological and academic textbooks, and themes that deal with children, youth, women. They are either written in Arabic by local Arab Christian writers, or are well-known titles translated into the Arabic language.
Our exhibitions and distribution have been successful and fruitful throughout the year! Despite the current unstable political situation in Lebanon, Dar Manhal Al Hayat is participating effectively in local book exhibitions and workshops. People of different religions are eager to have our books.
Most of our books are now on the Arabic version of Kindle as well.
What are some of the unique challenges of publishing in Lebanon?
Due to the financial crisis in Lebanon, people can barely afford buying food for their families, so buying books has become a luxury. Working out of the home has become hard as well because of the gasoline shortage and electricity and internet cuts. Also, keeping up with the constantly changing exchange rate (USD to LBP and vice versa) is a major problem because expenses are high as we work with printing houses.
All this puts additional burdens on us because we are selling even less than the printing cost due to the high cost of the USD.
Talk to us about the current situation in Lebanon and what the country is facing.
For the past two years, Lebanon has been deteriorating quickly. We are witnessing unprecedented times. People can’t withdraw their savings in USD because of the severe bank restrictions. Only a certain amount in Lebanese pounds is allowed to be withdrawn. A foreign exchange black market is causing the Lebanese pound to depreciate more and more. In total, the LBP has lost around 90 percent of its value.
People’s purchasing power is collapsing. The economic situation has pushed tens of thousands of people into poverty. Three-quarters of the population is living below the poverty line. Many families can hardly buy basic food. Product prices in supermarkets are unimaginable. There is a short supply of all kinds of medicines, especially pain killers like paracetamol (Panadol) and cancer medicines.
There are also dramatic shortages of electricity, gas, water, gasoline, and fuel. Going to the hospital has become so expensive to point where only wealthy people with cash money can benefit from the services.
The unemployment rate is also over 40 percent now. People are trying to adapt to the situation while being deprived of the necessities of life, and a large number of people are immigrating.
What keeps you going and/or encourages you as you go through times of difficulty?
Our spiritual vision is what keeps us going. We want to see a transformed Arab world through a holistic understanding of the gospel. We want to equip the church, proclaim Christ, and encourage gospel-shaped living among Arabic communities through Christian and educational resources. This is why the publishing ministry is our first interest.
What pushes us to continue are the needs for spiritual resources. Aside from the Bible Society printing Bibles, we are the only evangelical publishing house in Lebanon. We are encouraged to persevere despite the many challenges so that we can provide churches with the books they need. During lockdown, people had time to read and this encouraged us even more. Also, schools of theology continued to teach online and we provided essential study books for them. Nearly 45 percent of our authors are Arab. We are also providing kids with activity and story books to read during their free time.
How can we be praying for you in these times?
We would appreciate if you keep us in your prayers so God gives us:
- Wisdom in choosing the proper book titles for our region based on the needs.
- That we rely on Him in these difficult circumstances while remembering His promises to be faithful.
- That we live out what we preach and publish in our books.
- That our vision stays clear so we will continue to help churches, proclaim Jesus Christ, and encourage gospel-shaped living, whatever the situation.
- For God to appoint good leaders and government officials in our country and rid it of corruption.
- That this political and economy crisis ends quickly, because it is having a negative impact on the society in general.
(Editor’s Note: As this article was about to be published, MAI recognized Dar Manhal Al Hayat as recipient of the Robert B. Reekie Global Publisher Award. Named for MAI’s founding president, this annual award recognizes the ministry excellence of a Christian publishing house serving in a particularly challenging context to provide valuable spiritual resources for its readers. Sawsan’s response was a powerful reminder of God’s goodness and provision, even during times of turmoil: “We have received the news of selecting DMAH as a recipient of this award with joy and gratitude to you. It is a privilege and an honour for us, as it meant so much to DMAH staff, and to me, to receive this good news amidst all the sad ones.”)