Robert, where were you born and where do you come from?
I come from Lebanon in the Middle East. I was born and raised in a small town called Gourtentermos.
How long did you live there?
I was 24 years old when I left.
Could you tell me a little about your family?
My mother is a home maker and my father worked in hotels. He retired in the town I came from. I came from a big family with five brothers and one sister. They all still live in Lebanon. I’m married and I have two daughters. One is named Rebecca and one is named Mary. My wife’s name is Christian.
Do they ever come here to visit you?
Yes, they come here often.
Do you miss being apart from them?
Of course, of course. I call them every single day.
When did you come to the United States?
To be honest with you I first came in 1989. I went to Mobile, Alabama and I was there for almost 16 years. Then I returned to Lebanon for a while. I returned to Charleston in August of 2015.
Did you come back here to work?
Of course, to work, to find a better quality of life, a better experience, a safer place to live.
Were you not safe in Lebanon?
It’s unsafe and also the economy is very bad right now, because the entire region and countries surrounding my country everything is going down, economically and politically. We were in a civil war in 1975. We’re still suffering, still struggling from the aftermath of that war.
Are your wife, daughters and family safe over there?
Yes, they stay with my family and they’re very close, they all protect each other.
You came here to work. What kind of work did you do in Lebanon?
I used to represent my government in other countries, especially in Yemen, the Arab Republic. I worked for the Lebanese Embassy in Yemen. My title was the Assistant to the Ambassador of Lebanon. As you say here, I was his right hand man. I used to fix problems for all the Lebanese who came to Yemen from Lebanon. I had a very high government position before I came here.
Why did you leave that position to come here?
I left it because we were at war in 1989 and we did not know what was going to happen in our country and I had a good opportunity to come here.
When you came here were you able to find employment right away?
No, it was not easy! It took six months until I had all my papers in order and was able to start working a regular job. After five years I started my own business; it was a used car dealership. I owned that dealership from 1990 to 2006.
When you came back to the USA in 2015, did you come right to the Mission?
When I came from Lebanon, I called Joe, your former manager, from the airport in New York. I said “Joe, I’m on my way from New York to Charleston, do you have a bed for me at the Mission?” He said: “Yes, I do have one and I’ll hold for you.” That was in April of 2016.
When you arrived, what type of work did you start doing?
I started working in restaurants and I ran a business for somebody. Currently I’m the manager of a small business not far from the Mission.
I must ask you, would you ever consider returning to Lebanon and working for the government again, since you had such a high position with them when you first left there?
No, I’ve not considered that, because here in this country I’m very satisfied with my work, my job, what I’m doing, and I’m very happy with my life and I’m moving ahead in a good direction with a good future.
When you first came here to the Mission, how long did you reside in the dormitory?
One year. Then you asked me if I wanted to move into one of the studio apartments behind the Mission, 89 Nassau Street, and I’ve now lived there for a year and three months. I’m very very happy there!
How would you describe the difference between living in the dormitory vs. having your own apartment?
You have your own privacy and a great deal of independence. You can come and go as you please. I understand the rules and I live by them because I was a government worker and I know that wherever you are you will always have rules and you have to abide by those rules.
What was the worship service experience like for you?
The thing is, this church is very close to my religion. I grew up as a Roman Catholic Christian, was baptized and confirmed in the church and my whole family are very devout Christians. I was taught the faith in my home from a little boy on up. I went to church every Sunday and usually I still go to church every Sunday and I pray every day. I know that God hears my prayers and that He keeps me safe in the world and shows me the way I should go.
So do you believe that God has His hand upon your life?
All the time, all the time! And my family too! But I have to keep praying, I cannot stop, if I stop, something will go wrong. And my wife prays every night before she falls asleep too.
What do you think the people around this city think of the Mission and what we do?
I hope the people understand that the Mission helps people, especially men, to help them get a new start, to put things right in their lives, to teach them the Gospel of God’s love and how He wants them to live their life and serve Him.
So you really feel that God had His hand upon your life by leading you to the Mission?
That is the truth! I believe that God led me to come here, to stay in this place, to be safe, to start again in my life, for this opportunity, for my job, for my catholic faith, for everything I have. Thank God we have this place here in Charleston!
What would you say is the most important take away from living here at the Mission and then in your own apartment?
My economy, my job, I feel I’m growing because I don’t have to pay a lot of expenses, and also my privacy.
Do you send some of your financial resources home to your wife and children?
Yes, I send them money every month.
If you bumped into another man on the streets of Charleston who was homeless, and he was looking for a good place to stay, would you direct him to Star Gospel?
Of course I would do that and, as a matter of fact, I tell many people about this place. I tell them the food is good, the place is very clean and not expensive, that they can save their money until they’re ready to move into a place of their own. I tell them that here, in this place; they can even grow spiritually in their faith in God.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about your life, your family, your work, the Mission, anything at all?
Well, I want to say first of all, God bless America! And the second thing is, God bless the Star Gospel Mission and all those who live in it and serve it! And thank you for everything you did for me and for my family. God bless you!