LIMA — Simon Ladaa is no stranger to danger and tragedy. A Palestinian by birth, Ladaa’s mother died when he was 10 years old.
“When she reached the door, a bomb went off and killed her,” said Ladaa, explaining she was trying to rescue two little girls from a neighboring home. His father put Ladaa and his two brothers in an orphanage, and it was here that Ladaa became a believer and began attending Sunday school.
Eventually, Ladaa’s father remarried and brought his boys back home. By this time, Ladaa was studying to be an electrician and moved in with his grandmother. He also started teaching at the same Sunday school he attended as a child.
After he graduated, Ladaa got a job doing electrical work, but his volunteer work with Samaritan’s Purse passing out shoeboxes interfered.
“I had to come to a decision,” said Ladaa. “Be a volunteer or stop and go back to work. I resigned. The call was very strong.”
The day he resigned, a pastor told Ladaa that the director of the orphanage of his childhood was looking for him and there was a vacancy. Ladaa ended up working in the orphanage.
“I was serving kids at the orphanage where I had been,” he said, “and I was teaching in the Sunday school where I had gone as a child.”
For Ladaa, now married, this seemed like the ministry to which God had called him, but in 2005, he felt God calling him to leave the orphanage.
“I was fighting the idea that God was asking me to leave the work at the orphanage,” Ladaa said. “I had a long night and at 4 a.m., God spoke to me through a book I had read. It said, ‘In order to walk on the water, you must step out of the boat.’”
That next morning, Ladaa resigned from his job at the orphanage, unsure of what was next. About a month later, he came into contact with Buck Sutton, director of Teens for Christ in Lima.
Lima’s Teens for Christ has grown internationally to reach teenagers in Kenya, Lebanon, Bangladesh, Uganda, Rwanda, Nepal, the Philippines and Lebanon.
The ministry had already started their work in Kenya, Africa, and Sutton had been praying about an opportunity to start a ministry in Lebanon. Ladaa was an answer to that prayer. On Dec. 5, 2005, he came to the United States for training to become the executive director of a Teens for Christ in Beirut, Lebanon. He stayed through July 2006.
When he returned to Lebanon, Ladaa tried to hold weekly evening chapter meetings, but the ministry topped out at about 120 teens. In the United States, students could either drive themselves to meetings or were taken there by their parents. In Lebanon, volunteers had to pick up and drop off the teenagers. With the traffic, these meetings often involved a five- to six-hour time commitment from volunteers.
Ladaa explained that with the economy, many people work extra jobs in the evenings and on weekends. He was having a hard time finding volunteers, so he changed the model.
“We developed the idea to do ministry within the schools,” said Ladaa. “We grew to over 1,000 students.”
While the ministry was growing, so were the dangers to Ladaa and his family. “I became aware of the dangers mainly when my daughters were born,” he said.
Because Ladaa was a Palestinian refugee, he did not have the same rights as the Lebanese-born citizens — and neither did his daughters.
“We heard stories and saw news of what ISIS was doing, especially to girls,” said Ladaa, “and I realized that even though ISIS was not in Lebanon, it is a small country, and if something happened, it would be too late to leave.”
This fall, Ladaa spoke with Sutton about the possibility of bringing his family to the United States. “What hit me,” said Sutton, “was when he said he had two daughters and had to think of their safety. He said he needed to put their lives above ministry, and I agree that is the best thing to do.”
Ladaa filed for a green card as an employee under the Teens for Christ ministry. The plan is for him to continue to travel to Lebanon to oversee the ministry there, and to travel around the United States to minister to teenagers here in their native language.
For Ladaa, who has been to the United States many times, the transition has been easier. “It’s more of a challenge for my wife,” he said. “She had to leave her parents.”
The Ladaas drove to Florida over the Thanksgiving weekend as they will be living in a house provided by Lima couple David and Heather Roznowski who are sponsoring the family here in the United States.
Despite the huge changes for the family of four, Ladaa said he has peace about it all. “When we rely completely on God,” he said, “He can do amazing things through us. Everything is about Him.”
Rosanne Bowman is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The Lima News. Share your story ideas with her at [email protected]