From Lebanon to Portland: The story of a reverend and her journey to the ministry

Reverend Takouhi.
Reverend Takouhi talks about life in Beirut, Lebanon and life in Portland, Canada. Photo credit: Sally Smith.
Posted on: March 14, 2018

Sally Smith

Walk into Reverend Takouhi’s front door in Portland and you immediately see towels, neatly folded and placed between the legs of a small entrance table. Even before starting the interview, Reverend Takouhi tells the story of her two dogs — Maya and Duke — both golden retrievers, both now having passed on. The towels were for them, and someday there might be another dog, but not for awhile.

Reverend Takouhi Demirdjian-Petro has travelled a long way in her 50 years, both figuratively and in a real sense. She was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon, and at the age of 15 after a harrowing trip by taxi out of Lebanon heading to Damascus, boarded a plane to Los Angeles to live with her elder sister, Silva.

“The airport in Beirut was closed,” she remembers, “so we went in a taxi, from Beirut to Damascus through the mountains “my mother, myself and two other passengers. The trip was scary. We had heard stories of people being killed by rebels and we came face to face with them. They stopped us,” she says, recounting that a rebel began to check the ID of the backseat passengers and the other spoke to her mother in the front passenger seat. Her mother answered politely and in his language, and in the end they were allowed to pass. Reverend Takouhi remembers the taxi driver saying as they drove on they were allowed through because of her mother’s headscarf (she had put it on because the wind was blowing in on her), and her “gentle greeting that saved our lives.”

When they arrived at the airport, her mother put her on the plane. “I had no reservations,” she says. She flew to France and then on to the United States.

Reverend Takouhi says that while the trip to the airport was scary, the journey to Los Angeles wasn’t. “I was in search of a life,” she grins.

She finished high school in 1986, and then headed for Canada at the age of 19. The Canadian government, at that time, was allowing Lebanese citizens into Canada.

She met her future husband, Gary, in 1998, calling the two of them “warriors of online dating.” They were married in 2000.

Slowly the idea of going into ministry grew. After a Bible study group, leading a service and overseeing youth Bible study, the idea nudged her ever stronger. Members of her church community quietly kept asking why she hadn’t already started her journey to ministry.

Having decided herself one night after being the ‘uber’ driver for her youth group, she went home to talk it out with her husband. His quick and understanding response was “What took you so long…”

The next six years were a whirlwind of school and internship. She completed a Bachelor of Arts, a Bachelor of Theology and a Masters of Divinity and completed her eight-month internship at the Elgin-Portland Pastoral Charge.

As she locked the door at the end of that time, just as she was turning the key, she heard a voice say very clearly “Let’s see when you’re coming back.” It was so real and so vivid, she remembers turning around to see who had said it. There was no one there.

The voice was a foreshadowing. She returned in 2013 and has been there ever since.

On reflection, and during the long process of discernment to become a minister, when she was asked where the call came from, Reverend Takouhi remembers as a child in Beirut wanting “to marry a minister.” That way, she says, as women are not allowed to be ministers in the Armenian community, “I could minister in a different way.” From a young age, it was clear she had wanted to minister. Her life in Canada has fulfilled that; in Canada she can be the minister herself.

Her ministry is fun, and full of music. The Reverend loves to sing, and her parishioners call her the Dancing Minister. In Beirut, as a young child, her mother sent her for piano lessons but “to get to the Conservatory I had to cross a bridge with snipers, so I stopped piano. It was live or die,” she shrugs, a little matter-of-factly.

And so in her five decades, travelling from war-torn Beirut to a rural pastoral charge in small-village Canada, who has she become? First and foremost, “I’m a beloved daughter of the Creator, down to earth. I love to love. My motto is to treat others as I would like to be treated — with respect. I do my best. If I say I will do something, I will do my utmost to complete that promise. That’s me in a nutshell.”

She adds, “I believe hard work pays off — not necessarily in money but knowing you have accomplished something, taken chances. I have a natural sense of humour. [Recently] I looked at my congregation during a sermon and said ‘and you know how it works with God…God just slaps you upside the head with God glory.’”

Easter is early this year – April 1. For Reverend Takouhi, Easter holds a “higher” place in her heart than Christmas. “As it should, a without Easter there would have been no Christmas.

“For me, Easter is a reminder of giving all that you have to make this world a better place, even when, in the eyes of the world you lose, you die on the cross. But the work that you have done to transform the world lives on,” she explains.

“Every year, [at Easter], we gather on top of the Leggett Farm Hill in Crosby, 15 minutes before sunrise. We have a fire going in the middle of the circle and we celebrate a new beginning as we watch the sunrise as a community of faith. Afterwards we go to one of the churches, this year Elgin United. The breakfast is not elaborate but the love that is shared with everyone is grand.”

Back to the dog towels…Reverend Takouhi and her husband are taking a break from fostering golden retrievers for awhile. They leave for Lebanon and Armenia at the beginning of September for an extended sabbatical.

On their return if another dog is looking for a home, maybe it will enter their lives. If it happens, the towels are ready.

You can learn more about Reverend Takouhi on her website

This article was first published in the March 2018 issue of Hometown News. For more articles from our March 2018 issue, pick up a print copy at a local retailer (find a list of locations here) or read our digital version.

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