Word from the President

Is There Hope?

The conflict in Syria is far from over, and more than half of the country’s population is displaced. No one knows when or how the conflict will end. The devastating war in Yemen has turned the country into a humanitarian catastrophe. The political and security situation in Lebanon and the region continues to be unstable, especially with the recent escalation with Iran. Sudan is in turmoil. The economy is collapsing in many countries of the region. Churches are being closed in Algeria, not to mention the Arab-Israeli conflict that continues to destabilize the region.

What about chronic and deep-rooted corruption? Restrictions on religious freedom and criminalization of conversion? Authoritarian and unjust regimes?

The security situation, political situation, economic situation, social and religious situation, all unstable. What hope is there? Do we blame those who want to emigrate, leaving a volatile region to look for a better life elsewhere? What about the church community? It is not immune to the ailments of our societies. On the contrary, many within church communities feel they are a persecuted minority. Are members of these communities not allowed or expected to seek that better life outside? What about church leaders? They frequently feel specifically targeted. Many of them have connections and easy access to the outside world. Why would they stay?

It is easy for us, as a Church, to curse the darkness. We forget that we are called to be light, and that our light, no matter how dim or insignificant we think it is, shines best in the dark. We get frustrated with corruption and injustice. We forget that we are called to be salt, and that the salt needs to be scattered around to have an effect. We are afraid of hardship and persecution. We forget that our calling and fate are often connected with that of our Master. God did not stay aloof in heaven keeping peace far removed from our messed-up world. Instead, He came among us, into our mess, into our sinful and violent world, and lived among the very people that rebelled against Him, in order to redeem and restore. Peacekeepers avoid conflict, stay away from trouble, and flee from violence. Peacemakers, on the other hand, step into trouble, go where there is no peace, into the conflict, to bring healing and restoration. It is the peacemakers who are called the children of God in Matthews 5:9.

When Jesus was calling upon the disciples to be salt and light, according to the witness of the evangelist Matthew, He used the emphatic “you”. This can be stated as “You yourselves are the salt of the earth… You yourselves are the light of the world.” I can imagine Jesus pointing His finger at the disciples as He addressed them. It is as if Jesus was singling out the disciples for this incredible responsibility. There is darkness in the world, and I want “you” to be the light; there is corruption in the world, and I want “you” to be the salt. I can hear Jesus repeating the same call for us today. He is choosing us, His Church, the most unlikely people, to accomplish this critical task.

Common sense dictates that we flee from a troubled region, while God’s calling for the Church is to endure, to discover its prophetic role, to proclaim the love of Christ, to live out Kingdom values, and to exhibit to the world the marks of the reign of God.

This is the kind of Church that is needed in the Arab world at a time like this. Thankfully, God is growing, maturing, and transforming churches all over the Arab world. We are witnessing many examples of church communities that are bold but filled with love, passionate about God and His mission, and passionate about the people of the region.

We, at ABTS, are humbled and thrilled to be called by God to serve such a Church. We come alongside the Church in many capacities. First, we invest in developing missional leaders for the Church. We work on developing leaders who are critical thinkers, with a strong spiritual character and competence in ministry skills, in addition to a pronounced missional impulse. Our region is starving for leaders. Our churches are facing a crisis of leadership. Equipping enough leaders to meet the needs of the Church in the Middle East and North Africa today seems like a daunting task. Nevertheless, God is raising faithful witnesses for Him every day. We have the privilege of working alongside a few of them in their journey of ministry preparation.

ABTS also serves the Church by providing educational and ministry resources. The most obvious need is the publication of quality books of serious content. It is impossible to shape thoughtful leaders without building their intellectual capacity.

Another important dimension of the ministry of ABTS is its Institute of Middle East Studies (IMES). IMES has an educational component. This includes a Master of Religion degree, delivered in English and targeting the global leader who is preparing to engage the realities of the Middle East and North Africa. It is a unique and innovative multidisciplinary distance-learning program. Another component is the annual Middle East Consultation that attracts global participants who are interested in ministry in our context.

In addition to the educational component, IMES serves the regional Church in ways that are not typical for a seminary. IMES is heavily involved in multi-faith activities, Christian-Muslim dialogue, and various peacebuilding initiatives that bring communities together and promote the common good. The purpose of all these initiatives is to explore new ways that the Church can engage societies in our context. IMES has become a safe place for testing pioneering ideas and initiatives. Ultimately, the purpose is to equip and mobilize the churches in engaging their communities using these new ideas and initiatives. ABTS has become a breeding ground for innovative ideas in education and missional encounters, and God has been providing the creative and passionate people that can make it happen. It is very thrilling and exciting to be serving God in such an environment alongside such people.

The astonishing reality of the ministry of ABTS is that we get to work with churches and leaders all over the Middle East and North Africa to empower them for ministry, yet we have very limited resources of our own. This proves that we serve an amazing God. We get to experience the provisions of God on a daily basis. God brings into this web of ministry global partners who empower us, enable us, and join us in this mission. What an encouragement it is to be part of God’s global network coming together to accomplish His mission.

Is there hope? Absolutely! God is raising His Church to be His witness in the most unlikely place at the most unlikely time. To Him be all glory, honor, and praise!

This article was first published in our July 2019 Newsletter.