Word from the President

2021: A New Beginning?

The year 2020 has been quite the disrupting and disorienting year, yet it has been a miracle year that led us to experience new doses of God’s love and provision. It goes without saying, however, that we are all glad to see 2020 come to an end. But will 2021 be any better? A quick assessment of the situation suggests that it’s unlikely. Lebanon is continuing on a downward spiral economically, socially, and politically; coronavirus infections are spiking out of control with no vaccine yet in sight; and the risk of a regional war is increasing.

The start of a new year is usually the time when we reflect on the past and make new resolutions and plans for the future. We are used to anticipating some form of a new beginning at the start of every year. Is it possible to anticipate a new beginning this year? What can ensure that 2021 will be any better than 2020?

I love using Bible reading plans every once in a while. This compels me to go over every passage in the Bible. One of my favorites is Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s reading plan that runs through the New Testament and the Psalms twice and the rest of the Bible once in the course of the year.

M’Cheyne’s plan starts on January 1 with a reading from Genesis 1, Matthew 1, Ezra 1, and Acts 1. This selection is quite fitting for the start of a year. All four passages depict some form of a new beginning. Genesis 1 is about the beginning of everything. Matthew 1 is about the birth of Jesus, a major new beginning in the history of humanity. Ezra 1 is about returning from exile and the call to rebuild the temple, another new beginning in the history of the people of God. And Acts 1 marks the beginning of the Church.

What makes these new beginnings so remarkable that we still read about them to this day? Genesis 1 starts with “In the beginning God created”, and every paragraph for the rest of the chapter starts with “God created”, or “God said”, or “God blessed”, or “God saw”. It’s very obvious who was doing the work, God. Matthew 1 is about the birth of Jesus the Messiah. It’s the account of God’s incarnation, initiated by God and executed by God. The writer of Ezra starts the book by assuring the reader that the story that follows was “to fulfill the word of the Lord”. The story begins by the Lord moving the heart of Cyrus. Another example of God initiating. Then in Acts 1, as Jesus was about to ascend to heaven, He made it clear to His disciples that they were not to do anything or go anywhere until the Holy Spirit came on them and empowered them.

The answer therefore is simple. What made these new beginnings stand out is that they were God-initiated, God-executed, God-guided, and God-empowered. What made 2020 stand out is that we were able to experience God’s work in and through our ministry in the midst of our distress. Likewise, what will make 2021 stand out is God.

We have a lot to look forward to at ABTS. We are launching a new hybrid program, the Integrated Theology Program. We continue to enhance and increase the accessibility of our fully online Certificate in Ministry. Our Master of Religion in MENA Studies continues to offer a unique experience for Arab and non-Arab students to be equipped for effective ministry in the region. We are reshaping our Middle East Conversations and IMES Blog to address our region’s new and changing realities. We are repositioning our Peacemaking from initiatives to become the nucleus that defines the DNA of ABTS. We are employing new structures and systems that will empower our changing programs. And we will be leveraging new and renewed relationships and partnerships that will widen the scope and impact of our programs.

These mark major changes for ABTS. But what will ensure that these changes will inaugurate a true new beginning at ABTS? What will ensure the success of all these plans and strategies? It’s definitely not favorable circumstances, which are not likely to materialize in 2021. It has to be God. All our planning is futile if God is not the initiator and the empowerer.

Therefore, our top priority for 2021 is community discernment, the whole ABTS community listening to God and faithfully following His leading. This is why we exist, and this is the only way that we can be sustained and even thrive. It is certainly a tremendous privilege to be ambassadors for Christ in the middle of this dark world bringing God’s joy, peace and hope to the people around us and training others to do the same.

We look forward to 2021, no matter what it brings, because it’s in God that we trust.

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7, NIV)

Elie Haddad, President
January 2021