Christmas in the Arab World
January 17, 2022
ABTS Extended Family Gathering
December 17, 2021

A Look Back at 2021

by ABTS President, Elie Haddad

December 21, 2021
The end of a calendar year is a good time to look back, to evaluate and assess accomplishments based on the plans and objectives initially set. Although we regularly do this at ABTS, seldom have the outcomes been commensurate with the plans. Our plans are usually based on what we anticipate God wants us to do during the year. We plan for growth, but not much for surprises. God, however, always surprises us. Things happen during the year that we did not anticipate or plan for. Every year, we get the feeling that God has taken us on a journey that is much farther than we had predicted.

We had written about the year 2020 being a miracle year. It started with intense challenges that seemed unsurmountable and ended with God breathing new life into ABTS, ushering us into a new season of ministry that is quite different from the season before. We have been documenting our change in direction. We concluded 2020 with a solid launching pad for this new season to continue and flourish.

We were wondering at the start of 2021, with the increasing political, economic, and social turmoil in Lebanon, whether the new direction could be sustained. As usual, God took us on an amazing journey of exploring new depths of His sovereignty and provision. The year that we thought we would hardly get by ended up becoming another year of growth in ministry, in impact, and in institutional preparedness. The following are some highlights of what 2021 looked like.

Formal Programs

The fully online Certificate in Ministry continues to serve the Church in the region. We are seeing a growing student body with more diversity in nationality, ministry location, and religious background. This certificate is equivalent to a full year of full-time studies and provides high accessibility and flexibility for all Arabic-speaking Christ followers who are serious about serving God through their churches.

The new hybrid Integrated Theology Program, which is an adaptation of the earlier residential program, continues to equip the students who transitioned from the residential program and has now accepted a second cohort of new students. Having this core vocational program delivered in a hybrid format has allowed more students from more countries around the Arab world to enroll and be equipped for ministry. This program is designed for key Church leaders who are immersed in ministry yet are able and willing to dedicate enough hours every week to be trained for more effective ministry. We are delighted that many of our Certificate in Ministry graduates have joined this new hybrid degree through a bridging program specially designed for them.

Our plan for this program is to have our students come to Beirut for two weeks every year and for our faculty to travel to our students and work with them within their ministry contexts. This has not been possible yet due to the prevailing travel restrictions. Instead, we have been using our new Zoom Rooms to accomplish these objectives virtually.

The hybrid Master of Religion in Middle Eastern and North African Studies is our only degree that is taught in English. It continues as before, except that we have temporarily replaced the physical residencies in Beirut with virtual residencies. We are hoping that the in-person residencies can resume starting mid 2022.

We are currently developing two new programs. The first is a Master of Theology in Research. The objective of this new degree is to prepare serious Arab scholars to publish high-quality academic and theological books in Arabic as well as to prepare them for further studies. We are planning to launch this program in fall 2022. The second is a theological PhD program in the context of the Middle East, developed in collaboration with two other seminaries in the region. The program will meet the need for an accessible, contextually rooted, quality doctoral program oriented toward the Church in the Middle East. We are expecting to launch this new program by 2023.

Non-formal Programs

The peacemaking program has taken a new direction. While maintaining an interfaith youth initiative, the crux of the peacemaking work is now grounded within the local churches. This work has been growing fast and is opening the door for growth in non-formal training. Our desire is to meet the various educational needs of the churches.

Our annual Middle East Consultation is also transforming. Due to the inability to hold large in-person gatherings for the last two years, we have held our consultations in virtual form. Our plan for 2022 is a hybrid consultation that will conduct an exploratory study of Christian peacemaking in a Middle Eastern context.

During 2021, the ABTS blog was transformed to become the voice of the faculty, commenting on many contemporary issues of local, regional, and global concern. We invite you to follow our blog and to join the conversations that are taking place on this platform.

Institutional Preparedness

In addition to the programs, we are going through a major shift in our facilities and services. We have been investing heavily in educational technologies that support our new modes of delivery. For example, we had the opportunity to upgrade two of our classrooms to become smart classrooms. This was an essential step to support the online and hybrid programs.

We have started constructing a new library and research center. We plan to move our library to the new building during the second half of 2022. This is an essential step in preparation for the new graduate programs. However, with the hybrid programs, a physical library is not enough. Consequently, we are also developing a new Arabic digital library that our students can access. This digital library, through MENATE (Middle East and North Africa Association for Theological Education), will be available to all the Arabic-speaking seminaries in the region in early 2022.

We are grateful for the way our facilities are growing with us. However, our most valuable resources are our people not our facilities. God has blessed us with an amazing group of faculty and staff who are passionate about God and about His Church in the region. Our team continues to be strengthened through new people joining regularly. Although Lebanon is experiencing a major emigration crisis, all staff at ABTS are thrilled to be part of what God is doing here.

2021 was indeed another miracle year of experiencing growth, reshaping ministry, and preparing for the future amid the many crises that Lebanon is battling. We cannot look back to see all that has transpired during the year, against all odds, without standing in awe of the One in whom all things hold together. To Him be the glory and the power for ever and ever.