January 2021 Newsletter: And So, the Journey Continues
January 15, 2021
Ministry Update: Serving Victims of the August 4 Beirut Explosion
December 14, 2020

A Window into Our New Program:

From Design to Implementation

It is no surprise that the pandemic created the largest disruption of educational systems in recent history. A disruption it may be, yet it has brought innovation in new, unexpected ways.

While the pandemic initially deepened the challenges of theological education in the Middle East and North Africa, God enabled us to make use of “a good crisis” and respond strategically while adopting measures consistent with global trends in theological education.
This calendar year is nearing an end; arguably, it has been the most disorienting year in our lifetime. The pandemic has not only rocked the economy and threatened the livelihood of many. It also magnified social ails such as mental health issues and domestic abuse. The Arab Church recognizes that it must get ready for such a time when many are looking for answers. That is why we continue to train faithful men and women to encourage the Arab Church as it steers toward a missional direction.

In the past six chapters of our unfolding story, we have shared with you what we have been doing in response to the changing realities. In this month’s chapter, Wissam Nasrallah expounds these changing realities and demonstrates the importance of our churches having timely responses. Here in this article, we invite you to read how our faculty are working toward refining our curriculum while equipping church leaders to lead and mobilize their church communities to have these timely responses.

The design of our new hybrid delivery method, which we are now dubbing as the Integrated Theology Program, has been an exciting journey led by Walid Zailaa, our newly appointed Academic Dean. Walid would gather input from the leadership team and the faculty, come up with a draft design, then take it back for further feedback and input, and then go back to the drawing table. It took fourteen iterations to arrive at the curricular shape that we have today. The faculty continues to polish and refine the program, the content, and the components as we implement them.

Our continuing students, who started their journey at ABTS residentially, have already transitioned to this new integrated program. They have started and will soon finish taking the first module, The Nature and Character of God. Our faculty members have learned so much from this experience as they worked hard both on the delivery and on the content of the curriculum. As they tested out the first module in a new delivery method, the faculty joined forces to enhance the learning experience of our students so that it becomes as compelling as possible.
Walid Zailaa shared,
Of course, delivering the first module in a hybrid format is a learning journey. That is why, as faculty, we are intentional about learning from each other’s experiences during our weekly meetings. We learn from one another for future integrated modules, and we develop a kind of how-to handbook for faculty who might join us in the future. For the near future, we have further plans to get formal training on hybrid education.
One important factor of the new integrated program is that modules have a problem-solving approach, i.e., we aim to pinpoint and address problems that are specific to our students’ unique contexts. For instance, during the first two days of the current module, the faculty collected the students’ viewpoints, which reflect that of their communities on the nature of God, and from there, they were able to start a discussion on a Moodle forum. After each unit, they posed a certain set of questions that aimed to solve the problem or the issue at hand. This approach is vital now that students are studying while remaining in their contexts.

Another main change to the delivery method, moving from a traditional setting, is merging the syllabi of all the module courses, so that each module represents one integrated unit that is made up of all the constituent courses even when taught by different faculty members. This change requires a lot of teamwork among the faculty.

Faculty members are also working on providing interactive tools for the students. These tools include short explanatory videos such as introductory videos for each course. In addition to the Moodle platform, they have a messaging group for the students who are taking a specific module through which they encourage students to persevere and to hand in their assignments on time.

Because of its hybrid nature, our new integrated program has both synchronous and asynchronous elements. Most of the curriculum delivery will be asynchronous to give enough space for busy leaders to enroll in the courses. Our asynchronous Learning Management System is Moodle, and we are currently looking to recruit a Moodle Administrator who will provide key support to our faculty and students. For the synchronous components, we are using the Zoom platform. For the annual residencies on campus, we are investing in upgrading two of our classrooms into advanced audio/visual “smart” rooms that will plug into the Zoom eco system. This will allow students to join our residencies remotely when they are not able to travel to Lebanon.

Of course, our Integrated Theology Program will preserve the research component that our traditional residential program has always had. The challenge for now is making Arabic e-resources available for our students. We are compiling a reading packet for each unit using available resources, and we are planning, in discussions with MENATE (Middle East and North Africa Association for Theological Education) to develop a versatile long-term solution, i.e. an extensive digital library with Christian Arabic e-resources.

In addition to enhancing the learning experience, our faculty are working on new ways of implementing non formal components such as mentoring and following up on students’ ministry, which will take place under the supervision of the Dean of Faculty Bassem Melki in partnership with our students’ local churches.
Bassem shared,
As faculty, we are currently working on the life and ministry components. This will take the form of a module that extends over their four years of study. It will aid their holistic formation on a practical level. We will launch this module in February, and all our faculty will be involved. They will become mentors to students across the Arab world, helping create for them an environment of formation so they can assess their ministry and spiritual growth. This mentoring process will be in collaboration with the ministry leaders of their own context.
Our faculty also plan to visit the students’ local churches in their different Arab countries as soon as pandemic restrictions loosen. Just as students visit us once a year, we will also visit them and get to know them, their churches, and their challenges in a more profound way. The more we are immersed in our students’ worlds, the more we can shape our curriculum so that it becomes more contextualized to help them respond to their changing realities and emerging challenges. We aim for our curriculum to be a dynamic curriculum and not a static one.

“We, as faculty, are meeting on a regular basis to work on the course content, reshaping and forming our experience as we learn from one another,” remarked Walid Zailaa. Bassem Melki, who also has a dynamic role in mobilizing faculty teamwork, shared:
Due to the lockdown, we have had extensive meetings over Zoom and divided the responsibilities amongst each other. Together, we are reigniting the flame for the vision of serving the Arab Church through the students in the new paradigm that is set before us, to bring transformation while rebuilding and refocusing the faculty team for the new phase to come. We are coming together and discovering things. It is scary to tread new ground; however, we are exploring and venturing together, supporting and equipping one another using our different skills and strengths.
Please keep our faculty in your prayers as they strive to faithfully serve the Kingdom together and equip Arab Church leaders for ministry.