A Dynamic Response to Modern Difficulties: MEC 2020
July 14, 2020
July 2020 Newsletter: Beyond the Classroom Setting
July 14, 2020

Beyond the Classroom Setting

Our Residential Students Take Their Courses Online During Lockdown

Sharaf from Egypt is an early riser. At sunrise, he has his coffee and plans for a productive day while Egypt is yet asleep. Lately, with winds of COVID-19 sweeping over the country, Sharaf has been doing most of his work online while in lockdown.

He continues his theological training online while taking English lessons with a friend in Turkey. He helps with an online Bible study of 40 Arabs living in different parts of the world including Iraq, Dubai, Turkey, Finland and the US. He posts reflections on five Facebook pages that target seekers of Christ. Sharaf is happy that he can manage his time between ministry and education.

The adjustment wasn’t easy for all our students when the online courses began on April 8. Now that they finished their first set of online module courses on June 24 and have begun to take the last module courses for this academic year, they are thankful for the opportunity to study during lockdown and for the flexibility online learning provides.

Each course is made up of ten week-long units. Every Wednesday morning, the unit material is made available on Moodle for our students to use for the rest of the week before they submit their assignments, which include readings, case studies and participating in the forum. The course then ends with a practical writing assignment that is related to the context of their ministry.

Noha from Sudan has been on campus all throughout the pandemic while travel restrictions were still enforced. While struggling with concerns of having to return to online learning, she shared about her experience with the online courses. She said of the Biblical Theology course,
The Biblical Theology course was an eye opener. I was delighted to see how the Bible is one whole story. I had heard it too many times before, but through this course, I got to fully comprehend what it means. This made me feel closer to the Bible so that I no longer separated myself from God’s people in the Old Testament or the people of the early Church. We are part of what happened in the Bible.
The Biblical Theology course taught by Walid Zailaa helps students communicate biblical foundations effectively to those inside and outside the church. Students see the story of redemption played out in the Bible from Creation to Revelation. It motivates them to be Kingdom driven as an anguished world cries out for hope today.

In Sudan, Noha leads the discipleship ministry at her local church, which makes this course vital to her ministry. (In addition to the Biblical Theology course, first-year students took the course History of Christianity taught by Abed El Kareem Zien El Dine.) Noha said of online courses, “The courses made me ask many practical questions that are related to the context of my own ministry. They are difficult questions yet very important. This is what I came for in the first place – to apply what I learn here in my Sudanese context.”

Susanna from Sudan learned to take the needed precautions while on campus. She was in tears when the airports first closed, but now she sees God’s hand in it all. Unlike Noha, who has already experienced online education while studying for her Certificate in Ministry, Susanna had to start anew, but she soon understood its workings. A second-year student, she took the Stewardship course taught by Elie Haddad and the Leadership course by Bassem Melki. Susanna shared her experience studying the Stewardship course,
The knowledge that God has made us stewards over everything we have was life changing. My husband and I came to regret all the time that had gone to waste, but in this revelation and conviction, we saw the hope of a new start – of learning to manage our time well so as not to lose any opportunity to be faithful stewards.

COVID-19 has been a time for me to rethink and reset life. As a wife, I came to love and care for my husband in new ways. I learned to find time to read God’s Word rather than drifting to social media. I learned to use social media for what is constructive.
For instance, she and her husband Youssef have been counseling a group of Sudanese married couples online. They hold virtual meetings on how couples can overcome hard times together and help them privately through Facebook Messenger chat. They openly share their own experiences to which others can relate. This is uncommon in Sudan, as marital concerns are usually kept private, so Youssef and Susanna hope to focus more on counseling couples when they return home.

The Stewardship course aims to help the Arab Church, both individuals and groups, to be faithful stewards to God as they imitate Christ and glorify God. It includes practical and pastoral application for students to be faithful stewards over God’s creation and partners with Him in advancing His will in the world today.

Of course, online learning hasn’t always been smooth for students. Third-year student Awad made it back to South Sudan. Because he does not have an internet connection at home, he often goes for a week without checking in. In spite of this, when online learning started in April 8, he found a way to connect with us, receive his learning material, join in forums, and upload his homework.

Second-year student Elissar from Lebanon is currently staying with her parents. They neither have ongoing electricity nor internet at home. Sometimes she sleeps over at her friend’s house for several days in a row just to study online.

Demyana and her husband Awney have made it back to Egypt, but they feel their return is premature. They have not yet been able to find a house of their own or a job, so they stay with Demyana’s parents, complete their academic journey online and wait for churches to reopen to see where God will lead them. These students decided to hold on to their callings despite the fluctuating circumstances.

To our continuing students and to others who are in full-time ministry, a new distance learning program is the answer for theological training in this new global reality. It pains us to let go of the fulltime residential program we held dear for many years, but we move ahead to where God is leading us and reach out to many more Arab Church leaders in the region and beyond.