Out of Dry Bones He Makes an Army
August 13, 2022
July 2022 Newsletter: “I Have Become All Things to All People”
July 15, 2022

“I Have Become All Things to All People”

MRel Students Came to Lebanon for Their Cultural Analysis of the MENA Module Residency

The wedding celebrations started at 6pm and ended at 6am the next day. The whole village had shown up after someone had announced it at the souk. In preparation, the women had washed in the river, picked olives and figs from the orchard, and prepared the food. “I was a month or two in the country, and it was the first time I had observed the role of women there. With time, I noticed that the wife and husband treated each other as equals, and some areas had a matriarchal system because the grandmother ruled the house,” one Master of Religion student who serves in a North African country shared.

Another MRel student serves in the Gulf region. A third one serves amid at-risk children in Lebanon. Several of them serve among Arab refugees in their home countries. Could our students have had a less effective reach had they not understood their ministry context? How does culture influence the gospel? Many Christ-followers view life with Christ as a war against culture. They reason that since culture is the byproduct of broken people, it is beyond hope until Christ comes again. Others, however, see beauty in culture since it reflects the Maker’s creative spark. They see that embracing it would result in the gospel flourishing.

We get our understanding of Church, ministry, and gospel from the Bible, yet our approaches are inevitably shaped by culture. In First Corinthians 9:20-23, Paul tells of how he had identified Himself with various people groups so that the gospel might advance and transform them. Paul was a master at cultural analysis and at adapting his message to the context.

1 Corinthians 9:20-23 (NIV)

20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
“I am studying in the MRel program to train for ministry,” Rickard from Sweden shared, “and I really think we [Rickard’s church] have so much to learn in how to reach out to different groups with the gospel as well as peacebuilding and functioning in a multicultural society.” God is using Rickard among different people groups and sub-cultures in the Swedish community, and many of them are Arab refugees. His vision (and that of the church that he leads) is to take the gospel out to the people and to disciple them in their contexts rather than expecting them to naturally walk into his local church.

Rickard stumbled upon Martin Accad’s kerygmatic approach to sharing the gospel, and in his words, “I started to read more of his writings and soon discovered ABTS and the MRel program. For some time, it had been my dream to come here. It seemed impossible, at first, but God provided and opened the doors.”

On June 20, MRel students joined us on campus for their first in-person student residency at ABTS since 2019 as part of the Cultural Analysis of the MENA module. For almost two weeks, they heard from guest speakers, explored cultural sites, and engaged in stimulating discussions. While it was impossible to talk about every culture in the region, the residency was an opportunity to learn more about some cultures in Lebanon and in our students’ ministry contexts. The residency (and the module as a whole) aimed to use tools for contextual exegesis with a focus on missiology, anthropology, and culture. It was also an opportunity to develop research and apply their pre-residency learning.

In the words of Wes Watkins, Assistant Professor of Missiology and lead faculty for this module,
The Cultural Analysis of the MENA module residency was a great success. Two students who lived in the region for more than ten years each said they wish they had taken the course years ago and that it should be required for everyone seeking to minister in the region. Another student said it was the best missions training he had ever taken.
During one of the cultural field visits, the students walked down the narrow, over-populated streets and neighborhoods of a Beirut suburb. There, a few shop owners took the time to explain the history of this area, which was originally purposed to permanently house Armenian refugees fleeing the 1915 genocide. On the way to Hamra Street, where Assistant Professor of Historical Theology Caleb Hutcherson led them on a graffiti tour of Beirut, the group stopped by the still scene of the damaged grain silos at the port of Beirut. Much of the street art in Hamra memorialized that tragedy. Students saw how every piece asserted certain ideologies as it took up public space, and oftentimes, represented those who are marginalized. The tour started with three murals by American artist Brady Black. The murals are almost identical: a young boy carries a backpack and walks away from a country where hope seems dim. The color of the boy’s shirt changes from one mural to another; one is white, one is red and one is green.

“This is my first visit to Lebanon and ABTS. I will never forget the people and the cultural visits. They have been super interesting, but there was a lot to process,” Rickard shared,
You learn so much, but you also get to experience things at a profound level. When we visited a Shia neighborhood in the south of Beirut and a Bedouin tribe in the Bekaa, we got to experience wonderful hospitality, and we got to see different kinds of societal and power structures. It made me more aware of the kinds of experiences that people from the Middle East bring with them to Sweden and how that affects our way of functioning together.
Our prayer is that God’s Kingdom grows in each of our MRel students’ unique ministry contexts, and that, as they learn to be all things to all people, they may find the most effective ways to share the Good News. Christ’s breaking into any culture is indeed good news!