October 27, 2015
BEIRUT: “Even in the midst of war, we can worship,” he said with confidence to a small gathering of other pastors from the brutalized African country where they serve enduring local churches. “This next song was written in war time. The world does not have peace. Jesus Christ is the real peace.” His hands were outstretched, and the joy on his face was unmistakable. At other times during the gathering, this graduate of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) seemed serious, as you would expect from one who shoulders the weight of shepherding God’s people in a nation where they are persecuted. The task is a heavy one, and he demonstrates the wisdom and endurance of a person who’s been carrying it out for years. But each time he begins to lead worship, his face lights up. His enthusiasm, passion, and sincerity affect everyone else in the room. It’s hard not to turn your attention and praise to the God whose trustworthiness he’s joyfully reminding you of.
It’s been eleven years since Titus* and his wife Miriam* graduated from ABTS, and his days are filled with varied ministries that they were equipped for during their years at ABTS, and which God’s Word urges every church toward. In addition to shepherding the local church he pastors and overseeing several others as a denominational leader, Titus visits local prisons on a weekly basis. He also provides leadership to a university student outreach, as well as to a much-needed relief ministry in a nation characterized by long and unrelenting suffering.
Two years ago, Titus and Miriam were joined in the capital city by Daoud* and Naomi* who returned to serve in their home country after they, also, graduated from ABTS. This couple is passionate about strategically serving not only within the difficult circumstances of their city, but region by region across the nation. They are burdened to love and serve the majority, non-Christian population they live among. Day to day ministry can look like anything from organizing conferences designed to urge and equip local churches to turn their focus outward and toward their neighbors with love, to reading long passages of Scripture over the phone to a new Christian who lives hours away and doesn’t have access to a Bible. Although Daoud recounts often wishing, earlier in his life, that his grandfathers hadn’t brought their family to the country where he was born and now serves as a pastor, he told me joyfully that he has become grateful for the purposes of God in allowing his family to be born in this war-ravaged nation. “Many of my family have chosen to follow Christ and now serve him in our country.” He smiles, considering this fact to be well worth the hardship of living there.
The challenges faced by these two couples aren’t unique among ABTS graduates, however. According to the 2015 World Watch list published by Open Doors, graduates of this seminary live and minister in 10 of the 50 countries that top the undesirable list. The annual publication profiles countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.
Another ABTS graduate, pastoring a church very close to the path of ISIS, has found himself grappling with challenging questions in the months since the summer of 2014. These are not, however, the questions you might expect him to be asking. “While many Christians have started leaving our country, how can I urge them to stay? How can I lead the congregation to participate in ministry outside the church building? Can we start to help and support these refugees and displaced families?” He shared with me that their mission as a church is to “witness about Christ and His work, through what we say and do.” This now includes tangible ministry like serving suffering families from “different backgrounds” than their own. This pastor considers the training he received at ABTS especially relevant as he tries to build relationships with and offer help to those from diverse religious backgrounds who now find themselves suffering together in the vicinity of his church. As someone who clearly loves the equipping work of ABTS and even returns on occasion to teach courses there, he said, “I pray for the current students at ABTS to stay under the feet of the Lord, to learn from the Word of God, learn about it, and learn how to apply it in the current situation.”
(Women gather to pray at a church in the Arab world pastored by a graduate of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary. Photo: Anonymous.)
The lives of these faithful ministry leaders point to a consistent truth. Whether in the migration of their families before their births, or in the equipping they were provided at ABTS before circumstances revealed how deeply they would need it, the shepherding of God is evident in the lives of these leaders who choose to stay and serve in countries that many want to flee. Their choice demonstrates the message of Christ in a way that no sermon can.
Join us in partnering with the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary to serve the church in the Middle East and North Africa by equipping men and women called by God “for such a time as this.”
*These names have been changed for security purposes.