The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is full of complexity and prone to conflict. The region needs people who collectively advocate for peace and understanding and help provide opportunities for dialogue. An important achievement of LSESD over the last 20 years is how the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies (IMES) has been addressing this issue.
IMES, which is part of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS), was founded in 2003. It is a research and resource institute with a clear mandate to bring about positive transformation in thinking and practice between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East and beyond. To enable this, it has three primary strategic goals: education, peace building and advocacy.
The Institute is well known for its educational strands. Students from all over the world each year are enrolled in its respected Master of Religion in Middle Eastern and North African Studies program. Many who come to live in Lebanon are learning to speak Arabic through IMES’s Academy of Language and Practical Skills in Beirut. IMES has a popular blog, both in Arabic and English, that discusses religious and political issues relevant to the MENA region and beyond. And since 2004, IMES has hosted the annual Middle East Consultation every June, one of the highlights of LSESD’s year. Christian leaders meet to gain a theologically-based understanding of challenges facing the Church and region like the refugee crisis, emigration and hopelessness, seeking to see them from local, regional and international perspectives.
In recent years, IMES has been developing its peacebuilding and advocacy work. Khebz w Meleh brings together Christian and Muslim youths to share meals, openly discuss their faith together, and act for the common good of their local communities. The Church-Mosque Network is doing similar work as it aims to encourage committed Christians and Muslims in adjacent neighborhoods to interact more intentionally together, to discuss common challenges, and to seek ways to work together for the common good in the community. And the Forum for Current Affairs, launched in 2017, brings together key evangelical church and organizational leaders for strategic conversations on the prophetic role of the church in response to surrounding political, economic, and social realities.
At its inauguration ceremony back in 2004 Dr Martin Accad, Director of IMES since its inception, described the aim of the Institute. “IMES is a response to the increasingly urgent need to dispel mutually-false perceptions between people of different religions and cultures,” he said. Through IMES, ABTS is encouraging the Church in the MENA region in taking up its prophetic role and build bridges with its surrounding communities, forging a way to work together for the benefit of all in a spirit of peace, unity and strength.
Chris Hall, August 2018