This article was originally published by Christianity Today, on October 6, 2023.
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Inspired by new transnational networks, Arab ministry leaders and international partners reflect on the previous 25 years of service and call for similar spiritual integration.
Middle East evangelicals must emulate China.
So stated Nabil Costa, chief executive officer of the Lebanese Society for Education and Social Development (LSESD), at his organization’s 25th anniversary celebration, held last week [Oct. 27] at LSESD’s Beirut Baptist School (BBS).
He was not calling for a change in geopolitical orientation. On the contrary, in attendance were dozens of financial partners primarily from Western nations he would not wish to offend.
But Costa continued, praising India and Saudi Arabia.
“Our vision is to equip churches to bear the thimar of faith,” he said, using the Arabic word for biblical fruit, “in the midst of a changing Arab world.”
BBS was founded by Baptist missionaries in 1955, who yielded their various ministries to local believers in 1998. Honoring their heritage at the gathering entitled “Celebrating Together,” Costa also announced LSESD’s name change to Thimar–LSESD, reflecting the spiritual impact of ministries in education, relief, special needs, community development, and publishing.
But speaking on behalf of the oft-called “Baptist Society,” he invited a wider evangelical collaboration.
“Christians are meant to be catalysts and have a responsibility in building bridges, reconciling communities, andspreading the perfume of Christ,”
Costa said of the many regional like-minded evangelical ministries. “We see Lebanon as a hub and a gateway to the Middle East.”
China’s Belt and Road Initiative is a model, he said, as is India with its planned regional “economic corridor” and Saudi Arabia with its developing megacity of NEOM. If these nations recognize the importance of networks and cooperative partnerships—with “different hidden agendas”—Costa said evangelicals can do no less. And Lebanon, despite all its problems, is still a haven of religious freedom.
Some attendees thought the Middle East was headed toward greater regional integration and peace. Others doubted, anticipating renewed emergence of Christian persecution. But many took seriously Costa’s call to turn the conference into a think tank, casting vision for the next 25 years of evangelical service.
“The world around us is changing. We cannot sit still and watch,” he said. “But we are blessed with a ‘spiritual belt’ that forges corridors between continents and countries. Our Lord Jesus Christ has brought us from all over the world, to be one people.”
And to produce “fruit.” CT spoke with seven Arab and two Western attendees, for their vision of Middle East ministry to come.
Rosangela Jarjour, general secretary for the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches:
Our Lord Jesus commissioned his church with two golden words: preach and teach. While many congregations have communicated the gospel to the world, a neglected aspect of evangelical ministry has been the spiritual formation of disciples. Establishing the kingdom of God demands more than simple conversion.
In fact, when Paul addresses Timothy in his second epistle (2:2), he envisions four generations of impact. And his strategy is clear: hear, witness, entrust, teach.
This is the “good fight” necessary, he adds two chapters later (4:7–8), to achieve the crown of righteousness.
In this advice, I address all Protestants in our region—Presbyterian, Baptist, charismatic, and others—for all call themselves “evangelical.” In the next 25 years, in unity together, our ministries must rededicate themselves to the task of discipleship, so that believers old and new will pass on their faith to the next generation of the Middle East church.
Stephanie Haykal, volunteer at Kafr Habou Baptist Church in Lebanon:
While evangelical ministry in the Middle East has been growing and strengthening, sometimes it appears to take on the appearance of a business. And as one from the north of Lebanon, it seems that many of our efforts are concentrated in Beirut and other big cities, while our local needs are neglected.
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