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Current Events Religion

Middle East Christians Grapple with Apocalyptic Pandemic

Imad Shehadeh sensed an apocalyptic felt need.

As chatter increased in the Arab world over the soaring coronavirus death tallies in China and Iran, the president of Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary (JETS) in Amman began preaching on eschatology in lockdown.

“The coronavirus could qualify as one of the calamities that point to the end times, but could also just be a passing plague,” he said in a widely shared video series posted in March.

“We cannot be dogmatic, but at the very least [these] distresses have resemblance to much more severe events in the future time of tribulation.”

Diligently studying to incorporate aspects of all theological systems, Shehadeh aimed to keep the Cross central within a literal hermeneutic.

“The more we study prophecy,” he said, “the more we can see things in our world that others cannot, like a physician who knows immediately how to treat a wound.”

COVID-19 has left many bleeding.

Shehadeh previously wrote a four-volume commentary on biblical prophecy…

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on June 15, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Trapped in Lebanon, Sudanese Students Find Refuge at Seminary

Image courtesy ABTS

While Liberty University came under criticism for allowing students the option to stay on campus during the coronavirus outbreak, many other schools were also faced with a dilemma concerning the 1.1 million students who came from abroad.

According to a Quartz survey of 36 universities who host a third of the United States’ international students, 26 told those students to leave campus.

Penn State gave three days notice. Harvard gave five. Duke, among others, offered emergency financial aid to help international students return home. Princeton allowed their residency to continue—until the end of the semester.

But Sudanese students at Lebanon’s Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) did not have a choice—even with tickets in hand.

Lebanon was one of the first nations to implement COVID-19 restrictions. Its first case was recorded on February 21, and by March 9 schools were shut down.

Four days later, at a regularly scheduled seminary picnic, Bassem Melki prepared to break the news.

“It was a joyous atmosphere,” said the ABTS dean of students, “but I had sadness in my heart because I knew what I had to say.”

Founded in 1960 and located in the mountains overlooking Beirut, the seminary…

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on June 10, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Cleared of Landmines for Easter, Jesus’ Baptism Site Now Closed by COVID-19

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on April 17, 2020.

For over 50 years, Jesus’ baptismal site was a casualty of war.

Now, it is a casualty of the new coronavirus.

Last week in time for Easter, the UK-based demining specialist HALO Trust group exploded in chain reaction the final 500 landmines at Israel’s Qasr al-Yahud monastery complex.

“We got the churches together, all eight different denominations, and then we got the Israelis and the Palestinians,” HALO Trust CEO James Cowan told the BBC.

“So all three major faiths, and we looked at how we could do this.”

Located six miles east of Jericho on the Jordan River, “Bethany beyond the Jordan” in 1968 was placed by Israel under military jurisdiction following the Six Day War. Fearing terrorist infiltration across the shallow riverbed, the army laid over 6,000 landmines and booby-trapped the churches.

Israel declared peace with Jordan in 1995, but the area remained closed.

In 2011, it was partially reopened, allowing access along one narrow path between the Jordan River and the Greek Orthodox St. John the Baptist Monastery.

And in 2016, HALO Trust, which works in 27 nations around the world, announced…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Current Events

Arab Christians Have Lost Easter Before. Here’s What They Learned.

Losing Easter Churches
House of St Ananias, Damascus

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on April 3, 2020.

Christians around the world are about to lose their usual Easter celebration—the highlight of most congregations’ annual life together.

Yes, there will be a livestream. Their pastor will likely call them. They may even chat on Zoom with friends and family.

But it will be different. The community of believers has been sundered by the new coronavirus. And threatened with it is Christ’s body, his bride, his temple for his presence in the world.

If there is any consolation, it is that this is not the first time.

“There are forces of nature—and forces of man—that challenge our ability to experience the presence of Christ,” said Gregory Mansour, the Maronite bishop of Brooklyn.

“[COVID-19] is different from persecution. But it is the same.”

A born-again Catholic led into personal relationship with Christ by the Navigators, Mansour later reconnected with his ancient Lebanon-based church. His clerical colleagues there received thousands of ISIS-fleeing Christians from Syria and Iraq.

“There was a deliberate desire to obliterate churches, hymnals, prayers, and people,” he said. “The only thing we had left was…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Current Events Religion

When You Can’t Return Home

Can't Go Home

We had just prepared our letter to loved ones in America.

Corona is spreading everywhere, I wrote, but we are on lockdown, and perhaps safer here than we would be in the States. We have money, food, and good relations with neighbors. We plan to stick it out here.

And then the announcement was issued by the government: The airport and all borders are closing in 48 hours.

Suddenly, my stomach dropped. All my earlier confidence felt like bravado. Unspoken, there was always the assumption that if things get bad here, we can leave. Now, it would be impossible. And given the unprecedented nature of this virus in our modern world, who knows when the opportunity to travel would come again.

The nation we live in is not known for its stability. What if it gets really bad?

After dropping, my stomach turned. Should we quickly uproot and return to America? I hadn’t yet sent that letter.

The complications to normal life would be terrible. The airports would be crowded Corona-factories. And who would receive us back home save for parents who must be extra careful against the virus?

I didn’t want to leave. But what does wisdom suggest when faced with a last chance? The reasons against leaving are clear, but they were not what I needed.

My earlier bravado disappeared.

I longed for a deeper confidence.

Stepping away from our own story, here are four reminders that helped buttress my spirit. Perhaps they will also be an encouragement to others.

  1. You have a job. Some foreigners are tourists, and others were sent overseas by their employer. But for many, the choice to live in a foreign nation was deliberate. We earn our salary, we enjoy cross-cultural experiences, but we also believe that our work is helpful.

Remember that. Corona will change the nature of your job, but not its essence. Keep at it, for the good of your adopted country.

  1. You have allies. If the section above applies, we are likely not squirreled away in an expat compound in isolation from national neighbors. We have probably learned at least a little bit of language. In all likelihood, we have friends.

Remember that. Corona is devastating them also, but they know how to live here. Rely on them, encourage them, and fit into their cooperative networks.

  1. You have providence. With proper humility, you can likely look back upon your journey to your country as a series of circumstances that somehow all fell into place. We studied, we planned, we decided, but we may have also prayed.

Remember that. Corona is upsetting many circumstances, but nothing eternally known. God “determined the times set for humankind and the exact places where they should live.” Rest in this truth.

  1. You have a mission. Our jobs are not our life. What we do is helpful, but who we are is unique and transformative. As we learn from others, they do from us. If offered humbly, we have much to contribute.

Remember that. Corona changes nothing of your essence. “As the Father sent me [Jesus], so send I you.” Find the good you can do, and do it.

Finally, my stomach settled. But to keep our confidence from becoming a spiritual bravado, two final reminders are necessary.

One, we remain foreigners. We retain privileges. We are guests.

Two, we are all foreigners. We receive grace. We are ambassadors.

Corona reminds us all of the transience of life and the fragility of the world. Our norms have been shaken, our illusions shattered.

But we remain human, and beloved of God. Abroad or at home, we will all return to him. Our deeper confidence can only be this: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”