NEST Newsletter – December 2023

NEST Newsletter – December 2023

From the President of the Near East School of Theology
Written by Dr. George Sabra

The Fall semester started promisingly in mid September. Despite the sorry state of Lebanon – politically, financially, economically and socially, NEST admitted 13 new students, welcomed 5 SiMO students from Germany, launched a new teaching program in Armenia, resumed its 12-week Sabbatical for Pastors and filled up all its dormitory rooms with residents. Then came the drastic developments in and around Gaza which surprised everybody on October 7. Needless to say, NEST was generally affected like the rest of the country by the events, but the specific impact on NEST started to show around 10-12 days later, when foreign embassies in Lebanon began issuing warnings to their citizens, and eventually instructions to leave. Our five German SiMO students left by the third week of October and all three Sabbatical Pastors (2 Germans, 1 Norwegian) also departed around the same time. Thus, we lost the physical presence of 8 students and participants in our programs, in addition to 2 expatriate professors because of the war in the region and the tense situation in southern Lebanon. Although those who left continue to take courses online, their personal absence from the Seminary is a loss. This was the first disappointment, but it is not a huge one and not too serious. NEST continues its mission in the midst of crises, as it has been doing for the last 154 years.

The second disappointment, however, was much greater and more serious. As the war on Gaza escalated in retaliation for unjustifiable violence done to civilians on October 7, and as tens of thousands of Palestinians were killed and wounded, thousands of homes were flattened, hospitals and schools were targeted and bombarded, innocent children, women and elderly people were besieged, displaced and subjected to most inhuman living conditions, many in the Christian world, especially in the West, were mostly silent, or reluctant to speak up, or in some cases were totally biased and one-sided in their support for the perpetrators of this horrendous suffering. Some churches, Christian organizations, and Christian-related aid agencies simply became totally blinded or could see only with a single eye. We say nothing here about governments and the media; they are not our concern, for they are almost always motivated by all kinds of other considerations than purely moral or religious ones. Yet, some of our sisters and brothers in the churches worldwide, but especially in the western world, shocked and disappointed us. It is those with whom we share the powerful prophetic message of justice and truth of the Hebrew prophets, the gospel of God’s love for all humanity in Christ, the proclamation of the God’s kingdom which is welcoming and inclusive of all people regardless of race, color, religion and gender – it is those who have caused our disappointment.

Yet, our hope for the triumph of God’s goodness and justice remains firm and unwavering:

He makes wars cease to the end
of the earth;
He breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
He burns the shields with fire.
Be still and know that
I am God!
I am exalted in the earth. (Ps. 46 9)