NEST Newsletter June 2014
Regular newsletter from the Near East School of Theology, Beirut, #Lebanon
“Is the Syrian crisis affecting N.E.S.T?” – A question our international friends and partners often ask us. Located in Lebanon, N.E.S.T. is not directly and physically affected by the violence and destruction taking place in many Syrian cities, towns and villages. We have been able to bring to a close this academic year peacefully and without any interruptions. Life is normal at the Seminary; foreign students from the region and from Europe and Canada have just completed 9 months of serious study on our campus in Beirut. To be sure, N.E.S.T. is affected by the Syrian situation in the same measure as the country of Lebanon is – adverse effects on the political, economic, and social levels. Politically the country is sharply divided between supporters of the Syrian regime and supporters of the Syrian opposition; economically, the loss of tourism due to the Syrian events and the lack of governmental effective rule that drives prices out of control are weighing heavily on people’s ability to cope; socially, the presence of around one and a half million Syrians – around one third of the population of Lebanon – has had adverse effects on the country. All these things are felt by all of us in Lebanon, and N.E.S.T. is no exception. But we are also more closely involved in what is going on in Syria. Two of our faculty members are Syrian; the largest national group among our students is Syrian; some of our employees are Syrians; many of the residents in the building are Syrian students from our churches who study at neighboring institutions, and last but not least, many of our alumni are serving in Syria, and we are constantly in touch with them. To them N.E.S.T. wishes to pay a warm tribute. Bchara (’88), Houry (’88), Serop (’96), Harout (88), Ibrahim (‘97), Yusuf (’74), and Simon (’07) are besieged in Aleppo, and though they have the option to leave, they remain with their congregations: witnessing, consoling, caring and providing material needs. Salam (’01) serves in Latakia and manages relief work; Sevag (’05), displaced from Kessab, refuses to abandon his refugee congregation in Latakia; Peter (‘80) holds fast in Damascus, despite random shelling; Ma‘an (’88) steadfastly remains with his church in Mharrdeh and Hama. Ya‘coub (’09) was kidnapped by religious extremists, then released, but he remains faithfully alongside his flock in Syria, and so does Mufid, currently in our STM program. Mufid and Yacoub commute regularly to Beirut, often under danger, to continue their studies on top of everything else they do. To all those alumni of N.E.S.T. we say: May God bless you and protect you and give you strength to continue serving His Church and all suffering people in war-torn Syria. N.E.S.T. is proud to count you among its alumni!
“Is N.E.S.T. affected by the Syrian crisis?” To be sure, in the ways mentioned above and more. Many of our activities, discussions in and out of class, and daily chapel services often revolve around the Syrian conflict and the fate of Christians and others there. What is happening in Syria haunts our hearts and minds. Yet, our Syrian students have demonstrated remarkable spiritual maturity and professed profound faith. Two of our female students come from Kessab – an Armenian Syrian town that was overrun by religious extremists in March. Their families had to leave the town very suddenly leaving everything behind and becoming refugees in Syria and Lebanon overnight. Talar and Liza were deeply affected, sad, depressed, worried, but they did not allow that to disrupt their commitment to theological education. Valiantly they continued going to classes and participating in seminary life. Liza led a chapel service recently in which she spoke existentially and movingly about her experience as a student whose family is now suffering in Syria. I would like to end this message with her words: “… we need to be confident that God is faithful, and he will not allow us to be tested beyond our strength, “but with the testing he will also provide the way out” so that we may be able to endure it. (I Cor. 10:13) This invites us all, to entrust ourselves to Him; in every situation or circumstance and to have hope in the midst of suffering.”
Rev. Dr. George Sabra
President, the Near East School of Theology