Middle East / North Africa
Overseas Council’s region of the Middle East and North Africa encompasses the Arabic-speaking nations of the region, as well as Sudan, Turkey, Iran, Israel and Afghanistan. Unlike many other regions of the world, religion is the main defining characteristic of this region, namely the dominance of Islam. Despite this, strong and ancient communities of Christians exist throughout the region. While these churches based in the ancient Christian population of the region function openly in most areas, churches made up of converts from Islam face continual challenges. In most countries, legal penalties for religious conversion make public declaration of faith nearly impossible. Even in relatively open nations like Lebanon, social and family pressures make open conversion difficult or impossible. Even with these difficulties, it is estimated that the Christian population in the region is growing.
Major trends in theological education in the Middle East and North Africa
- Theological education in this region must address issues like Christianity as a minority religion, minority rights, persecution, citizenry, democracy, human rights, Christian/Muslim dialogue and effective Christian presence and witness.
- In the midst of everything going on in the region, it is important that theological education focuses more intentionally on the theology of hope. Minorities feel a real sense of isolation, so they tend to despair and lose hope. Theological education in this part of the world needs to focus on hope in the midst of dark moments.
- The Arab Spring sparked protests across the region with people seeking democracy, fair elections, human rights and regime change. While several rulers were forced from power and many countries implemented changes, the Arab Spring also turned into a fall. People have experienced the failure of Islamic regimes to give them a better life, and they are eager to find another way. This is a golden opportunity for the Church in the region to proclaim hope, forgiveness and reconciliation. Please pray for the Arab world under great uncertainty and chaos and for the implications on theological education: what kinds of leaders are needed to face the regional challenges beyond the Arab Spring? The eagerness to learn and know about Christianity has increased enormously in the region since the Arab Spring, so we pray for the spread of theological education through e-learning as well.
- Trained leadership for the Church remains a challenge. There are few institutions in the Middle East that can provide it. Training structures for the underground and Muslim Background Believer churches also need to be developed further to meet the demands of these growing groups. Operation World
Abraham Najjar, PhD*, Regional Director for the Middle East/North Africa
“I served at a partner school for 21 years and have seen the impact of Overseas Council firsthand. Our ministry was transformed in many aspects including governance, administration, academics, faculty development and finance. I also have experienced the role of Overseas Council in my life as a professor and dean as they helped me to develop my teaching skills and administrative capacity. I have noticed the impact of Overseas Council on different schools in the region as well. By supporting the theological institutions in the region and not just financially, we are helping schools equip leaders who help churches do their best to transform their societies and build the Kingdom of God. I believe that Overseas Council is playing a significant role in supporting the churches in the Middle East and North Africa through supporting the schools that train and prepare committed, faithful and visionary leaders.”