Far East and Near East
Re-drawing a historic link
In his hometown of Zahle in Lebanon, the Director of Langham Scholars, Riad Kassis, regularly meets Father Aram. He is a priest of one of the few remaining Assyrian Church of the East congregations in existence today. The denomination originated in the 1st century AD in the Aramaic-speaking regions of what is now Iraq, southeast Turkey, northeast Syria and western Iran. Persecution in the 19th century drove the ancestors of today’s believers in Zahle from their villages in northern Syria. The Assyrian Church of the East has also been called the Nestorian Church.
Known for their fervent missionary zeal, they took the gospel into China in 635 AD (as inscriptions on the Nestorian Stele, or standing stone, found in the city of Chang’an appears to indicate). Subsequently Christianity in China sadly succumbed to Buddhist and Islamic persecution. The Nestorian Church disappeared altogether.
But Langham Hong Kong’s decision to sponsor scholars from the Near East is now tentatively re-drawing that historic link.
Victor Sun, the General Secretary of Langham Hong Kong, says:
We would like again to see churches in both Near and Far East being firmly established with Jesus Christ as their foundation … growing together in number and maturity. We welcome referrals for scholarship from countries in that region.
Two scholars from the Near East have to date been sponsored:
Hikmat Kashouh completed his PhD at the University of Birmingham in 2008, studying Arabic manuscripts of the New Testament. On his return to Lebanon, he became the Academic Dean at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut. In 2012, Hikmat published The Arabic Versions of the Gospels: The Manuscripts and Their Families (De Gruyter).
Although he enjoys teaching and writing, he is foremost a pastor. Alongside his work at the seminary, he serves as the Senior Pastor of a growing congregation in Beirut. Their particular ministry is reaching out to Syrian refugees who have recently flooded into the city.
Munther Isaac is busy completing his PhD at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies in the UK. Munther is from Bethlehem in Palestine, so it comes as no surprise that his research focuses on ‘the Land’ in biblical theology. Munther was the Academic Dean at Bethlehem Bible College, as well as choir conductor, and director of the ‘Christ at the Checkpoint’ conference. He is deeply involved in reconciliation ministry in Israel and Palestine. At the time of writing, he is recovering from a car accident. Please remember him in your prayers.
Hikmat and Munther both look forward to a continuing exchange with the Chinese church as a result of their Langham scholar experience.
A similar desire is reflected by Dr Stephen Lee, the President of China Graduate School of Theology, who is himself a Langham scholar:
Langham Hong Kong has made a specific effort to support scholars from West Asia and the Middle East … We are ready to share our resources with our sister churches in Palestine and the Arab world.
by Riad Kassis, Langham Scholars