A VIP Seat

The 84th Commencement Service of Near East School of Theology took place on Saturday, June 18. The speaker was Preacher Najla Kassab, Director of Christian Education and of the Women's Desk for National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon.


by Preacher Najla Kassab

Mark 10:35-45
And James and John, the sons of Zeb'edee, came forward to him, and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" And they said to him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be
slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (RSV)

In the Final exam of the graduating class of Nurses, the students were surprised with a question in the Exam. The question stated, ”What is the full name of the person who cleans your room at the Nursing school". For the first glance the students thought it was a joke and many people thought that the professor is funny, till one of the students called out, “Teacher is the last question graded? Is it part of the Exam?" And the professor replied “Yes sure. Your future will not only rely on the information that you gained at the Nursing school but how you deal with people".

If this is true with the Nursing career what about serving the church. Your success is related to how you deal with people more than information.

Well do not understand me wrong especially after the many hours that you put in reading writing and studying, doing assignments and delving in these deep theological discussions and knowledge. I remember as a student at NEST when we decided as group of students to read the book “ The courage to be” by Paul Tillich . A book that was not assigned by professors but we chose to read it and sat in the coffee shop to discuss it. I remember that I read that book several times . We felt proud we were enhancing our knowledge, terminology and understanding. We were competing on who grasped the book well.

Do not understand me wrong, we come from a background that values knowledge and stresses the value of critical thinking and analyzing. We are proud of the academic level that you encountered at NEST but still your success will be related to how you deal with people. It is about people not information.

On the 5th of June last month a University in Lebanon announced to its Graduating students that if Your parents have a special position in society as a Mayor; Judge….please let us know to Provide you with VIP cards. (I looked to see if pastors were listed but they were not) My daughter who was part of the graduating class shared with me the reactions that the students expressed on social Media, about who is a VIP parent, is it the parent who worked hard to give their children education or is it only those who have gained status. Is this discrimination between students? Shall the protocol in the country be obeyed, or this is against equality that we talk about in Universities since the parents were attending as parents not as representatives of any institution. The whole country was involved, even the media was divided between those who thought that this was a wise decision and those who were against. In our prayer meeting in the Synod offices we were divided on this matter. Who is the real VIP, who deserves a VIP seat?

In the story in Mark 10 James and John came to Jesus with a request to grant one to sit on the right side and the other on the left side of Jesus in his glory. Despite the fact that their request could be seen differently by different people, some could see it as an organizational matter and others as an ambitious step by them, still no matter what the reasons were, no matter whether they asked for this for themselves or if their mother asked for it as in Mathew 20:21, their request relates to their understanding of who will be on the right and left side of Jesus. It seems that they were interested in having a VIP seat. Jesus tried to correct their perceptions. It seems that they were thinking of a VIP seat. Jesus posed a question to them allowing them to rethink what they were asking for:

You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" (verse 38)

If we reflect closely on the events of this story, we find that:

First: The request of the disciples happened on the road to Jerusalem, where Jesus was heading towards the cross. Jesus was hinting to his disciples what will happen to him,

“The Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him and spit upon him, and scourge him and kill him and after three days he will rise.” (33-34 )

The request of James and John was at a time of unrest and those who followed Jesus were afraid. That led the disciples to be confused about what Jesus was saying on the road, because things were mixed up to them. They believed that Jesus will be crowned king and therefore did not understand the meaning of glory that Jesus talked about. Had James and John understood what Jesus was saying they wouldn’t have asked for such a position. Who among us wants to sit on the left and right of a person going to the cross? The disciples were distracted on the way of ministry. Imagine, Jesus' mind was on the pain to come and the disciples' minds were on their personal status. I many times question myself whether we are in the same line of thought as Jesus. WE Many times think that we know…..

Second It is interesting to note Jesus' answer to them. He did not rebuke them but as usual, answered their question by another question. " Can you drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the same baptism? And the answer was we can (38-39). Jesus used here two Metaphors from the Jewish life: the metaphor of the cup and the baptism. When the king gave his guests the cup it was considered as a symbol of passing his experience to them. As if Jesus was asking them if they are ready to receive his experience and hold the cup from him. Or even to be immersed and baptized in pain with him and face hatred and death. So Jesus said to them, you do not know what you are asking for. To sit on the right and left of Jesus is to accept to hold the cup and be immersed in pain. And just at the end of the story we recognize that the journey of holding the cup started when the other disciples became angry with James and John for their personal request for VIP seat.

Jesus clarifies that to have VIP seat is to carry on with the experience that Jesus went through and even to serve and not be served. "Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." v.44, 45

This is the model of VIP seat that Jesus was explaining to his disciples. Jesus shook the disciples' concept of power as gaining status; Power that is “Christ-like” has nothing to do with gaining status, but it is even the opposite. According to Jesus paradigm of power, to have power is to lose status. It is not only that you do not control people but even to serve the people and give your life for them. And when people are given a special position and status it is to be used for serving others.

Martin Luther King Jr. in his famous sermon "Drum Major Instinct" claims that in each and every one of us there is the instinct to lead the procession to be the drummer, who leads the group. Martin Luther stresses that we should not move fast to condemn James and John because in each and every one of us is an instinct of a drummer; a drummer who wants to lead and control. It is easy sometimes to point to others and forget our tendency to check our personal interests and intentions as individuals and communities.i

Martin Luther king calms our confusion about VIP seats to defend the fact that the problem is not in the VIP seat but rather when you are given a status a position how do you use it. Do you perceive yourself as a person who will serve or will be served? Do you yourself as gaining power or status, or rather as a person who uses your status, to give power for the powerless; to strengthen all those who are struggling, and to put in the right biblical words to carry the cup and be immersed in pain.

A few days ago as we had a retreat for the elders and pastors of the Synod, a pastor who serves in Aleppo talked about things that he did not learn at NEST. He said that they did not teach us how to provide cooking fuel to the people, how to know all about digging wells and providing drinking water to the people, how to climb a pick-up and distribute food. Sometimes ministry just opens new doors for using your talents, It is just the love of serving people that changes you; shapes you; and even surprises you.

I remember when I was at NEST I made an issue as a student as to why our work as women at NEST was to clean the tables after lunch when men had to sit on the front desk. Imagine that I was against limiting women to tables and food, and here I am now directing a Conference center that is so much related to feeding people and tables. I say this to explain when you love ministry you are changed, and many times you look at yourself and find you have changed.

Friends today you get your VIP seat. You are a Graduate from a known and Prestigious Seminary and you gain Status, and nothing is wrong with that. It is how you will use your status to serve the people that will decide if you will sit on the right side and the left side of Jesus.

You might get distracted on the way with different paradigms of power and status. Stay focused on Jesus' paradigm. Be a model for the world and do not succumb easily to worldly values . Be a light and trust that God will use you to change the world. The world needs you as serving leaders. Stay balanced between keeping up with your academic knowledge growth and spending time with people. And if you have to choose between the two choose the people.

For the women Graduating today. I say stay patient God has not finished with the church. Focusing on serving people will help you not to be distracted till the kingdom in Heaven be on earth.

Remember your success will be related to serving people.

One more question before you graduate, and it is graded. Do you know the full name of the person who cleaned your room at NEST?

To God be the Glory forever. Congratulations. Mabrouk.

i Martin Luther king JR and the Global freedom struggle “sermon the Drum Major instinct, 1968

Installation Of The New President: Dr. George F Sabra

(07 October 2012 05:00 pm)

On Sunday, October 7th, The Near East School of Theology celebrated the opening convocation and installment of the ninth president, Dr. George Sabra.  It was attended by students, faculty and staff, board members, representatives of AUB, LAU and Haigazian University, the Arab Baptist Seminary and friends of NEST and was followed by a reception.

A word of welcome was offered by Rev. M. Karaguezian, president of the Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches and secretary of the Board of NEST, and the invocation was given by Rev Zoorob, Pastor of the Episcopal Evangelical Church, Beirut.

The new president was installed by Rev. Dr Sahiouny, President of the Supreme Council of the Evangelical Community of Syria and Lebanon and Chairman of the Board of Managers, who presented Dr Sabra with the symbol of office.   Dr. Paul Haidostian, president of Haigazian University and Member of the Board of NEST, presented the new president and closed by saying: "I can confidently say, that if Protestantism in the Middle East would have liked to see in a theologian rigor and seriousness, in a teacher clarity and method, in a leader faithfulness and faith, in a preacher concern for the truth, in an administrator, ethical standards and transparency, in a public personality diplomacy and openness, in a Christian believer the rationally minded and soft spirited person, then the name would be our new president, George Sabra.

The charge to the new president was given by Rev. Karaguezian who encouraged Dr. Sabra  saying that although he had been entrusted with its leadership, it was the responsibility of the community to attend to the needs of the NEST together.  He stressed that the NEST community is behind him and with him as we work together to  sustain the school and nurture it in its unique role as a Protestant Theological Seminary and a beacon in the local community and in the wider Middle Eastern region.

In response, Dr. Sabra gave an address on the three tasks of a Theological Seminary.  He reminded and encouraged us that the role and responsibility of such an institution is to serve both the church and the wider community, to cope with change, responding to the challenges that the Church faces by thinking theologically and searching to find Biblical truths that can be applied to our changing world and working together to transform Church and society.

A Prayer for dedication was given by Mr Jahshan, Vice Chairperson of the NEST Board of Managers and readings were given by professor of New Testament, Dr Awwad, and student Gerard Ghazarian.

Music was played by resident Lori Aintablian, on piano and student Lisa Mohns, who conducted the NEST choir.

Bibliodrama (Biblical Drama) In touch with the Bible

The Christian Education Resource Center & Women’s Studies

Dear friends and partners in ministry. I would love to share with you about our latest event called Bibliodrama led by Rev. Agnete G. Holm from DanMission, which was held on Saturday, April 28, 2012, from 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. in the CERC Seminar room at NEST. As requested by Agnete, our number was seven, which is the ideal number for such a group activity.

Bibliodrama is not drama or theater – but it is spiritual counseling in a group with the help of biblical texts. There is a Bibliodrama leader who guides and leads the group through the text and through the issues that appear. Bibliodrama was invented in a Cappuccine monastery in Germany and is inspired by the Ignacian spirituality.

We all know that we learn very much through experiences. But in our churches we are used to sitting down and listening. How can we experience the biblical stories without performing drama or theater? Bibliodrama gives the biblical story a physical place in the room.

The biblical story can be appealing and inspiring, but it does not impose anything on the participants. There is room for the individual to find a place in the biblical story which is relevant and rewarding in life and faith. No matter what, the participants will feel a relation to the biblical passage and there will be room to feel if there is a life-giving calling from the biblical story. The dialogue within the outline is a contemplative listening to the other participants. We listen without commenting and we listen in a way that allows us to focus our attention on what processes are happening in us while we are listening. In the workshop we learn how to make space for this kind of dialogue.

The participants met again after their experiences in the outline, then the session was rounded off with a sharing of faith and experience. This helped us to relate to the experience in a way that is relevant for our life and faith. This was an existential dialogue, where the instructor was present as a spiritual counselor and the participants became companions in each other’s lives. In the workshop we learned to connect our feelings and experiences gained from this spiritual journey to our everyday life.

Here are some of the comments from our participants…

“It was indeed a very meaningful morning! The workshop provided a refreshing way to understand the text: we physically walked with the different characters of the story, we felt their pain and their thirst, shared their questions and were ourselves emotionally touched in our heart and soul. A great way to think creatively about a Bible story and to apply it to our life. Thanks for the invitation C.M.”

“I liked this approach. I had never thought of taking such a journey, it was a new experience to me, and an enriching one. It made me feel really close to Jesus and increased my desire to see my friends really meet him and enjoy his closeness and love. I also want to practice this as I am reading the gospel and try it with the children and maybe one mother or two. Thank you very much for making this happen. H.A.”

“I want to say that in this seminar I gained a new hope for my future. I had the feeling of an essential refreshment and was really impressed by the completely emotional openness of all participants. Thanks for giving me the chance to share this sort of experience with the group! P.R.”

“I would like to tell you that this was the most practical workshop I've ever attended in my whole life ! I was happy to share my thoughts with others and I was extremely relieved, thank God! God bless you. S.J.”

At the end, we had a fellowship lunch in the NEST small dining room and shared more about our experience with Bibliodrama and how effective it is for one’s spiritual journey.

Shaké Geotcherian
Instructor in Christian Education
Director of the Christian Education Resource Center

Announcement: Youth Leaders training Seminar‏

Dear Friends in Ministry,
This is a reminder for those who still have not registered for this very important seminar which will take place on Nov. 27, 2010, from 9:00a.m.-12:30p.m.at the Near East School of Theology.
The two main issues will be taken up under the theme of ADDICTIONS:

* Addiction to Smoking/Alcohol and Drugs and
* Addiction to Pornography.

These very dangerous addictions are poisoning the minds and hearts of our young people and making them fall into the trap of unhealthy living which is of course also effecting their spiritual life, where some are leaving the faith, while others are leading double lives, church/world.

We as leaders need not only be aware but also be prepared to deal with such cases, even before our young people fall into these traps. It is better to prepare them well to face these kinds of temptations which wreck havoc in their lives instead of trying to help them afterwards.
During the training there will be presentations about prevention and also about steps of how to deal with these kind of issues when our youth pass through such situations.

Last day for registration is November 25.
Have a wonderfully blessed day

Shake` Geotcherian
Instructor in Christian Education
Director of the Christian Education Resource Center
Near East School of Theology

NEST Lecture by Rev. Robert D. Stoddard, Jr.

Eli Smith (1801-1857) was an American Protestant Missionary and scholar, born at Northford, Conn. He graduated from Yale in 1821 and from Andover Theological Seminary in 1826. He worked in Malta until 1829, then in company with H. G. O. Dwight traveled through Armenia and Georgia to Persia. They published their observations, Missionary Researches in Armenia in 1833 in two volumes. Eli Smith settled in Beirut in 1833. Along with Edward Robinson, he made two trips to the Holy Land, then pursued the task which he considered to be his life's work: translation of the Bible into Arabic. Although he died before completing the task, the work was completed by C. V. Van Dyck of the Syrian Mission and published in 1860 to 1865. (Wikipedia)

NEST opens its Resource Center

NEST (Near East School of Theology - Մերձաւոր Արեւելքի Աստուածաբանական Ճեմարան) opened its Resource Center for Christian educators, who work with kids in Sunday Schools, with youth, with women, and for those who teach religion in church affiliated schools.

The center will help the educators in finding resources, and will host workshops that will help teachers in their field development. In the center, teachers will also share experiences and work together to produce teaching materials needed for their work groups.

The Resource Center will aim to be a service for educators and Christian women, who serve in their churches.

President: Dr. Mary Michael
Website: http://www.theonest.edu.lb