Middle East (MNN) — Despite the fear and persecution placed on Christians in the Middle East from societal religious oppression and groups like ISIS, Christianity has spread and continues to do so. However, as churches work to stay open, there are few qualified church leaders to guide and minister the people because many have fled or been forced from the area.
Training Believers to Lead
“What we’re finding, for example in Iraq, there’s an estimate that 50 percent of the Christian population has left Iraq,” says Kristyn Kuhlman with Program for Theological Education by Extension (PTEE). “Now there are men and women who are finding themselves as the church leaders, perhaps the pastors, or in charge of Sunday school or the youth. They have no theological training.”
It’s a similar situation in a number of Middle Eastern countries. Pastors and qualified leaders with certificates and degrees in theology have had to leave their church. Without anyone to lead, church members have risen up to share the Gospel with those remaining, though they don’t have contextual training.
PTEE started in 1981 to help equip believers like this. Their programs are solely for Arabic speakers and were developed by Arabic Christians for the Arab Church to help leaders gain access to theological education.
“We take biblically sound, evangelical, theological education to Arabic speakers wherever they live in the Arab world, meaning the Middle East, North Africa, and even now, we’re in countries like the United States, and Canada, and Sweden, and Germany – places where Arabic speakers are now immigrating. So, we are [an] on-location theological, education program,” Kuhlman says.
With on-location programs, many more people have access to theological courses.
Over the years, more seminaries have developed in certain parts of the Middle East, but not always near to students. This has forced people to leave their churches, cities, and countries to receive an education. Most of these students are younger men and women who can go to school full time.
However, students often face complications when traveling. In some countries, they can’t even receive a visa. As a result, some students who feel called to church leadership are unable to receive seminary education.
For those who are admitted, and receive education in another country, usually “they do not return to the churches from which they came or their communities.”
PTEE wipes out these complications. Their students are generally men and women working full time and have families so they can’t leave their homes. With these courses, students aren’t forced to seek out education. Education is brought to them.
“It allows the pastors, the leaders to stay with their church while they’re receiving education, and it actually allows them to apply it immediately. They don’t have to wait two [or] three years till they’ve gotten their degree and then go apply what they’ve learned to a church,” Kuhlman says.
National Committees and Courses
To ensure the best education, PTEE establishes national committees for each country as they set up programs. This is one of the most important factors because PTEE has seen that since churches are being led by elders or members without training, there is room for misinterpretation.
“None of them have any theological training there. They’re just serving based on the gifts, but they realize if they do not have sound biblical training there is room for false theology, wrong teaching, and they really want to guard their church from that. So, we are working with them, first of all, to establish a national committee.”
National committees are made up of leaders from different evangelical Churches that know the culture and country so they can advise and guide courses to most effectively train the students.
Each class is carried out by facilitators that have had PTEE training.
Students and facilitators meet once a week whether that’s at a training center or a church to conduct classes.
“The work is done at home, they come together once a week at a seminar, a facilitator facilitates the seminar so the classes can happen quickly and on location,” Kuhlman explains.
The courses have helped many people earn certificates and degrees in theology. With PTEE’s help, Arabic speakers are guiding churches all around the globe. However, in the Middle East, many students face danger.
Religious persecution terrorizes many Christians in the Middle East who are a minority. Pursuing theological education often makes them an even greater target. Furthermore, violence surrounds them when they’re simply going to classes.
“The classes in Syria, there are people who were going through war zones and didn’t know if…it was even safe to go out to the classes, but they have persevered.”
Through this perseverance, Kuhlman says PTEE courses have become the strongest in dangerous areas.
“PTEE is strongest in places like Northeast Syria where we find the Church is growing, but there’s no seminary.”
PTEE invites you to pray for students and facilitators who face challenges. Pray for safety, wisdom, and access to programs. Pray they will be leaders in these churches and that God will guide them.