Ongoing Journey of Faithfulness: Overcoming the Challenges!
Was it easy to start a Bible college from scratch, and build it to be one of the most important Christian educational institutions in the region? What kind of challenges have we faced as BethBC? How did we manage to overcome them? We endured two Intifadas, several wars on Gaza, lack of money, increasing emigration, and much more. How did we survive?
“He was faithful.” answered Dr. Bishara Awad, founder of Bethlehem Bible College.
Challenges of the Beginning
With his calm face, wrinkles of wisdom and deep eyes, Dr. Bishara recalls our beginning, and the challenges we faced back then:
“Before we started the College, I spoke with all the church leaders in the Bethlehem area. I shared with them my idea of starting a seminary, and we created a board of trustees that had representatives from all the churches in Bethlehem. However, we still faced a big challenge convincing the community that we were not Jehovah’s Witnesses. It took us a while to prove to the other churches and to the community that we teach the right Christian beliefs”
He adds: “When we started the College in 1979, our biggest challenge was to find good and qualified teachers, especially Arab teachers who have theology degrees. We couldn’t find any, so, we asked for help from the missionaries who were in town to teach our students, and they happily approved with nothing in return.”
Another one of the big challenges the College faced in its beginning was to decide whether we are a theological school or a biblical one. It was decided that we are a Bible school, and the reason was because we didn’t want to teach a specific theology, but we wanted to be a non-denominational college for all churches and believers.
Dr. Bishara mentioned another challenge the College faced, which was the emigration of the Palestinian Christians. “There was a time when students used to go to the United States to study, and they never came back; but now big families are leaving for other countries. Our biggest accomplishment as the Bible College is that 90% of our graduates are still living and serving in Palestine.”
Being a college located in Bethlehem, Palestine, the unstable political situation was a huge challenge. The question for us as Christian believers was what could we do in such situation in addition to praying?
The College faced the two uprisings (intifadas). The First Intifada, 1987-1993, and the Second, 2000-2005. Dr. Bishara remembers this time:
“In the First Intifada, The Israeli military arrested some of our students and faculty. There was a curfew, and we didn’t know what to do regarding holding classes, so we used the facilities of a monastery in Jerusalem called Tantur for six months. When the Israeli military found out, they asked the administration of the monastery to stop accepting our students at their place. The administration refused and said, “We accept students from all over the world! Why should we stop accepting Palestinians?”
Everyone at the College remembers the Second Intifada in detail. During that time, we lost a lot of our international faculty. It was very dangerous, and the leadership asked them to leave for the sake of their lives! Dr. Bishara said that the College was in danger of closing during that time because the situation was really bad, but we carried on even in the midst of hardship.
Dr. Yohanna Katanacho and Dr. Salim Munayer, two of our previous academic deans, talked about this difficult time of the Intifada:
“We were going to work while the Israeli tanks were outside the College. We were studying under a great threat; bullets were flying in the air, and we truly loved serving Jesus even if it meant putting our lives and families in danger.”
Gabriel Hanna the previous mass media department director, agreed that the time of the Intifada was the hardest on the department as well.
Samar Hadawwar, our beloved secretary, also added, “My biggest challenge as a staff member for more than 17 years was living the Second Intifada. I remember coming to work in the morning and being forced to leave very quickly because of the curfew. We lived in real fear for our lives; it was a very hard time.”
Nisreen Nassar, Pastor Jack’s personal assistant, recalls that time: “We used to meet Israeli soldiers and tanks on our way to work, and we didn’t know what the future was holding for us or the College! I remember Dr. Bishara comforting us that we are God’s servants; we are in His hands, and no harm shall affect us.”
The experience of Hala Ghniem, the library manager, was the same: “Books weren’t allowed to enter the region because of the political situation. It wasn’t until 1995 that it became easier to import books from Egypt and Lebanon.”
Mona Nour, a social worker in the Shepherd Society, recalled those times: “In the second Intifada, people lost their jobs, factories closed, and people who were working with NGOs and other companies couldn’t make it to their jobs because of the curfew. As a result, there was more work for us as the helping hand of the College. People needed money to provide for their families, and they came to us. We, too, needed more money than before to help as many people as we could, and I remember seeing all our needs provided for by God. We helped everyone that knocked on our door during this hard time that our country was facing.”
Financial challenges were never a big concern for Dr. Bishara: “God provided in miraculous ways every time. In the beginning we moved a lot from one place to another. We needed money for that; but we always believed that the College was for the Lord, and He would provide for all our needs.”
Nisreen confirmed his words: “I saw the College getting built stone by stone. It wasn’t easy. We needed a lot of money to build the buildings we have now, and I witnessed all of this. I witnessed the faithfulness of God through the years, and how He provided everything we needed.”
Dr. Bishara finishes with pride in his eyes: “I thank God for Rev. Dr. Jack Sara, the current president of the college, for accepting the position of leadership of the College, and for working so hard for the College. My message for him is to keep going; keep doing what we always did by trusting the Lord to provide the College’s needs, and to keep being the salt and light for the whole community.”
The College faced many challenges, but we stood together hand in hand with the same heart, spirit, and trusting the Lord and our leadership. Here we are. We are strong. we are impacting the community, and we are sending Christian leaders to the world!
Political, financial and social challenges are still here. The circumstances haven’t changed much. We’re still facing difficulties daily, but we have faced them for 40 years, and we overcame them. With God by our side, we can do it again.
Amira is the Communications Coordinator of Bethlehem Bible College. She is a committed Palestinian Christian who has a passion for writing about the intersection of faith and seeking justice for her fellow countrymen. To read more of her writings sign up for Bethlehem Bible College’s monthly newsletter.