Origins in the 1800’s
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Middle East was part of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans’ rule of the Middle East lasted for more than four centuries and was marked by a complete scientific and spiritual stagnation. The decline of the Empire in the nineteenth century brought change and renaissance at many levels, particularly in the sphere of religious freedom. In the early years of the century (around 1819), some missionaries from the Presbyterian and Reformed Presbyterian churches in Europe and America landed in different areas of the Middle East, including Syria and Lebanon. Believers who responded to their ministry were called Evangelicals. They were given this name because of the way they worshipped and responded to the message of the Bible, while strictly living according to the pure teachings of the Scriptures.
The Evangelical Church Established
These “Evangelicals” were officially recognized in 1848 as a church within the “Millet” system of the Ottoman Empire. In the same year, the first Evangelical church was organized in Beirut, followed by churches in Hasbaya/South Lebanon (1852), Aleppo (1853), and Homs. In 1920, the work of the Evangelical churches in Syria and Lebanon was reorganized under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church USA to form a single Synod: the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon. In 1959, the Board of Foreign Mission of the Presbyterian Church – USA transferred to the Synod the full responsibility for the spiritual, educational, medical, social, and administrative ministries of these churches.
Leadership and Organization
To facilitate decision-making and achieve operational efficiency within the organization, the Synod regulated the field of its ministry through three executive governing bodies: The General Assembly, the Administrative Council, and the Executive Committee. Five other operational committees are also formed and elected by the General Assembly to implement the work in different domains and be supervised by the Administrative Council. They are the Ecclesial and Spiritual Affairs Committee, the Educational and pedagogical affairs Committee, the Financial and Property Affairs Committee, the Medical and social services Committee, and the Media Publications Committee.
The Synod’s field of work in Syria and Lebanon includes 38 churches comprising more than 4000 communicant members among its broader community of 12 to 15 thousands Presbyterian peoples. The Synod is served by 24 Pastors, besides six theology students are trained to join the field later.
Emphasis on Education
From the outset, the Presbyterian presence in the Middle East has laid the groundwork for a sound education in the region. Naturally, the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon focused its efforts on developing educational institutions in Syria and Lebanon, where Synod schools today serve more than 10,000 students. The early Synod educational work progressed well and in 2017 expanded to the Lebanese town of Minyara, where the Synod’s seventh school in Lebanon, Minyara Evangelical School, opened its doors to students. Of great significance is the fact that these eight schools in Syria and Lebanon serve students from Christian and non-Christian backgrounds alike. This Evangelical legacy of interaction, harmony, and reconciliation is a testimony to the Synod’s commitment to its mission of inclusiveness and openness to all regardless of race, religion or gender.
In addition to its full ownership of the eight schools in Lebanon and Syria, the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon serves, along with other Middle Eastern mainline Protestant churches, on the Board of Trustees of the Near East School of Theology in Beirut. Likewise, six Synod delegates also serve as permanent members in the two Governing Boards of the Lebanese American University (LAU), an internationally accredited comprehensive university with campuses in the two Lebanese cities of Beirut and Byblos.
The Synod prides itself in being the co-founder and active member of the ecumenical movement through its membership in the Middle East Council of Churches MECC, and the Fellowship of the Evangelical Churches in the Middle East FMEEC. It also co-founded and is an active member in the Supreme Council of the Evangelical Community in Syria and Lebanon, an Evangelical organizational body representing various Evangelical churches in Syria and Lebanon before civilian authorities.
The Synod’s presence in the Middle East enormously influenced the Evangelical presence in the region. More specifically, it led to spiritual and service-based awakening and stimulated discussions about Reformation principles and ways in which the testimony of the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ is seen and practiced throughout Middle Eastern churches.