Monday the twenty-fourth of September 2007 marked the official opening day of the Nazareth Center for Christian Studies in Israel. The day was the much anticipated end result of months of patience, prayer and hard work. To celebrate the occasion, a ribbon cutting ceremony and special dedication service were held on the newly acquired grounds, featuring several distinguished speakers. Highlighted among these speakers was David Coffey, the current leader of the Baptist World Alliance.
The NCCS is housed in the former home of Dwight and Emma Baker, who served on the Southern Baptist Mission Board from 1950 until their retirement in 1986 and spent over twenty years of their ministry serving among the people of Israel. NCCS is a “center for theological learning and Holy Land studies in central Nazareth open to all Christians…that seeks to partner with and serve all evangelical churches in Israel.” They will be offering the Spurgeons BD and also the NCCS pre-Masters Certificate as preparation for the International Baptist Theological Seminary (Prague) Mth degrees which they hope to offer in 2008. The evening’s service was held in the back of the center, which was hung with lights and beautifully decorated for the occasion. Over seventy people were in attendance, with representatives from such groups as the Anglican Church of Israel, the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, the Church of Scotland, the Assemblies of God, the Southern Baptist Convention and Bethlehem Bible College. To be certain there was a spirit of unity and divine providence over the entire evening.
The event was overseen by Rev. Azar Ajaj, the newly appointed Dean of Students and two addresses were given by Monther Nauom, the current chairman of the Association of Baptist Churches and Fuad Haddad, previous ABC chairman in whose term the NCCS was first conceived. Bader Mansour, Chairman of NCCS, gave a brief history of the inspirational beginnings of the Center from the drawing board to fruition in only two years time, recounting how God moved in miraculous ways to prepare everything for this great moment. After Mr. Mansour, Rev. Dr. Bryson Arthur, who will be serving as the director of NCCS, made introductions of several faculty members and guests alike. He then took the opportunity to make the resounding statement that [here at NCCS] “we are not building a college…we are building the kingdom of God.” A hymn based upon the meaningful words of Psalm 127:1, “unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain” was offered and David Coffey came forward to give a brief a sermon.
Rev. Coffey and his delegation had just recently met with Prime Minister of Lebanon Emile Lahoud and King Abdullah of Jordan on September 19 and 23 respectively. Coffey, who was elected to a five year term in 2005 as president of the Baptist World Alliance, is a native of Great Britain and an ordained minister of the Baptist Union of Great Britain since 1967. His much anticipated visit was part of a Middle Eastern tour reaching out to Arab leaders and Middle East members of the Baptist family, which number around 100 million members world-wide. Rev. Coffey spoke the day before to a group from all around Galilee at Nazareth Evangelical Baptist Church, shortly after his arrival from Jordan. At the NCCS opening, his dynamic presence and spirit charged message were very well received. He spoke with purpose and an authoritative sense of spiritual affiliation with all present that went well beyond his message at hand and seemed to speak pervasively, not only to us, but to the future generations of NCCS students and faculty. Rev. Coffey proposed four pillars for the new Center: spiritual anointing, balanced biblical teaching, prophetic courage, and ministry of transformation.
At the conclusion of the sermon, there were prayers and a benediction followed by the ribbon cutting ceremony. The ribbon, placed across the front of the Center, was cut simultaneously by David Coffey and Fuad Haddad. Once the ribbon pieces fell away, Mr. Haddad announced (in Arabic) that the Center was now officially open “in the name of the Lord.” The guests were then free to join in refreshments as they toured the newly renovated Center. After refreshments and touring, a brief pastors meeting was held in the lecture room for a question and answer period with David Coffey. Following his visit to Nazareth, Rev. Coffey and his delegation met with Israeli president Shimon Peres.