A Story of Faithfulness
"Imad Shehadeh has the gentleness of a lamb, the boldness of a lion …"
"Miraculous"—that's what Dr. Imad Shehadeh (ThM, 1986; ThD, 1990), president of Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary (JETS), calls the long-awaited government approval of the school, which is the first of its kind in a Muslim country. Just a few years earlier he was arrested and the school was shut down, but Imad never gave up hope. "I knew this was God's work, so I didn't let the obstacles discourage me," he said. It wasn't the first time the Jordanian government had arrested him for his lionhearted promotion of his faith.
Imad was born in Jordan to Palestinian parents and moved to California for college, where he met Christ as a third-year pre-med student. A fellow classmate instructed him in the faith through Campus Crusade for Christ. That training motivated him to change his career plans from medicine to full-time Christian work, a decision that confused his family. He soon joined the staff of Crusade and went back home, where he met and married a fellow believer named Julia, shared Christ on two college campuses, and planted a church in Northern Jordan.
The Jordanian government began to take notice of Imad because of the impact of his campus and church ministries. He spent three months under house arrest and heavy interrogation, after which the Lord made it clear to him and Julia that they must leave the country. He decided to pursue theological education, as he had only informal Bible training to that point. "It was providential from the Lord to leave."
A little over twenty years ago Imad began the Th.M. program at Dallas Seminary.
"For a Palestinian Arab, dispensational, premillenial theology was very eye-opening. It was excellent for me to learn to submit to the Scriptures," he said.
The summer after Imad finished his master's degree, the Shehadehs returned to Jordan briefly to "test the waters," before he continued on for his Th.D. "I wanted to see if we would be able to go back, and also to find out what was needed … what should I be involved with?" The answer was resounding—there was a huge need for trained leaders. The need fueled his desire to direct his studies toward and develop a Christian training program in Jordan.
Imad chose Jordan not only because he is Jordanian, but also because of its central location, its relative political stability, and its friendliness to neighboring countries.
After finishing his doctoral work thirteen years ago, Imad and his family moved back to Jordan and he began preparations for the seminary, including efforts to secure government approval. He rented a flat where he set up offices, classrooms, and a library. The staff was comprised of missionaries, and the whole school was somewhat secretive.
In 1991 the seminary opened and the first classes began. Initially it was a success, but after a little over a year the government shut it down and arrested Imad. When he was released, the school's leaders moved it into a church, hoping they would be left alone there. But after another year the school was shut down again.
Challenged by the government's continued refusal and by his partners' readiness to give up, Imad grew even more devoted to gaining official approval. To him it became a matter of the Lord's honor. "I kept asking, 'How long should we wait? We say that God is omnipotent, but is this government too difficult for Him?'"
After spending thousands of dollars and five years meeting with prime ministers, government officials, and lawyers, Imad received a note from Jordanian intelligence saying, "Don't even dream that we will ever approve this." He and Julia went to the Lord with lamblike meekness and said, "If this idea is from us, not from You, we don't want it. But if it is Your will, You must intervene."
That week a string of miraculous events took place, capped off by the appointment of the right man in office for a short time—just long enough to sign the approval paperwork for the seminary on March 23, 1995. And the miracles have continued throughout the life of the school. "The Lord provided the facilities, the funding, and the faculty, along with numerous qualified students from all over the Middle East," Imad said.
"The students are great, intelligent, curious, and sacrificial in their love for the Lord and His church," said Dr. Stephen Bramer, professor of Bible Exposition, who traveled to JETS this year. He called Imad Shehadeh "a truly meek man, one whose great strength is under the control of the Spirit of God. I know him to be a man of vision and faith whose motivation is truly godly."
This year Imad and Julia celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Julia said of her husband, "I thank God for him, his life, and his faith. I am thankful for the goals God gave him and for his commitment to the achievement of these goals."
Since the school began twelve years ago, eighty-two students have graduated and over four hundred have attended classes, many of whom have been unable to complete a degree because of persecution. Former students now minister in thirteen countries in the Middle East and North Africa, and in Jordan alone fourteen evangelical churches have sprung up and fully matured.
Dallas Seminary's support and presence on the JETS campus is ongoing. Dr. Paul Tanner (ThM, 1981) is currently the academic dean for JETS and a professor at the seminary, and Dallas Seminary professors join the teaching team for two or three weeks at a time. Referring to the teaching load, Imad said, "DTS professors have the lion's share."
Dr. Eugene Merrill, distinguished professor of Old Testament studies, has taught at JETS on numerous occasions. He described Imad as having "the gentleness of a lamb, the boldness of a lion, the integrity and transparency of a Nathaniel in whom there is no guile."
This too is God's work.