“In the midst of the tragic events affecting the Middle East…I found myself attracted to an old book on my shelf, and wondered: Can an old book forgotten in history help me in the 21st century? … It was then that I began my journey into the book of the prophet Habakkuk.”
For many of our supporters, donating books to the Theological Book Network is a bittersweet moment. In hope, they give their personal and treasured books wondering what difference it might have in someone else’s life across the globe. Recently at the Network, we were reminded of the power of books to inspire global church leaders to minister to people in hardship in their own communities and produce their own theological works. These leaders equipped with books apply the scripture to their own unique cultural contexts.
Syrian theologian Dr. Riad Aziz Kassis recently shared with us a story of how a single book from the Network made a difference in his ministry to Syrians caught in a tragic situation. In October 2014, the Network celebrated its ten-year anniversary. Dr. Kassis, a longtime supporter, and partner made the long trip from his home in Lebanon to celebrate with us. Little did we know that this trip would be the key to producing his own theological work.
After the celebration, Dr. Kassis visited the Network’s Global Distribution Center where his eyes landed on a commentary on the book of Habakkuk. He picked it up immediately because he knew he was going to find a good use for it.
Upon his return to the Middle East, Dr. Kassis was invited to speak to Intervarsity Syria Fellowship. He found that many community members were already asking the same questions that -thousands of years before – the prophet Habakkuk had asked in the face of tremendous suffering. “Why?” and “For how long?” A citizen of both Lebanon and Syria, Dr. Kassis has had an intimate experience in living through great suffering, and he chose to use these timeless questions as a foundation for crafting his talks. His presentations later turned into a manuscript in Arabic that was later translated into English as Frustrated With God: A Syrian Theologian’s Reflections on Habakkuk.
Who would have imagined that a scholar visiting the Network would find a commentary on Habakkuk that would trigger faith and situatthinking on the Syrian crisis and humanitarian responses? We can truly say that the ancient book of Habakkuk sparked the creation of Dr. Kassis’ book, which provides contextual theological insights allowing us to contemplate and respond to an ongoing human tragedy. His story reminds us every book can make a difference.