“Everything we have in life really needs a strong foundation, whether you are constructing a house or ship – everything needs a strong structure and foundation. And I think our scholars are equipped with that. Passion for ministry with highly qualified academic credentials are a strong foundation for the Church.”
Riad Kassis is the International Director of Langham Scholars. His journey from Damascus University to becoming a leading figure in theological education and community transformation is an inspiration to many. Through his work at Langham, Riad has empowered Langham Scholars from throughout the Majority World to achieve their PhDs, leading to a tangible impact in churches, communities, and the lives of countless individuals.
A journey grounded in faith and education
Riad’s journey began as a young economics student at Damascus University in Syria. It was during this time that he stumbled upon cassette tapes containing the sermons of renowned theologian John Stott.
He reflects, “I remember listening to these tapes many, many times. I almost memorized these sermons. In fact, I did because whenever our pastor would ask me to preach, I would preach those sermons, and people were very impressed. I told John Stott when I met him after many years that I did that. He smiled, you know, in a very reserved British way.”
This initial encounter sparked Riad’s passion for theological education and spurred his desire to serve Christ and the church. After completing his studies at Damascus University, Riad gained valuable experience working at the American and Australian embassies in Damascus.
Riad shares, “During that time I met my wife and we started to think about the future. And with the help of many friends and the Christian community, we decided to go for theological training to be more equipped to serve Christ and his church.”
Riad and his wife Izdihar left Damascus to pursue theological training in the Philippines for three years, before returning to Syria and Lebanon to do ministry.
Becoming the first Scholar in his region
After some time working in vocational ministry, Riad attended a conference in the USA that changed his path in many ways. “That’s where I met John Stott in person. He was a main speaker at Wheaton College in Chicago.”
Meeting John was a surreal and exciting experience for Riad, after years of learning from him and looking up to him, they conversed as equals. Riad says, “I met [John] for maybe more than 40 minutes, and he encouraged me to go for further theological education.”
Pursuing more theological education had always been a dream for Riad, but achieving it was a challenge. Study was expensive and funding was hard to come by. However, with the encouragement and support from John Stott, Riad became a Langham Scholar.
Together with Izdihar and their son, Riad moved to the UK to do his PhD at Nottingham University, completing it in just four years. In 1997 after finishing his research, Riad and his family returned to Lebanon, where Riad became the first Langham Scholar in the region.
Now in 2023, Riad is proud to be able to say there are more than 17 men and women who have graduated or are doing their PhD in the Middle East.
From Scholar to a leader of Scholars
After his return to Lebanon, Riad had a varied career in ministry. He directed a boarding school for poor and underprivileged children, taught at two seminaries (at the same time), started writing and even published a book.
Riad’s passion for seeing people equipped with theological education saw him take on the role of International Director of the International Council for Evangelical Theological Education (ICETE) for many years. The ICETE is a network of more than 1300 seminaries globally. Eventually, he also took up the role of the International Director of Langham Scholars, and did both jobs for some time.
After seven years of juggling both responsibilities, Riad decided to give up his role at the ICETE and give all his focus to Langham. He reflects, “Three years ago I decided to focus on Langham Scholars because both ministries grew very much. This is my 10th year in this ministry. I really enjoy [the ministry] and I see the impact.”
The impact of the Langham Scholars program goes beyond educating one person, and beyond the academic contributions of one research project. Riad has seen how God uses scholars beyond their study and into their communities. He says, “Being a Scholar doesn’t just impact the life of graduates, but impacts the life of the church. And for me, more importantly, impacts society and communities. Where you see lives being changed, justice being achieved and reconciliation happening in communities, it is very important.”
Additionally, seeing pastors, men and women from ministry being trained is also something Riad really loves about his work.
There are now over 100 current Langham Scholars that come from over 40 nations. They are doing their PhDs in many contexts, some in Western countries and others in Africa or Asia.
In the day-to-day, Riad’s work involves coordinating an international team who helps him to take care of these current Scholars. The team doesn’t just help Scholars with their academic pursuits, but also with their family and material needs. They look to enable Scholars to have all they need to be able to complete their studies. This also includes creating opportunities for Scholars, like options to write articles and books, being involved in particular research or presenting at regional or international conferences. Alongside this, Riad travels and teaches.
He says, “Day to day when I am not travelling, visiting, speaking at conferences or meeting graduates and building relationships with seminaries globally, I would be in my office preparing for speaking engagements or lectures. I do some teaching when it is possible in my area of Old Testament studies. During my time in my office, my cute dog would be sitting next to me, quietly for hours.”
Investing in strong foundations for the global church
Riad sees Langham Scholars as an investment in a strong foundation that will multiply throughout the world.
One example of a Scholar who is doing ministry that has a multiplying impact is Martin. Originally from Lebanon, and with the support of Langham, Martin went to Oxford University to do his PhD on interfaith dialogue. Now back in Lebanon, Martin is running a ministry that engages Christians in compassionate dialogue with those of Muslim faith.
Riad says, “His ministry is in fact a global ministry, although he’s based in Lebanon. He is bringing the Christian faith in a very intelligent, nice, gentle way to our Muslim friends based on mutual understanding and dialogue. Additionally, his writings are globally recognised and appreciated.”
Another example Riad shares is of a Scholar from Africa who is using their position of respect and authority to run an NGO that brings fresh water to villages in need. He says, “They are changing society by providing them abundant life and sharing Christ, as it says in Romans, by doing acts of kindness and mercy.”
Reflecting on the overall importance of the Scholars ministry, Riad says, “Everything we have in life really needs a strong foundation, whether you are constructing a house or ship – everything needs a strong structure and foundation. And I think our scholars are equipped with that. Passion for ministry with highly qualified academic credentials are a strong foundation for the Church.”
He continues, “Sometimes you might think, why do we really need PhDs? We could spend this money on something else. But investing in one person brings ‘huge revenue.’ This one, when he or she is well qualified, the impact they have on their churches, communities, societies, nations, is unbelievable.”