Staff Spotlight: Labib Madanat

Meet American Bible Society’s Senior Middle East Advisor

This is part of a series of monthly staff spotlights at American Bible Society. We hope you enjoy getting to know our staff members, who are using their gifts to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world.

What is your role at American Bible Society?

Since 2012, I’ve worked with American Bible Society as the senior Middle East advisor. There are two sides to my role. On the one hand, I advise American Bible Society on developments, communications, and ministry strategy and help build relationships with donors who want to invest in projects in the Middle East. On the other hand, I work with our partners in the Middle East to encourage joint ministry initiatives between Bible Societies in the region. Collaboration is a precious commodity, and when we’re able to do it, it’s a breakthrough!

How has your faith and personal history impacted your ministry?

I’m Jordanian Arab Christian. My family tribe is unique in that we were never Muslims who converted to Christianity. Most of our ancestors were likely among the first Christians who came to faith in the second century. Because of that, I have a long sense of historic Christian identity. That’s very precious to me, but I would say that the more important thing is the personal history between Labib and Jesus.

My father was a pastor in Jerusalem with the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) for many years. I attended university in Iraq where I had no church or Christian fellowship. For four years, I had to make the conscious daily decision to follow Jesus. I was strengthened by daily prayer and reading my Bible at night in my dorm room. When I noticed interest among Muslim Iraqi students, I started answering questions. That turned into active witnessing and handing out pocket-size New Testaments and Psalms, which I would bring from Amman each semester. I didn’t realize how risky this was! I was motivated by a simple love for Jesus. I like to say that I was rooted in the Word and in Jesus during those university years in Iraq.

Over the course of my ministry in the Middle East, I had two transformative experiences of renewal through my relationship with Jesus. As an Arab Christian, I used to hate Muslims. I could be nice to them, relate to them, and even have them as friends and neighbors. But there was an embedded, foundational hatred for anything Muslim in my heart. God had to remove this
hatred from my life. I remember watching the war between Iraq and Iran and seeing those two Muslim countries brutally massacring each other. That was when my heart melted and my attitude toward Muslim people changed.

The other renewal I experienced was with my view of the Israeli Jews. As everyone knows, the conflict between Israel and Palestine is always in the background in the Middle East. When I lived in Jerusalem, my home was in a Jewish neighborhood. My enemy literally became my neighbor. I learned Hebrew because being able to speak the language of my neighbor was very important in the process of coming to love them. And since I experienced life alongside them, I knew how it felt when terror struck. I remember the sound of suicide bombers on buses. In a way, my love for my Jewish neighbors came from being immersed in their lives and culture. Growing to love both my Muslim and Jewish neighbors through Christ equipped me for more compassionate, effective ministry in the Middle East.

Can you give us an overview of your ministry experience
before American Bible Society?

After I completed my studies, I found myself wanting to serve God in Jerusalem. In 1991, I moved back to the city and tried to find a job in my field. It was impossible! All the doors were closed—not in a disastrous way, but in a miraculous way. There’s a difference! Now I can laugh about it, but it was painful back then.

During this time, the local Bible Society was reorganizing in Israel and Palestine. I was recruited for ministry and asked to apply for the job of leading the Bible Society in the West Bank. One of the first things we did was change the name of the organization to the Palestinian Bible Society. It was almost like a prophetic statement because, at that time, the words “Palestinian” and “terrorist” were synonymous. But I wanted to change that. I wanted to put the words “Palestinian” and “Bible” together. I believed that there was a better future for the Palestinian people. Through the Bible, we could help to make that future come true!

In April 1993, our small team of three people began an incredible journey of ministry. Our motto was, “To live and give, to serve and proclaim the Word of God.” I remember that American Bible Society was superb in standing beside me as a young leader. Dr. Eugene Habecker, who was president of American Bible Society at the time, and current president Robert L. Briggs, who joined the organization in 1999, helped me immensely. Investing in new leaders is of paramount importance! I received support and affirmation from local and international churches, ministries, and leaders, including Brother Andrew, the founder of Open Doors. Others who poured into my life include Paul Schultheis, founder of Strategic Resource Group (SRG); Bob Bengtsson from the Swedish Pentecostal Church; Peter and Leslie Strong in Seattle; Jeff Latture from Grove Group; Dr. Pat Grom; James Catford, former Chief Executive of British and Foreign Bible Society; Peter Wigglesworth from United Bible Societies; and many others! From them, I learned that we are called to invest in the people of God.

The Lord blessed our ministry, growing us from three to 30 people working in several centers across East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank. In 2008, we began to discuss updating the structure of the Bible Societies in Israel and Palestine. In order to better serve the people in the region, we went from two Bible Societies to three: the Arab Israeli Bible Society, the Bible Society in Israel, and the Palestinian Bible Society. We appointed leaders for each Bible Society, and I was asked to be the team leader for the group. I continued coordinating the team until 2017. Now, I serve my colleagues
through my role at American Bible Society.

What is the key to effective ministry and innovation in
the Middle East?

This is a timely question since I’m working on developing new initiatives for the region now! It’s important to first discern the times and understand the country you’re serving. You need to also understand the people and the DNA of the Bible Society. I’ve learned through my experience in the Middle East that the character of the leader shapes organizations more than any strategy or mission statement. I have case after case to prove this! So, it becomes critical to understand the heart and mind of each leader. It is important to have an eye to spot potential and emerging leaders and empower them. You must establish trust, which is key to anything you want to do. And you must have patience!

When fostering collaboration, you need to be good at matchmaking. Part of my role has been to connect Bible Societies in Muslim-majority nations so that they can learn from and inspire each other. If experiences are similar, we encourage them to talk to and support each other with their expertise. And where there is chemistry and capacity for collaboration, we bring leaders together.

Once you have an effective ministry strategy, you can work on projects that benefit the people you’re serving. An example of one project from the Middle East is a gift of love for the Jewish people. We’re working with the Bible Society in Israel to update the Old Testament in modern Hebrew, for the first time ever! If I told you that people are still reading the Old Testament in 3,000-year-old Hebrew, you would think I’m crazy. Even if a language is 50 or 100 years old, it’s considered ancient! But the Old Testament is still only available in the original Masoretic Hebrew text. Having it in modern Hebrew is key to unlocking the Scriptures for many Jewish people. We’re also working on translating the Scriptures from Quaranic Arabic to spoken Arabic in many dialects, which will help connect people in Muslim-majority nations with the Bible.

What do you enjoy about working with American Bible

I see the entire globe summarized within American Bible Society’s team and mission. Staff are rich in talent and skill, even beyond what their job descriptions say. The teams I’ve worked with are humble, serious about their mission, and joyful in Christ. They’re also funny!

American Bible Society is a trusted, generous, and prayerful organization, which invests in long-haul partnerships around the world! I thank the Lord for partners like SRG, Grove Group, churches in the United States, and several families and foundations that selflessly and generously partner with us in this Bible mission.

I’ve personally experienced American Bible Society coming alongside me in service to the Middle East. The organization took a servant leader posture when partnering with other Bible Societies. They never came as a dominating force and always respected the indigenous and local expressions of ministry in other countries. I love that honest, humble posture that American Bible Society showed me. I find it precious.

Would you share one of your favorite Bible verses with

Right now, I have two verses that I love. By next week, I’m sure there will be others!

Let us be thankful, then, because we receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Let us be grateful and worship God in a way that will please him, with reverence and awe.

Hebrews 12:28 GNT

Give thanks to the LORD, because he is good, and his love is eternal.

Psalm 118:1 GNT

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Elisabeth Trefsgar
Elisabeth Trefsgar

Elisabeth Trefsgar is a content specialist for American Bible Society. She has made a home in New Jersey and Sofia, Bulgaria, and is always on the lookout for the next adventure. She is passionate about seeing communities around the world flourish through the power of God's Word and the efforts of the local church. When she isn't writing, you can find her reading good stories, photographing local sights, and spending time with friends.

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