Centenary of the ACO
On January 28 and 29, 2021, Haigazian University hosted an online conference entitled “European Missions and Protestant Churches in the Middle East: A Shared History in the Twentieth Century”. This event, which was organised on the occasion of the centenary of the Action Chrétienne en Orient (ACO, 1922-2022), featured eleven speakers from six different countries. Over the two days it was attended by around 90 people from the Middle East, Europe and North America, who were welcomed by Rev. Dr. Paul Haidostian, President of Haigazian University, and Rev. Mathieu Busch, General Secretary of the ACO Fellowship.
Rev. Haidostian presented the first paper, which highlighted European Protestant mission work in the Middle East prior to and during the Armenian Genocide by such organisations as the British BibleLands mission and the German Hilfsbund. Rev. Thomas Wild (France) presented a paper on the life and ministry of Paul Berron (1887-1970), a co-founder of the ACO. Berron was a pastor from the Alsace region, who was dedicated to mission and relief work among those suffering after the Genocide.
In his paper, Dr. Philippe Bourmaud, Professor of History at Lyon III University, reflected on the complex relations between mission agencies such as the ACO and the French Mandate government in Syria and Lebanon during the interbellum. Dr. Rima Nasrallah, Assistant Professor at the Near East School of Theology, gave a presentation on the relationships between female ACO missionaries and Middle Eastern women after World War II.
On the second conference day, Rev. Dr. Jean-Claude Basset (Switzerland) read a historical paper on the Protestant Church of Iran and its ecumenical relations. Rev. Dr. Tharwat Wahba, Professor at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, presented his study on European mission efforts and Egyptian Protestant churches. Rev. Dr. Wilbert van Saane, who serves both the Near East School of Theology and Haigazian University, sketched the development of the ACO from traditional mission agency to an egalitarian community of churches. This was followed by an analysis of the current work of the ACO by Rev. André Joly (Switzerland).
Dr. Heleen Murre-van den Berg, Professor at the Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands, placed the work of this conference in the wider framework of the study of the relations between European and Middle Eastern Christianity. Dr. Marina Behera of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies closed the conference with listener’s observations.