Wednesday, December 12, 2007

This Year in Jerusalem

December 13, 2007
Greetings as we continue to move through Advent, preparing to celebrate the coming of Jesus in his first visit and awaiting his second coming. I have made plans to visit Jerusalem and Palestine during the winter break here at the seminary. I have made contact with ELCA Lutherans there and intend to view first hand the monuments of the past but also to learn of the present struggles for justice and peace, for Christians, Palestinians and Jews in this troubled land where Jesus once walked.

The first picture is of an icon in the Episcopal Church in Maadi, a suburb of Cairo, where I worship and have assisted the priest, the Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler as preacher and celebrant when he was on a book tour. I mentioned earlier that his new book: "Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road, Exploring a New Path between Two Faiths", has been released. In return, he came to present his insights at our "Scholar's Seminar" and to meet with the graduate students class to dialogue about Muslim-Christian relations.

Icons, like this one of the baptism of Jesus, are present in many churches in this region, and developed as early Christian art sought to connect the divine reality with the human, to have heavenly presence touch earthly items and events. As you can observe, there is less concern to produce accurate human forms and landscapes. The gold background and the angel invite the viewer to come in contact with something holy and sacred in what is historical and worldly. In preparation for my trip to Jerusalem and Palestine, I have been reading a recent work by Andrew S. Jacobs, a southern Californian, entitled "The Holy Land and Christian Empire in Late Antiguity". He points out how the Christians converted the historic space of the Jews into sacred place of the followers of Christ. They replaced, erased and appropriated, what had been cherished by the Hebrews in "their promised land". From Constantine, the first "Christian" emperor, and from his mother Helena, the city of Jerusalem, developed more and more into a pilgrimage destination for pious Christians, a place to honor and preserve the events and spaces of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. The "true cross" was found, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher constructed on the spot by tradition where Jesus had been buried.

When the Muslims conquered the city of Jerusalem, they too replaced, erased and appropriated the space of others for their sacred place, constructing the Dome of the Rock to honor the place where the prophet Mohammad had been transported to heaven in a vision and to honor the place where by tradition God had demanded the sacrifice of Abraham's son Issac. Hans Kung, in his book "Islam, Past, Present and Future", comments that this appropiation was to show that "Islam has the primacy, because it has renewed the original religion of Abraham, contrary to Jewish and Christian falsifications (p. 206)". This, just a brief note on the history of this space as sacred place for three of the world's major religions, brings us up the the present and the talks between Palestinians and Israelis, complicated in many ways by the status of Jerusalem. More on this later, but for now, pray for the just peace of Jerusalem.

My second picture brings us back to Cairo. It is of the entrance to the newly renovated church for the Armenian Patriarch, one of the several Orthodox expressions in Egypt. Here too symbols of the divine are merged with the human to suggest that this space set aside for worship is a holy place, where God comes to meet us in his love and grace. That too is the message of Christmas, the incarnation "coming in the flesh" of the divine. May God bless us as we continue to make way for Christ to enter our lives.

(One more note about our class discussions on the theme of Jewish, Christian and Muslim relations, and "Zionism", the movement from the 19th century for Jews to "reclaim" their homeland. I used two sources to help in our discussions. One is available from the ELCA: "Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine." The other is by a former colleague, Dr. Peter Pettit, who is now the director for the Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding at Muhlenberg College. It is entitled: "Christian Zionism from a Perspective of Jewish-Christian Relations." You may be interesting in reviewing these as part of the total picture of the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations now going on.
Blessings and peace to all, Roger

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Refugee Work at St. Andrews

Monday, December 3, 2007
Greetings from Egypt. I hope that all is well. I want to take this opporunity to say a few words about the refugee ministry which the ELCA supports here in Cairo. The picture I am sending is of some students in the school at St. Andrews who came from the Sudan in the several years. They sang some Christian songs for us at Friday worship. There are less refugees coming now, in part because some areas of the Sudan are not at war. However, the situation is such that the Sudanese here in Egypt will need to remain. So the refugee program has shifted to providing the services these people need for the long term. A workshop at the church encourages artists among them to produce goods to be sold. Language classes in English and in Arabic help the families to get along here. A cirriculum has been devised which prepares students for formal education in Egyptian schools of higher education. Often classes include students of various age levels because the many could not have a regular schedule before in their troubled home land. There are over 100 students at the primary school level and over 50 in the secondary grades. Three ELCA personel assist in this program, a couple who has previously done refugees work in Palestine and a young woman who directs the adult education program. Write me if you are interested in more information and I will put you in touch with these people.
Dr. Hans Kung spoke in Egypt at the America University in Cairo on Sunday, December 2. His book "Islam, Past, Present, & Future" has recently been translated into English. He had already written works on Judaism and Christianity. His hope is that the world will move away from being "a clash of civilizations" (Islam and the West), and reach back to the foundations of the three religions to see what we share in common. He expresses this hope (maybe it could be an Advent prayer for us all)
No peace among nations without peace among the religions
No peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions
No dialogue between the religions without global ethical standards
No survival of our globe without a global ethic, a world ethic, supported by
both the religious and the non-religious.
Now retired after a long and often controversial career as a Catholic theologian, he heads an institute in Germany called the Global Ethic Foundation. His is one of the voices dedicated to lasting peace in a world so fractured by hatred and violence. He writes that we need to change from a self-righetous arrogance to a critical awareness of the perplexing interdependece of present-day society. Though well aware of the present situations, he encouraged us not to lose hope.
May hope come with this season when we await the coming of the Christ child. Roger

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Message from Muslim Leaders

November 13, 2007. Every second Tuesday at the seminary there is an event called the "Scholar's Seminar", begun by previous coordinators and in which I have some part for arranging who speaks. Today a visiting professor from Norway, Dr. Jan Opsal, reviewed a recent letter by 138 Muslim leaders throughout the world to Christians. You can read about it by going to "Come to a Common Word" on your web site and to the ELCA web page and searching out Dr. Mark Hansen's response as leader of Lutherans in the U.S. and the Lutheran World Federation. My first picture is of the El Fath mosque near central Cairo, and for most of us from the west all this may seem majestic, mysterious, and a bit overpowering. After three months in Egypt it is still very much the same as when I first came, majestic, mysterious, and more than a bit overpowering. Here are some of the comments which Dr. Jan shared and some of the reflections by the group which gathered to hear him (my second picture). He noted that of the 138 the vast majority are from the Middle East and only one woman signed the original letter, though another has added her name to a subsequent list. Missing from the signers are Muslim scholars from countries in Asia where many, many Muslims live. This letter is a follow up to a letter written by 38 Muslim scholars in response to an address by Pope Benedict XVI a year ago. That letter was very polemical, as was the declaration by the Pope which started that exchange.
Dr. Jan pointed out that the tone of this letter by the leaders is less so, and that it focuses on common themes in the Christian and Muslim holy books. It deals with the responses of humans to God - to love God about all else and to love our neighbors as ourselves. It does not discuss the love of God to us, nor does it suggest any specific steps for further dialogue or action among the faith communities. It does represent a significant number of the diverse Muslim community speaking together, brought about by an institute in Jordan.

Comments from the persons who attended suggested it would be well for world Christian leaders to whom the letter is addressed to contact leaders in the Arab Christian churches in this region for their reflections in framing their responses. Some felt that the letter is really intended to address Christians living in western Europe and the United States. Others shared that living with and under Muslim majorities continues to be difficult, a far cry from a love for neighbor which is voiced in the letter. Do you have any comments you want to share?

The schedule is now set for January and for the spring term here. This Norwegian professor will present a course on women in the QurĂ¡n and the Bible (with some suggestions from Dr. Susan Hedahl, a professor from Gettyburg Seminary who visited here last week). There will also be a January course on the history of Christianity in Syria. Dr. Mark Swanson, now at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago and former director here, will find time to tutor some students in Muslim-Christian relations. Studies in Hebrew, in the Coptic language, and the Letters of Paul will be part of the Biblical studies concentration starting in February and I will teach the course on Christianity in the Middle East, Part II (from the coming of Islam to 1900).
Blessings to you all in your ministry as we move toward Advent. Roger

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

More about the Master's Program

Oct. 23. Greetings again from Cairo, Egypt. I want to say more about the Master's degree program here at the seminary. In particular, I wish to tell you more about the themes of the papers which the students write as part of earning a degree. Four second year students pictured earlier will spend the spring term of 2008 on this work. But first, a picture to introduce all of this. When Dr. Robert Smith who directs the ELCA effort in the Middle East visited here last month, we went the ancient section of Cairo, where this ruin of a Roman fortress and several early churches and a synagogue are located. Robert and the missionaries of the ELCA here in Cairo talked about our responsibility to "accompany" the peoples of this place and be prepared to learn from them as well as to share what we can with them.
....The first student, Sungmin, will write about the disappearance of the Nubian Christian church, following the conquest of Egypt and the destruction of this Roman fortess by the Muslims in the 7th century a.d. She will be using unpublished sources in an attempt to determine why this Christian community did not survive when others did.

....The second student, Nashat, will research the development of a Protestant Christian translation of the Bible into Arabic, which was done in the 19th century, and its adequacy for the mission of the church today. One of the ramification of the Arab conquest of this region was the gradual replacement of languages like Coptic in everyday life, and so if Christians wish to witness, it is in the common language of people in this part of the world.

....A third student, Magdy, will tell us about the impact of Protestant Christian missionaries who introduced programs of adult education and Sunday schools to the established Orthodox churches of this region. Part of the missionary effort from the United States and Europe beginning in the 19th century was to work within these established Christian communities, sharing new innovations for their ministries.
This second picture, showing the flight to Egypt of Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus to escape the slaughter of the young children in Bethlehem, is also from the site in old Cairo, traditionally held to be the temporary home of the holy family. There have been many stories of peoples fleeing persecution and warfare, and in our time none has been more tragic than the bloodshed in the Sudan which still continues after 30 years. I hear reports from Sudanese students at this seminary that when Christ is preached in the midst of that conflict, young people still come forward to commit their lives to Christ.
....Daniel, a student from the Sudan, is writing his thesis on the concept of suffering which St. Paul presents in his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians. It will have a special meaning and relevance for him, and for his people, and maybe for all of us. I will keep you informed about the progress of these papers.
Soon, I will write again, and give you more information about the Sudanese refugee community in Egypt. We have three ELCA missionaries working with them. More later. I am well and hope that you all are. Peace, Roger

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Graduate Program at ETSC

The Graduate Program at ETSC - OCTOBER 9, 2007 - Greetings again in the Lord's name from the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo! We have begun our fall term, and I want to tell you a little about the Graduate Studies program which I oversee. It was begun several years ago, primarily to train scholars who had finished their Master of Divinity degree and had some parish experience. This two year program includes classes (25 semester units over the period of a year and a half) and the writing of a thesis supervised by a member of the faculty. Recently the country of Norway has recognized the validity of this degree. While it is open to visiting students from Europe and America, it is designed mainly to provide a solid education foundation for teachers from Egypt and other Near East and African countries who will return to their countries. It also provides a way by which these graduates may move on to other seminaries and universities in Europe and the United States for Ph.D. work. Some are presently studying in the U.S. after completing their Master's degree here. The classes are taught in English.

The picture above shows Dr. Julius Scott, preparing to teach a course in the Intertestamental period (between the Old and New Testament times), and three Egyptian students. The second picture shows two male students from the Sudan, the woman on the left from a Baptist Seminary in Cairo, and a woman from Korea, who came to Egypt in missionary work a few years ago and was recently married to the man with his hand to his forehead. This man, a Presbyterian volunteer worker from the U.S., serves as the development director for the seminary among other things. He has been an invaluable help to me in my orientation, with his knowledge of the seminary and he speaks some Arabic! The seminary charges little for its courses and even with this many students depend on scholarships from home churches and other donors. You can e-mail me at for more information about this.
Among with Dr. Scott, Paul Dilley, who is finishing his doctoral work at Yale, teaches classes this term in advanced Greek, the Coptic language, and a history course in Christianity in the Middle East up until the time of Islam. One foreign student from Norway is also taking a directed studies class from me on the history of the Christian Church in the Middle East from the beginning of Islam until 1800. (One of the field in my master's program long ago was on the history of Islam - though I never expect I would come to teach it here in Egypt). More about the topics the students have selected for their dissertations next time. As I close, I want to add my prayers for Doris Fletcher and the community of faith at Messiah, Pasadena, California. Wm. Robert Fletcher, along time devoted Christian in that place, died this past week. I had worked with him before coming to Egypt.
I am well and hope you are. You can respond to this blog or you can still reach me at my Yahoo e-mail address listed above. May God bless you. Roger Rogahn

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Reviewing Calvin while viewing ancient pyramids

The seminary held a weekend retreat Sept. 21 to 24th for all of its undergraduate students and I was invited along with the graduate studies students I work with. Someone was available to translate for those of us who spoke no Arabic. The undergraduate program is in Arabic, since pastoral ministry will be conducted in that common language. English is also encouraged and tutoring is provided so that students can read from the English language resources in the library and some of them can be prepared for graduate studies in the program I oversee and to attend other learning institutions in the U.S. for advanced degrees. (More about that next time when I describe my work in more detail).

We were at a hotel/retreat center when what should appear out of the midst while a student was reviewing the "Institutes of the Christian Religion" by John Calvin but a view of the ancient pyramids of Giza. One of the purposes of the retreat was to connect this generation of students with the valuable resources of past generations. (but not that far back!) The presentations stressed the value of the French/Swiss reformer for ministry today, along with the study of scripture, done at the seminary in both Hebrew and Greek. Several students spoke about their summer experiences (a requirement) in parishes, retreat centers and institutions which care for the ill and people with addictions. Another purpose if the retreat was to build community and to welcome new students to this four year program toward ordination (the student body totals over 120). Although students may be married, the majority are encouraged to remain single until they have finished their studies. Reminded me of some of that history in the U.S.

I was asked to be one of the preachers and to base my sermon on the theme: Ephesians 4:13 (grow into) "unity of the faith, in knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, in maturity and into the full stature of Christ." I mentioned the struggle of people in El Salvador to forgive their enemies for their terrible crimes at time of war, but finally they were pray with such fervor "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us", that the image of the fulness of Christ would appear in the place of that of ones enemy. Our church has talked about how the struggles and the experiences of peoples of the lands to the south of Europe and the United States should be shared with others in that region of the globe, and I hope to contribute something of my experiences from El Salvador to encourage that dialogue to increase in future years. Some students expressed interest in this. I take my meals in the seminary dormitory and there have been requests for an English language table, and a chance to share informally as well as in the classroom. NEXT TIME: THE GRADUATE STUDIES PROGRAM.... Roger

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

(still learning about sending the photos - rog)

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Greetings after one week at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo. I have received a fine welcome here and started following through on the plans made by Dr. David Grafton, my predecessor. The fall semester does not begin until the 25th of September so I have done some exploring along with my work. The picture to the right sets the tone for ministry by the Christian Church in Egypt and throughout the Middle East. It is of the Citadel or fortress first begun by Salad al-Din in 1176, the noted opponent of King Richard of England and other Christian crusaders, and of the mosque of Muhammad 'Ali, a major worship center for the Moslems of Egypt until today. Moslems comprise well over 95% of the people living in this country. It symbolized the close connection between religion and politics of that era. Such a connection of church and state we might assume has waned our modern age of the "separation" of these two institutions of our societies, but it is still very present in modern Egypt and the Middle East. Moslems often view Christianity as connected to the political agenda of the United States and the "western" world, and discourage evanglization by Christians in their lands outside of narrow conclaves of their established, walled properties. Freedom of conscience is protected, but not the opportunity to evangelize on the part of "foreign" Christian groups.

This can be illustrated by the second picture, of the Church of St. Andrew in downtown Cairo, (to the right). You can see that services are at 10:00 a.m. on Fridays and Sundays and that the sign is quite modest in size. Few people attend on Sundays, because it is a regular working day in Egypt. The doors through which I took this picture are only opened briefly during the week to allow children to enter for school, for a refugee assistence program, or prior to and following worship times. Otherwise the doors are closed, and the walls obscure most of the church buildings. I asked the pastor if he could erect a bigger sign, or string a banner across the entrance and he answered: "Probably not. Only the long established orthodox communities could probably get away with something like that, and it would need to be within their walls."

Yet, there are efforts I am beginning to learn of where Christians seek to initiate dialogue with Moslems, while being sensitive to the long and harsh histories and the present realities of antagonisms between our faiths and our nations. The Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler, an Episcopal priest at St. John's in Maadi, a suburb of Cairo, has just published a book entitled: "Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road, Exploring the New Path between Two Faiths." It should be released by now in the states, and I am looking forward to reading it and discussing it with the author. You might wish to check it out.
I have so much to learn and and to share of this experience which is unfolding daily. I will write in about two weeks, as we approach the opening of the school year. (9-2-07)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Time to leave - 8/21/07

Greetings to all who will wish to follow my adventures at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, Egypt. I am scheduled to leave on Tuesday, August 21, 2007 and to serve for about a year as coordinator of graduate studies at this ecumenical institution establish over 100 years ago to train Christian church leaders for Egypt and other lands of the middle east. I will be supported by the Global Missions Division of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as part of its global commitment to ministry. I will be sharing some of my experiences and welcome your comments. You can learn more about ETSC by going to its excellent website.
The picture above shows Messiah-Mesias Lutheran Church in Pasadena, California where I have been serving this past year. It is to serve two purposes, to "practice" taking and placing pictures on my blog spot and to celebrate the ministry of this Lutheran-Christian community of God's people in their 95th year of ministry in this place (the corner of Orange Grove and Madison). A plan is underway between the congregation and the synod to design a new effort to reach the largely hispanic community in this area. May God bless these efforts as God has done so in the past.
I know little of what awaits me, except that there are faithful leaders serving there from all over the world who will be my colleagues, and that fine programs developed in past years will be my responsibility to administer and seek to enrich in this coming year. A long term replacement will be recruited to come next summer. You can write me if you know of someone who would be interested, or go to the web site for Global Mission of the ELCA for more information. You can also get more information of how you can support my work or that of others who serve in global ministry by visiting the ELCA web site. I will continue to have my personal e-mail address at and would welcome comments and questions there as well as ones you can post on this blog spot for others to view.
May God bless each of us as we continue to witness and serve as God's peope in this, God's world. en cristo, Roger Rogahn