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)