Friday, December 26, 2008

Greetings in the 12 Days of Christmas

Hello from Cairo. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Actually living here I get to celebrate two Christmases, the one in the West and in 12 days, the one in the Middle East. Has something to do with different calendars and long held traditions. I want to continue to introduce the second year students in the graduate program to you and say a few words about the topics for their dissertations. My last blog already talked about Fouad, his new job in our office and his desire to research the influences of Midianite religion (via the father-in-law of Moses) on Egyptian monotheism.

Rania, the one women currently in the program, is married to a divinity student at ETSC and they have one child. They serve in a Baptist church here in Cairo. She is a great help to the faculty and students in translating the lectures of "western" professors whose ability in Arabic does not permit to teach in that language, yet. She is a fine person and a role model of other Egyptian Christian women who want to advance their educations as far as the society here permits them to do so. At the present time, the Presbyterian Synod of the Nile, an independent church in the world-wide "Reform" tradition, does not permit women to serve as ordained leaders.

The topic for her dissertation is the development of the concepts of "Son of God" and "Messiah" in the Hebrew Bible and the Intertestamental period until they become merged in the confessional declarations for Jesus by the disciples in the Gospels. She first became interested in this period of history in a class taught in the Fall of 2007 by Dr. Julius Scott, and wants to use this opportunity to learn more about the many developments during that time. The recent discoveries of the documents of the Qumran community and other "intertestamental" records will be helpful for tracing the developments. Dr. Willem deWit, our new professor in Biblical studies, will be her advisor.
Musa, our student from the Sudan, plans to return to his country after completing his dissertation in later Spring of 2009 to teach at the Biblical school where he had taught before coming to Cairo. Like Daniel who graduated last year, he must be away from his family for a year at a time. A generous gift from Presbyterians in the United States pays for his tuition and other seminary expenses, his room and board here, and also provides a modest gift to help his family with their living expenses while he is away. The graduate program has educated students from several other Middle East countries, some of whom have returned to teach in their home countries, and others have gone on to study in Europe and in the United States.

The topic for his dissertation will be the concepts of "true" and "false" grace in the writings of Paul and the Letters of James and Jude. Musa is quite concerned that Christians in his own country have confused and distorted the teachings of Paul and other New Testament writers. So, he hopes to contribute Biblical insights that will be helpful in his own church and context. Musa is also in the Biblical studies concentration and has had to study advanced Hebrew and Greek with the other students. He started speaking his native dialect in the Sudan, learned English in school, and now preaches in Arabic and English to a refugee Sudanese community in Cairo.

Wagdy is a second student in the Christianity in the Middle East section (along with Fouad). He is active as a translator with a major book publisher in Egypt which produces books in Arabic and English. He has been asked to write an article for them on the current attitudes in Egyptian Christianity on Israel and Zionism, which will appear shortly.

His topic is the responses of the Presbyterian Church in Egypt during the turbulent years of the 1960s, when Egypt won its independence from England under the leadership of Abdul Nasser. These were years of an attempt at a union betweeen Syria and Egypt into an Arab League. They were also years when the new constitutions of Arab countries included provisions to retain Islam law as the basic for government, posing problems for Christian communities in Egypt and elsewhere. He hopes to provide some insights from that period which will be helpful for Christians in Egypt in the future.
John Daniel, nicknamed the "Greek Guy" by his classmates because he comes from Athens and serves an international Christian group with ministries throughout the Mediterranean, has many skills. Fluent in modern and koine Greek he is being used by the seminary to introduce the divinity students to the Greek language of the New Testament. He became interested in the modern scholarship on the first three Gospel (called the Synoptics by scholars because of their simularity and their differences from the Gospel of John) from a class last year by Dr. Paul Dilley. Paul is now back in the United States and has obtained a teaching position at a university in the Mid-West.
John Daniel will use his expertise to suppport the theory that Matthew and Luke both had copies of Mark's Gospel when they wrote theirs, and used his basic outline. He will discuss the changes in the Greek verb tense by these two later evangelists from what Mark had written. Like the other students, John Daniel will have an advisor and will defend his dissertation (about 70-80 pages in length) before a panel of three professors, one of whom will be from outside our seminary community. One of the things which makes this writing more difficult is that these students have all learned English as a second language. This often means that they first attain the ability to communicate verbally in a classroom situation before developing the writing skills needed to complete a dissertation.
A blesseed new year to all. Roger R.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Meet my Colleagues

Greetings again from Cairo:

I want to introduce you to the two persons who share the responsibilities for the programs in the master's program with me at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo. The first is professor Willem Jan deWit who has been send by his mission society in the Netherlands for a period of seven years. He has been teaching Greek and Latin in a school there and is also well versed in Hebrew, and in the area of Biblical studies. This will be a great help to the program here to have a scholar for a significant number of years who can make the adjustments he feels are best for that program. In the past we have had to rely on a visiting professor who would stay a year or a term, and had to make adjustments as these people resources became available. He will teach two classes each term, alternating with advanced Hebrew and advanced Greek, and Old Testament and New Testament exegesis. He is completing his Ph.D. dissertation on contemporary religious thought in "Post-Christian" Amsterdam.

His Dutch mission society supports his work here, and this is another example of how the seminary benefits from the support of institutions outside of Egypt. He is learning Arabic, and sometime in the future may be able to teach in the seminary's other programs which train church leaders for the Presbyterian Church of the Nile (also referred to as the Coptic Evangelical Church in Egypt). Those programs are all in Arabic. We share the apartment in Nasr City, which is about a 30 minute drive from the seminary (when there is no traffic).

During these last few years the seminary has been investigating how it can offer programs which aid the graduate-pastors in their work once they leave the seminary. ETSC has now contracted with an international group called "Development Associates International" (DAI), which operates a world wide ministry out of Colorado in the U.S.). This Christian evangelical group is more than ten years old and has been offering a three year program throughout the world in church adminstration and strategic planning, mainly through distance learning (CDs and internet contacts), as well as having two, one-week classes with the professors on campus. Upon completion of the assignments and a thesis, which is to be a strategic long range plan for the place where these leaders are serving, the seminary will award them a master's degree in church administration. Although the program is technically under my supervision, the work of the "co-ordinator" will be by an Egyptian who speaks both Arabic and English. Meet Fouad Shaker, a second year graduate student who has been hired to work two days a week to oversee this program.
Fouad is well qualified, having worked in programs as varied as youth ministry in the Presbyterian Church in Egypt and on archeological digs throughout the country. The dissertation he is beginning as part of his master's degree is going to be on the possibile influences of the Midianites (Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses) on Egyptian thought at the time of the Pharoahs. He will try to show some influences leading toward monotheism. His plan is to complete this by June of 2009.
In addition to the administrative duties with DAI, Fouad will be responsible for setting up small groups of the students (most of whom will be parish pastors), who will meet monthly to support one another in the program. He is an excellent resource to them as they deepen their knowledge on how to minister to their people. If you want to learn more about DAI and the program they are offering with ETSC and at other locations through the world, you can visit their web site at:
Blessings in this Advent season. Will try to write again in about two week. In Christ, Roger R.
By the way, let me remind you that the work I have been doing here is supported by the Global Missions Division of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. (We would appreciate contributions to help finance my work - Go to the ELCA web site for more information). We are agressively recruiting someone to take my place, to begin work in August of next year (2009). If you know of someone who might be interested, go to the ELCA web site and to Global Missions service oppprtunities. Applications are being sought until March, 2009. Thank you