Thursday, June 18, 2009
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Many of the young men will take positions in Upper Egypt, at sites with a church builidng and a small community of believers, but who have had only lay elders as leaders for several years because of the shortage of pastors. Some will marry as they do this. (I remember that it had been the tradition in the past of our Lutheran church in the United States that seminary students often delayed their marriage until after they had been ordained, or would find a spouse among the members of the first parish they served). The seminary continues to be supported by the church within Egypt, but also by the gifts of Christian abroad, both with cash and with the "endowing" of chairs for professors who teach at the seminary. The position I have held here for two years is a type of endowed chair (providing the total resources for a professor to serve at the seminary), which is part of the commitment of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Interviews are under way to bring a new director to Cairo in August of this year. I will assist in the transition period.
You have seen each of these four graduates of the master's program before. Next to me is Wagdy, who wrote his thesis on the changes in the public involvement by the Presbyterian Church of the Nile during the early years of Egyptian independence under President Nasser. Wagdy shows by reviewing the articles and editorials in the semi-official synod newspaper, el Hoda, how the church leaders
ceased to speak out on issues of justice and equality, fearing that the new government would suppress and persecute the church. They became more focused solely on "spiritual" issues, as Wagdy describe this era.
Rania completed her work on the Intertestamental citations of the concepts of the "Messiah" and "Son of God" which were joined together by the writers of the synoptic Gospels to describe Jesus. She had Willem deWit, our Biblical teacher from the Netherlands, as her advisor. Both she and Wagdy will spend a fall semester as guests of Princeton Theological Seminary in the United States, thanks to a generous grant from an alumus of that institution.
Not pictured is our graduate John Daniel Nathan who will continue to be the teacher of Greek to divinity students at ETSC. He write his thesis on the uses of the Genative Absolute verb tense in Greek, as it appears in the Gospel of Matthew. Magdy, next to him, completed his dissertation on the " Influences of the Evangelical on the Coptic Church in Egypt". Since its coming here in the 1850, the Presbyterians from the United States have presented challenges to the Egyptian Orthodox Church, the church which has the tradition of being founded by St. Mark, the Gospel writer. Education through schools and cirriculum, the distribution of the Van Dyke Arabic Bible and other printed materials, and the concept of lay leadership in the church were some of their areas which stimulated the Coptic Church to respond. Magdy will continue in his occupation as a civil engineer here is Cairo.
Musa Kody wrote his thesis on Ephesians chapter two, and how the grace proclaimed by St. Paul needs to be taught in its clarity in the comptemporary society of the Sudan. He will return there to be reunited with his family, (a son was born during this school year whom he has not yet seen), and to teach at the Nile Theological School.
We wish them all God's speed and blessing. I will write more about my transition soon. Roger R.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
You can read more about her and how she became something of a cult figure in Europe at the time of the Enlightment. She even has a lunar crater named after her, recognizing her achievements in philosophy and astronomy. She was part of the cultural achievement of Alexandria during this time. She died because people felt that she was interfering in the political matters between the civil prefect of the city and its patriarch, Cyril. She has been portrayed as the epitome of "vulnerable truth and beauty."
Our next picture brings us up to the present, and captures the image of a woman walking through the central court at the al-Alzar mosque and madrasa (school) in Islamic Cairo. This place has been the center of Muslim activities since the 12th century. You can see that she has on the traditional head scarf and long robe that many women in Egypt still wear when they are out in public.
The article she wrote is too long and detailed to review here. She does trace the efforts to reform the laws in Egypt during the 20th century, even with the resistance of many traditional forces in the Islam community. She points out that Egypt has been more progressive than other middle eastern lands in its efforts to secure justice for women within the home and in public space. She asks the question at the end: can the "issue of women's equality be achieved by presidential decrees, inserting new constitutional articles, or should it be supported by the civil institutions, professional syndicates, political parties, non governmental organizations, intellectuals, and by the large popular sector?" These are questions yet to be answered here. I thought you might be interested in this topic. You can writre me at email@example.com with comments, or to request a copy of the 21 page article.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
When we arrived we were too late to attend the Good Friday service at this large church, the Second Evangelical Church Church of Minya, but as you can see the exterior was still abraze with light. Many people were still inside, participating in small group meetings and preparing for Easter Sunday. I was surprized to see such a display of light to the community, since for the most part the construction of Christian churches and their presentation to the community are carefully monitored and controlled by the Egyptian Muslim government. But Minya has almost the same number of Christians as Muslims and it seemed that a fairly tolerant attitude was being shown. The pastor of the smaller church where Emir and his family attend (we will talk about that soon) told me that when he first came to that suburb about ten years ago there was much hostility, but that the projects his people worked on in the community (repairing housing for the poor and project "20/20", to test for eye problems and provide glasses for all) helped to change old attitudes.I took the picture below of the ceiling of the sanctuary of this church because it is the most prominent feature inside. Like most Evangelical churches from the 19th century American Presbyterian beginnings, the chancel area consists of a simple cross on the back wall and a podium from which the singing is led and the Word proclaimed. Far from the Coptic Orthodox churches with their icons and other images, central features in their worship life and theology, evangelicals place their emphasis on the preached word and its power to convert and to instruct. The lights here do convey a beauty and brillance which pays homage to the Lord of Light without changing the space from its central focus, the hearing of the Word. Quite an interesting contrast which gives Christians in Egypt a choice. This contrast would be even more striking to me as we were to attend sevices in the small, humble church of Emir and his family which is about two miles from the center of the city.
Now I need to add that his church is currently engaged in a building project which, having received all the necessary government approval, will cost about 2 million Egyptian pounds (there are about 5.5 EP to each American dollars), but it will not be as grand as this one. This is quite a sum for a congregation of about 50 families, most coming from modest economic backgrounds. Naturally their pastor wanted me to find sponsoring churches in the United States to assist with this. The development office at the seminary and in the Presbyterian Synod of the Nile is already at work on behalf of this and other projects for its churches throughout Egypt and also needs to provide salary help to many of the smaller congregations scattered throughout the land. Many times the graduates of our seminary are sent to places which have had no pastor for years. These seminary graduates usually marry after ordination and so have the added responsibility of beginning a family.
I was invited to preach, both on Saturday evening and on Easter Sunday, along with the pastor and lay members. Emir did a fine job on translating what I had to say. There were some young people in the congregation who said that because I had used short sentences to make it easier for Emir to translate, they were able to understand most of what I
I had said. I also learned on this trip that the Egyptian government had recently changed its policy and now encourages the primary schools to introduce English (and computer science) to children at a young age, well aware that this will aid them and the country in the world of the 21st century.
Pastor Samir Gayed is to my right, and Emir is to the far left in the photo, together with two other seminary students who were home for their Easter vacation. The men to my left are elders in the church who also preached and led the congregation in prayer. As you can see the chancel of the church (on this Easter Sunday) was not decorated, save for the cross on the wall. There ware no plans to decorate the sanctuary in their new building on the second floor other than this way. The first floor will be for meeting rooms and a pre-school, and the third floor will be the office of the pastor and his living quarters. He has served in this place for almost ten year (a good way anywhere to show you love the community as well as the people in the church community). I preached on the Letter of Jude, verses 20-21, to recognize that there are different kinds of building as we seek to become more and more resurrected in the image of our Lord Jesus Christ.
"...you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life."
Grace and peace, Roger R.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
This exchange of professors from the U.S. is being encouraged so that intercultural contracts can add to the broadening of our horizons in this global age. If you or someone you know would like to be considered for this type of teaching experience in the future, you can contact our regional representative who now lives in Cairo with his family (firstname.lastname@example.org). If you know of someone who would be interested in pursuing the position of Director of Graduate Studies at ETSC, our Global Mission Division Division is still looking for my replacement. I made it clear when I came for this second year that I would not continue after June of 2009. This is an opportunity for a church historian or scholar in Muslim-Christian relations to teach, administer the graduate program of about 12 students, and experience the rich cultural and intellectual environment in the Middle East.
The second picture is of the library staff here at ETSC. They are a dedicated group which supervises the extensive collection of books in Arabic and in English, which has been built up in the more than 150 years the seminary has been in existence. A modest budget allows us to add to the resources for the students and faculty each year, and we also subscribe to an international web service called ATLA, which allows for the review of current journal articles and books. The seminary uses this service because it is a better way to keep current than incurring the expenses of a large number of journals and periodicals subscriptions.
The woman next to Dr. Taylor has invited me to the house of her family before, and plans to have us visit some Sunday when we can participate in her husband's church service.
Our second year students were also able to get books brought with visiting groups from the United States and the seminary does all it can to equip its students with books and other resources while they are studying here, and as they go forth to serve in the many parish opportunities throughout Egypt and other lands of the Middle East. If you have questions or comments about this you can write me, including of ways that you might support the seminary and its students beyond what the ELCA is presenting doing.
Yours in Christ, Roger Rogahn
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
I was think about how this same economic situation is very much a part of our world today. Many, many people live off the land and have to hope that all conditions are right to bring about an abundant harvest. Sadly, with our neglect and abuse of the creation, times of drought in some places and of too much rain in others are more and more been the norm rather than the exception. And the ability of poor countries to respond to their people in need are more and more limited because of the downturn in the global economic picture, a condition which is now forecast to continue for many year. Here in Egypt the people are feeling the ill effects of this global problem.
I meet weekly with a divinity student who wishes to improve his ability to read, speak and understand English. One of his classes has been studying the Book of Proverbs and so we start our sessions by having him read a passage out loud, and then we discuss what it means, and how it applies to his congregation in Minia, Upper Egypt. This past week we came upon these verses in chapter 13.
...v. 21 = Misfortune pursues the sinner, but prosperity is the reward of the
...v. 23 = A poor man's field may produce abundant food, but injustice sweeps it away
As we talked about these we realized how the first is consistent with the main trust of the Book of Proverbs, that hard work and clean living produce blessings which God confers upon the "good" people, and that the lazy and the evil person will suffer dire consequences. However, the second verse attributes "bad" things to unseen forces outside of our control which are present in the world.
We decided that this later verse is a much more accurate and complete picture of the way things often are. It certainly stops us from "blaming" the poor for their plight. A postcolonial biblical scholar from South African points out that many times the missionaries from the west sought to reenforce certain "middle class" stereotypes of the poor through the use of the Book of Proverbs in their introduction of the Bible to "distant" places in the world.
The painting above is by a 19th cenury French artist named Jean-Francois Millet, entitled "L'homme a la houe", and so affected an America poet, Edwin Markham, that in 1863 he began his verses about it with these words:
The Man with a Hoe
Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans upon his hoe and gazes on the ground.
The emptiness of ages in his face, and on his back, the burden of the world.
Is this the Thing the Lord God made and gave to have dominion over sea and land;
To trace the stars and search the heavens for power; to feel the passion of eternity?
O masters, lords and rulers in all lands, is this the handiwork you give to God?
Give back the upward looking and the light; rebuild in it the music and the dream.
May these images serve to remind us of the plight of so many in this world, and as we join together to plan for a better future that it will include all who now suffer severe hardships.
In Christ, peace, hope, and a sufficient and sustainable income for all. Roger R.