Thursday: Back in Cairo
Our evening flight to Cairo on Wednesday and the skillful driving of a student brought us to the student housing at the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Cairo. The generosity of the Seminary as well as the security in this gated compound of three Seminary buildings more than makes up for the transition from a Sofitel to a dormitory. We began our day with Miriam presenting a very clear PowerPoint presentation about the growth of ETSC in the last decade both in student enrollment and different degree programs. In addition to the B.A. (which is the equivalent of our M. Div) and a B.A. that is a non-ordination track, the Seminary offers an M.A. with specialties in Middle East Studies, Biblical Studies and Church Leadership/Mgmt. There is a separate program for women who (up until last month) were prohibited from pursuing ordination. A strong track has been developed for Lay Pastors who can train in less than a year to take on some of the smaller churches that are crying out for leadership. Right now there are 86-96 Evangelical (Presbyterian) churches in the Synod of the Nile that do not have pastors.
The Seminary has been blessed with great growth and now has the opportunity to expand by adding one full floor of a neighboring building to create facilities for housing student families, expanding their community life, and building extra classroom space (including some with capabilities for long distance learning.)
Rev. Deena, a team member from Omaha, Nebraska, brought a clear message at the chapel service. Hearing the hall ringing with the strong voices of these students (99% male) singing their hymns enthusiastically was very inspiring....almost as inspiring as Deena's message! As a Sister Preacher, I was especially pleased that these students got to hear a woman using her gifts for ministry.
Three students met with us for a presentation about their studies and summer internships. Then we met with two faculty members who are creating a Missions department from the ground up. You can take that literally when one considers the ground breaking work that has been done to create the first data base using Google Earth to map all the Christian churches in Egypt and more specifically all the Evangelical (Presbyterian) Churches. Because this information has now been gathered, the church finally knows where it stands and where it can grow. Dr. Tharwat was our second presenter and shared his vision for increasing the awareness of mission/evangelism and church planting in the Seminary Curriculum. The time has come to shed the 14 century heritage of fear and turn to reaching both Muslims and nominal (i.d. paper) Christians. Out of this department has come the vision for meeting the needs of those churches without pastors.
Lunch included our first indigenous Egyptian food (yummy!) and some candid conversation with faculty. Following lunch was a dialogue with students. The major message was that the church in Egypt needs Christians to stand beside them in this very critical time. 100,000 Christians have fled Egypt. But these people at ETSC see this season as a great opportunity to be the church that uses the new openness of the Arab Spring to no longer be the church hiding behind their wall of fear.
We topped off the afternoon with a rush hour crawl to the River Nile where we took a one hour cruise in a "Falooka" which is my way of spelling the sailboat we used for a supper cruise. Students accompanied us again which made for good conversation time. The wind and colder weather made those without coats pretty miserable but layers made it bearable. We warmed up all crammed back into the van. As we do most evenings, we gathered for a team review of the day, prayer together, and prep for the next day.
For those of you who may be concerned about the call for a "General Strike" on Saturday, our plans have already been modified to include only very safe areas. We are also limiting the distance we will drive to various churches on Sunday. Yes, we know we are in God's hands but we are also being prudent. Remember that what you see in Tahrir Square is just that...one square in the center of a city of 20 million people. The cameras are rolling there. The people are living out here and they ask you to stay in prayer for them.