The new semester is now well and truly underway, and suddenly there is life around the campus! It is wonderful to have the students back, and so far it hasn’t become too noisy on my corridor (my rooms are at the end of a corridor of eighteen students). Numbers have risen, and there are 11 new Master of Divinity (M.Div) students (5 of whom have previously taken some courses with us, but are now transferring to the M.Div with a view to being ordained), while over 70 new students have been registered for the Master of Arts in Theology (MAT) programme across our three campuses (Alexandria, Cairo and Minya). All in all, the Seminary has about 320 students, of whom almost 30% are women. This is despite the fact that the Synod of the Nile does not ordain women as pastors. In fact, numbers seem to be the highest on record. This will no doubt increase in future years. The Seminary is developing its distance learning programme, targeting both those within Egypt who live far from one of the existing centres, and also those in Arab speaking countries.
I have discovered that the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (ETSC) is a close-knit community, and I have been so impressed by the way the teaching staff relate to the students. It is like a big extended family. This was especially apparent at the Retreat which was held just before classes started. It was held at Beit El Salam, which is a church conference centre, obviously held in great affection by members of the church. It is situated an hour’s drive from the centre of Alexandria and it provided a good space for the ‘Retreat’ which was a mixture of worship and reflection, lectures and discussion groups, games and swimming in the pool. It was also a good opportunity to get to know the new students. All in all, an ideal start to the new academic year!
Unfortunately I had to leave the retreat slightly early in order to get back to Cairo to teach my English class at the Oromo centre, so caught a taxi into Alexandria to get to the railway station. In the taxi I automatically put on the seatbelt, but obviously was the first person in a long time to use it (In Egypt very few people use seatbelts) and I ended up with a dirty black band diagonally across my white shirt! I caught a ‘special’ train (‘special’ means quickest – two-and-a-half hour’s journey time to Cairo), and I was able to get to my class on time.
With the start of the semester, I find myself in more of a routine, with chapel services on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. In Zambia we had chapel every morning at 07.30, which I always felt got the day off to a good start, but here they are in the middle of the day. I suppose people are more awake! Meals are also part of the routine, and lunch is served in the dining hall from 14.00; again a good opportunity to connect with the students. Dinner is at 20.00, but then many of the students have classes well into the evening. This is especially true of the MAT students, who usually combine their studies with a full-time job. It is good to be part of the ETSC community – students and teachers, but also the admin staff and all the workers, without whom the whole place would grind to a halt.
Photo: Willem de Wit