The long, hot summer months are here. Our minds inevitably turn to holidays. However, for the students at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (ETSC) the summer is about work.
During the year they study theology, talk about theology, and write assignments about theology. When the summer comes, they embark on 10 week placements which allow them the chance to put theory into practice.
Through summer internships students are exposed to the challenges that Egypt faces in the 21st Century, equipping them to address the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of society.
The students find themselves placed out of their comfort zones, perhaps working in prisons or addiction rehabilitation centers, or school for those with special needs. Wherever they are, they have to develop new skills to meet the peoples’ needs.
Final year students find themselves in areas where there are no churches, or where the congregation has been without a pastor for many years. They have to respond in creative and transformational ways. Those who have just completed 1st Year are placed in larger congregations and work alongside experienced pastors.
Peter Gad El Rab is working in a large congregation in Assiut in Upper Egypt and has gained enormously from working with the pastor there. Pastor Basem sees the importance of study in the ministry and has encouraged Peter to spend three hours, from 11.00am to 2.00pm, purely reading. The pastor specifies useful books, often gifting copies to Peter. Once he has finished each book, Peter discusses what he has read with him.
Peter has taken part in all aspects of church life, and at Eid el Fitr at the end of Ramadan he joined the pastors in greeting some of the local Muslim leaders. This was a new experience for Peter to meet such important people, especially given the often-fraught relationship between the two religions in Upper Egypt. Peter also meets two elders or leaders per week to discuss the life of the congregation. He has been impressed with the set-up of the Assiut church, where there is an emphasis on the role of women. Impressively the number of women elders is equal to the number of male elders, which is not at all typical in Egyptian congregations.
Abd El Sayed has just completed his 2nd Year of studies and is spending the summer attached to the social services wing of the Catholic Church in Minya. The Catholic Church has had a long tradition of social service, and Abd El Sayed has been involved in three areas: Working with prisoners and their families, with those suffering from cancer, and with people living with mental illness. He enjoys working with his supervisor, Fr Paulus, and is impressed by his openness and readiness to work with prisoners, for example, in a welcoming and non-judgmental way.
Standing alongside the families of cancer sufferers and prisoners is an important feature of the work, and parties have been held for children and families to help them through a traumatic time. With those who are living with mental illness, he has seen how they have been enabled to earn a living through making candles or clothes.
Abd El Sayed has had a good experience so far and says ‘It would be have been a big loss for me if I had not come to a place like this’. He bemoans how far forward the Catholic Church is with their social programme, compared to the Evangelical Church where the stress is too much on worship.
Magdy Monier is working in a small congregation, 30 kms out of Alexandria. The Evangelical Church has been there for a long time, but years without a pastor have taken their toll, and now there are only 15-20 members attending worship. There is no Sunday School, nor are there any other meetings during the week. Obviously it is a congregation facing problems, and it’s hard to solve much during a ten week internship.
However, Magdy has organised a team of leaders from one of the big congregations in Alexandria to come to the church to spend time with the people and help them to put in place a project which allows the church to serve the local community. He realizes that while this will help in the short term, there really needs to be a full-time pastor working alongside the people, building up the members and strengthening their faith and also their sense of identity as members of the church.
In July, halfway through their time, the students returned to the Seminary for a few days to process their experiences so far. From what they shared, we realise the importance of the internship program for preparing them for their future work as pastors.