During the summer the Dorm has been quiet; by mid-September they corridors were full of noise. The students had been away on their summer placements, but now they are back, and there is life and activity around the campus again. There is always a sense of anticipation and excitement before the new session begins.
Old students return full of stories about their summer and what they accomplished in their internships. But there are also the new students who feel slightly bewildered, as they get used to a new place and new people.
To help them, and as part of spiritual formation, a retreat is held just before the beginning of the semester. From Monday until Thursday, the faculty members and students got together at a retreat house called Beit El Salam, the House of Peace, which is on the coast just outside Alexandria. There was time for prayer and reflection, but also plenty of time for fellowship and fun. The theme of the Retreat this year was ‘Run to Win the Prize’ from 1 Corinthians 9:24, and the talks focused on this athletic theme. The Movie ‘Chariots of Fire’ was even shown, telling the story of Eric Liddell. There was a tremendous sense of togetherness at the retreat, and it ended with communion led by the ETSC President, Dr Atef Gendy. By the time the bus came to take us back to Cairo, the new students felt very much part of the ETSC family.
The new students have since been settling well. There are 11 new Master of Divinity students who will train to be pastors. One of them is Amen Magdy, who is 23 years old and has come straight from an Engineering degree. Amen is a Son of the Manse: his father has been pastor of the congregation of Nag Hammadi in the South of Egypt for 23 years.
Nag Hammadi is famous in scholarly circles for being the place where a lot of Gnostic documents were discovered which have a bearing on our understanding of the Early Church. But Egyptians tend to associate Nag Hammadi with the events of 6th January 2011 (the Coptic Christmas) when an extremist shot dead several people as they came out of church. Amen was a teenager then, but he says that the Christians and Muslims interact well in the community and that his family has many Muslim friends.
Amen’s mother is a Biology teacher at High School, and he has a sister currently studying economics in Chicago. He obviously grew up in the church, but never thought to become a pastor himself (he saw that his father was always very busy), but in his later years at College he began to feel very strongly that God was calling him to be just that. He prayed about it, consulted friends, argued against it, but in the end submitted to the call. He has now completed his first few weeks at Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, he is already playing piano at chapel services and is amazed at how supportive and friendly the teaching staff are – far different from the more remote teachers of his first degree. Amen is very much looking forward to the years ahead.
Moody is another of the new students. He is 35, worked for CEOSS, the Evangelical Church social outreach organization, for 12 years and is married to Marian with a daughter Mayly. He had already taken some of the MAT courses and has now transferred to the M.Div program, so is able to gain exemption from the 1st year. He comes from Minya, one of the biggest cities in Upper Egypt and the heartland of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Minya was caught up in sectarian tensions, and a mob encouraged by extremist preachers burnt several churches and also set fire to a number of Christian homes. The building where Moody lived with his grandmother and aunt was one of them. They lived in a flat on the 4th Floor, but he managed somehow to carry his grandmother, who suffers from dementia, to safety. They are only now moving back into the building. Moody is very committed to the family, and because of that, he travels every weekend to Minya to be with them, while trying to keep abreast of his homework and assignments. Both Moody and Amen are very different in character and experience, but both are united in a deep love for Jesus Christ and a commitment to Christ’s ways.