Dr. Atef Gendy to turn over the presidency this summer to his former student, Dr. Hani Hanna
by Robyn Davis Sekula, Presbyterian Foundation | Special to Presbyterian News Service
JEFFERSONVILLE, Indiana — It was almost exactly one year ago when Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo leadership called faculty and staff together to announce that the COVID-19 pandemic had made its way to Egypt — and that it was time for students to return home and faculty to prepare to teach online.
In-person seminary classes were canceled for one week, and then online classes began.
While it sounds straightforward now, it was a challenge to figure out the logistics and how to ensure everyone, students included, had the bandwidth for livestreaming classes in a country that doesn’t have a lot to spare.
ETSC President Dr. Atef Gendy recalls this transition with a bit of wonder and gratitude for professors who were willing to make it work. “The professors were very cooperative,” Gendy says. “It was a chance for every one of us to do some advancements and try some platforms and change them when necessary and find ways to handle the heavy traffic on the Internet.”
This is good news for the seminary, but not the only good news. The seminary also recently announced new accreditation, local church growth supported by ETSC and a well-planned leadership transition.
“ETSC’s leadership is smart, adaptive, collegial, and above all else, models and teaches what it means to honor God with incredible dedication,” says Tom Taylor, President of the Presbyterian Foundation, which holds and disburses funds for ETSC. “It is no surprise to me that the seminary has earned this important accreditation and experienced such growth, even in the midst of a global pandemic. God is clearly blessing this critical ministry.”
Innovative from the beginning
It’s not all that unusual for ETSC to serve Egypt in such innovative ways. This is a seminary that started by delivering courses on a boat on the Nile River in 1863 — reaching people where they were.
They are still bringing education right to the students’ doorsteps today through virtual classes. Not only did such preparation help the seminary endure the global pandemic, it has allowed some to attend seminary who otherwise could not have done so easily.
For example, more women enrolled, mainly because they were not required to leave home and live in Cairo at the seminary or nearby. And ultimately, that has built up the church in Egypt — which is the central mission and goal for ETSC, to equip pastors and leaders for the church.
“From the moment we realized this need exists for the church, our ears and eyes were opened and sensitive to what the church needs,” Gendy says. “Then we could begin improvement and development of programs that serves that need.”
The number and types of degrees the seminary offers has expanded dramatically. The seminary now offers Master of Theology, Master of Arts in Theology, Master of Divinity, Master in Leadership and Management, Certificate in Theological Studies, and a Master in Media and Leadership.
That last degree is a new offering, and the first class to earn this degree will be graduating this spring. While most graduates will work for media companies, some pastors are seeing the value, especially now, in offering quality media, Gendy says.
Just as U.S. pastors are offering online services, so are those in Egypt — and they need new skills to do so. Leadership skills, too, have come into focus, especially as the Presbyterian church in Egypt continues to grow. The Master in Leadership and Management helps fill that gap, Gendy says.
As the seminary has grown and offered more courses and degrees, the number of churches in Presbyterian Church of Egypt has grown by over 30 percent — in a country in which the vast majority of people are Muslim, and those who are Christian are typically Coptic Christians.
“That is remarkable growth,” Taylor says, “and clearly reflects the outstanding training that the students, pastors and church leaders receive from ETSC.”
Even amidst all of the turmoil of the pandemic, the seminary continued on with a plan to receive accreditation and received word in February that they had succeeded. ETSC is now accredited by the European Council for Theological Education. “This is yet another step in the continuing search for excellence displayed by the Seminary as it seeks to serve the church by preparing pastors and leaders,” Gendy says.
This journey began in 2015, when the Board of Directors approved the administration’s initiative to take this step. The process required a thorough examination of ETSC ‘s mission statement, theological orientation, the philosophy, content and objectives of each academic program, how the Seminary’s theological orientation is reflected in the curricula. The examining committee reviewed the credentials of the faculty, the library collection, the different academic services ETSC offers and how it measures students’ satisfaction.
ECTE accredited four programs: Master of Theology, Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Theology and Master of Media and Leadership. The Master of Leadership and Management is expected to be accredited later this year.
With this accreditation in place, ETSC graduates can much more easily pursue advanced studies abroad, such as in the U.S. or countries in Europe, Gendy notes.
Students appreciate the unique environment offered at ETSC. “The teachers here are like brothers to me, and you can’t find this environment anywhere like this in Egypt,” says Rev. Joseph Louis, who received a Master of Divinity from ETSC in 2016 and is now enrolled in the Master of Theology program. “This is what makes ETSC so special to hundreds of students here.”
As these milestones are being achieved, Gendy is preparing to step down as President, a position he has held for more than 20 years.
Gendy will leave his job in August when Dr. Hani Hanna will be inaugurated as the next President of ETSC. Gendy will stay on as part of ETSC, becoming the Director of the Center for Middle Eastern Christianity. He plans to teach and write more. He recently finished writing a book on the parables of Jesus.
A date has not been set yet for the official inauguration, but the transition in leadership is set for August 1.
Gendy actually taught Hanna as a student at ETSC. “I will be honored to serve under him,” Gendy says. “I feel confident that Hani needs to be in this role.”
It’s a far different place than when Gendy came in 2000.
Then, ETSC was struggling, with a small number of students, few faculty with doctorates, and a precarious financial position. “It was in every measure a difficult place,” Gendy says. “I really tried by all means to convince the board, please, not me. But I could not escape it. All I could do is ask for three or four months to prepare myself and assess the situation.”
He leaned heavily on the biblical story of God’s encounter with Elijah in I Kings 19. There the depressed prophet claims, “I alone am left…”, but God meets him there with a reminder that thousands of others have also remained steadfast in their faith. This story has pointed Gendy time and again to the value of working together in community. “The final word from God is that you are not alone,” Gendy says. “There are others who can do good work, like Elisha did with Elijah. The message to me was it is a kind of arrogance to think that you are alone, and you are solely responsible for fixing the situation.”
Three lessons learned
The lessons of Elijah were reinforced time and again during his two decades at ETSC. Gendy says he’s had three primary lessons that he has learned that he would like to leave as a legacy.
First is the value of leadership. “You are not doing the work, but you are serving colleagues who are doing the work. You are working together and you are not alone.”
Second, he learned the value of knowing your mission. Upon accepting the new position in 2000, Gendy and his colleagues spent significant time adapting and working with the bylaws for the seminary and creating a mission statement that reflects what the seminary is called to do, and that is to build up the church of Christ in Egypt and the Middle East.
Third, Gendy learned that there were many people and organizations who wanted to support the seminary and help it reach its goals. “I began recognizing the richness of human resources within the Egyptian church and the global church that were willing to support the seminary and our mission,” Gendy says.
Two decades after reflecting on God’s response to Elijah’s despair, Gendy rejoices in the wonderful work of God in and through ETSC. The team he has helped to assemble is flourishing and students are enrolling in record numbers. He looks forward to seeing ETSC continue to soar under Hanna’s leadership.
Gifts to support ETSC can be made to the endowment fund held by the Presbyterian Foundation. You can find that here.
Robyn Davis Sekula serves as Vice President of Communications and Marketing at the Presbyterian Foundation. You can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Categories: Presbyterian Foundation, Seminaries, Theological Education
Tags: 1 kings 19, covid-19, dr. atef gendy, dr. hani hanna, elijah, elisha, etsc, Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Egypt, Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, master in leadership and management, master in media and leadership, online education, pandemic, presbyterian foundation, rev. joseph louis, tom taylor
Ministries: Theological Education