It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!

It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!

by Riad Kassis, Langham Scholars

In his excellent paper entitled Addressing the North–South Divide: Issues in Global Theological Education (1), Chris Wright recalls a conversation with Atef Gendy, an Egyptian Langham scholar. He describes how he sat with Atef Gendy in his study in the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, of which he is Principal, and hearing him say, ‘We cannot compete with Oxford and Cambridge and the libraries and resources they have built up for nearly a thousand years. And why should we? We here are sitting on a heritage of Arab Christianity, with its ancient texts and commentaries on the Bible, stretching back even further through nearly 2000 years.’

Then he talked with excitement about the seminary’s vision to create an Institute for the study of this great storehouse of Middle Eastern Christianity, to offer conferences, research facilities, a degree, and eventually the possibility of doctoral research in that field. ‘Why mimic the West when you have a gold mine of resources in your own back yard?’

Atef Gendy

Atef Gendy (left) with Kenneth Bailey at the CMEC inauguration.

Atef’s dream is now a reality! By the time you read this update the Centre for Middle East Christianity (CMEC) will be already publicly inaugurated in a series of activities in April 2013. CMEC will endeavor to preserve the heritage of the Church of the Middle East through the rich treasures such as its biblical texts (in Arabic, Coptic and Syriac), Arabic theological reflection, Coptic history, and its missional expression in the Islamic context. It will also seek to develop opportunities to serve as a place of encounter between the Church in the Middle East with the Church in the West, by inviting Western scholars and institutions to engage in study, encounters and dialogue.

CMEC Plaque

CMEC plaque written in elegant Arabic calligraphy.

The inauguration of the Centre comes at a very critical moment in the history of this troubled region. It comes during a time when Arab Christians are going through a black Friday! The excitement of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ is turning into an experience of horror, disappointment, and fear for many Arab Christians. The spring has been transformed into a harsh winter where violence and terror prevail! 

Christians in Egypt are feeling uncertainty and those in Syria, for the first time in modern history, are seeing some of their churches being destroyed and they themselves are displaced in and outside Syria.

However, in the midst of Friday pains there are rays of hope. Arab Christians who have survived the last 2000 years in this land will continue not only surviving but thriving in their witness to Jesus Christ, and contribute positively to their fellow citizens even when fundamentalism abounds. The Centre for Middle East Christianity is another ray of hope that will ensure the active presence of an evangelical intelligent witness. It is an assurance that Sunday is coming!

A few years ago an Egyptian brother named Wageeh Mikhail asked me to help him do his research at a monastery in Lebanon on a rare manuscript by Ammār al-Başrī, an Arab Christian theologian who wrote on Christian theology as well as an apologetic defence of Christianity in the face of Muslim objections to its teachings. I was delighted to sit at a tiny restaurant in Beirut eating hummus and kebab while Wageeh shared with me his area of research and his hopes on how to employ the findings of his research in the Middle East and North Africa region. Last month Wageeh, a Langham scholar, successfully defended his PhD at the University of Birmingham. Wageeh will be directing the Centre for Middle East Christianity!

Wageeh & his family

Langham Scholar Wageeh Mikhail and family