“To us, this means Life”
As Herod plotted to destroy the newborn King of the Jews by killing the baby boys born in Bethlehem, Joseph, his wife Mary, and the infant Jesus found safety as refugees, in Egypt. Egyptian Christians still celebrate the flight into Egypt today, and the Coptic tradition holds that the gospel was first brought to Egypt by Mark, in the first century, and remains an unbroken heritage despite centuries of persecution and marginalization. The Christian community in Egypt, about 9 million strong across various denominations, is the largest in the Middle East.
Egypt, then, was the perfect location for the launch of the new Arabic Contemporary Bible Commentary, written in Arabic, by Arabs from six different Arabic nations. As the first commentary of its type in at least 1000 years, this was no small endeavor, and was marked by difficulties and hurdles throughout the 10 plus years required to bring it to fruition (not least of which was the revolutionary uprisings in the region!).
Australians have a unique connection to this historic commentary, as the final stages of printing and production were funded through $40,000 contributed by Langham Partnership Australia supporters. It was with great joy and thankfulness that the LPA governing Committee sent Committee Chairman Trevor Cork, International Council representative Jill McGilvray and CEO Gillean Smiley, to Cairo for the October launch of the Commentary.
The event was hosted by Rev Dr Andrea Zaki, the General Editor of the Commentary and the Director General of the Protestant Community of Egypt. Dr Zaki is one of four Egyptian Langham Scholars; the fifth is currently studying at Moore College in Sydney. Thanking his Australian brothers and sisters for enabling the completion of this highly anticipated and welcomed resource, Dr Zaki used the occasion of the ongoing celebrations to exhort his fellow Christian leaders in Egypt to “Hold fast to the Word of God. Langham Partnership helps the Church in Egypt to hold fast to the Word, and to us this means Life”.
The launch was overflowing with rejoicing Christians, but was also attended by a number of Muslim leaders demonstrating their support for “Arab scholarship and cultural contributions”, with the Muslim former Minister of Culture, His Excellency Mr Helmy Elnamnam welcoming the Egyptian contribution to this landmark publication.
Challenges facing the Church
While this was an occasion for celebration and thanksgiving, spanning several days, the challenges facing the Church in the Middle East were not forgotten, with the four Egyptian Langham scholars (introduced as “the four living pyramids of the Egyptian Church”) sharing privately some of their observations about their own context. Persecution and discrimination, though endemic, was not on their list! Illiteracy remains a massive problem with 50 – 60% of people not able to read God’s Word, let alone those who can read it but do not understand it. One impact of the high degree of illiteracy is that people are not equipped with the skills to challenge and question the basis for their faith resulting in one of two extremes across all religions in this strongly religious country: a calcified
fundamentalism, or a rising wave of atheism. Unexpectedly, another perceived problem is the high number of PhD degrees found among protestant clergy – but degrees that were handed out from Western institutions without the academic requirements or depth of scholarship necessary in higher degrees. “In one of our denominations, 100% of the pastors have a PhD, but very few have real understanding. I am humbled by what Langham has invested to make sure the leaders of the Church in Egypt do not have a second-class education”.
“John Stott believed that properly equipped people could contribute to not just the local, but to the global Church. Today we celebrate the fruit of his vision, as this Contemporary Arabic Commentary will be an Arab contribution to the global Church”, said Dr Atef Gendy, the second Middle Eastern Langham Scholar, who now leads the Evangelical Theological Seminary (ETSC), the largest and oldest protestant seminary in the Middle East.
While Dr Zaki is the senior Protestant Christian in Egypt, also serving as President of the Coptic Evangelical Organisation for Social Services, the other three (graduated) Egyptian Langham Scholars continue to lead and teach in the Evangelical Theological Seminary. (George, our current Scholar in Sydney, will teach at the Alexandria School of Theology on his graduation). It was encouraging and inspiring to hear these leading academics affirm that their students must not graduate with “strong heads but weak hands and feet”. As they strive to build a “market theology”, each professor in the ETSC is required to explain how the curriculum they are teaching will equip the students to be servants for the Church and servants for the people.
The Church in the Middle East, seeing unprecedented conversion from Islam, is not only training new leadership well, through the leadership of Langham Scholars, but is contributing to the global Church as well as its own people, through this latest Bible Commentary. All glory and thanks be to God!