PC(USA) partner works to transform models of church leadership in Egypt

Seminary president Atef Gendy renews training efforts with high standards, kindness

August 18, 2015

The Rev. Dr. Atef M. Gendy, president of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, speaks at Big Tent 2015 on the University of Tennessee campus in Knoxville.

The Rev. Dr. Atef M. Gendy, president of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, speaks at Big Tent 2015 on the University of Tennessee campus in Knoxville. —Gregg Brekke

KNOXVILLE

His first name, Atef, means “kindness” in Arabic. Those who know him well say is a perfect fit for a man whose passion is equipping leaders for ministry and mission in Egypt and throughout the Arab world.

The Rev. Dr. Atef Gendy, president of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (ETSC), is a lifelong leader and teacher of leaders. He grew up in a Christian family and worshipped in a large Presbyterian church in his hometown of Assiut, Egypt, which at that time was a center of mission work. Gendy was very active in his church, even as a teenager. He remembers a particular evangelical conference held at his church in Sept. 1972 when, at age 14, he realized that he didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus.

“Here I was excitedly inviting my classmates and encouraging others to come to the church conference,” he says. “Then, on the last day of the conference, I realized that I needed to know Jesus as my Lord.” After losing his own father when he was 10 years old, he says a personal relationship with God brought great comfort and transformation in his life.

Gendy worked as a civil engineer from 1982 to 1984 before accepting a position as director of a training center devoted to equipping lay leaders for ministry in village churches in southern Egypt, particularly those without pastors. Eight years later, he followed a call to study theology at ETSC, graduating in 1992 and joining the seminary’s staff as a professor of New Testament the same year. In 2001, he earned his Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.

Under Gendy’s leadership as president, ETSC has increased enrollment from 79 students in 2002 to 320 this year. Interest in seminary training has grown so rapidly, in fact, that ETSC raised its admission standards and now turns down many applicants.

The first seminary in Egypt opened on a sailboat, the Ibis, because missionaries were not allowed to establish teaching institutions on Egyptian soil. In the morning the students studied Scripture, and in the afternoon they demonstrated what they had learned through service. The boat made stops along the Nile River to distribute Bibles, songbooks and teaching materials.

In 1863, American Presbyterians established the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Cairo (ETSC). In more than 150 years, the Presbyterian Church in Egypt has grown to include nearly 400 churches in eight Presbyteries in the Synod of the Nile. And, instead of being unable to establish teaching institutions on Egyptian soil, the Egyptian government recently gave 14 parcels of property to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Egypt as future sites for schools and churches.

In discussion with friends and colleagues during breakfast at Big Tent 2015, at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Gendy said, “For me, it’s not about numerical figures. I really want the church to be effective and efficient in the transformation of individuals, congregations and communities.”

Just as churches cannot separate their ministry from social concerns of their community and nation, Gendy says seminaries cannot separate the training of leaders for the church from the training of leaders for community transformation. He believes seminaries that train transformative church leaders, including lay leaders, are not only able to serve and transform the church, but also society as a whole.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) critical global issue to Train Leaders for Community Transformation, led by evangelism catalyst the Rev. Juan Sarmiento, includes training in theological education and other areas such as literacy, agriculture, peacemaking, reconciliation, and basic health and hygiene as part of community health evangelism. The campaign will work with 70 partner churches and schools in a priority region of Latin America/Carribean (Cuba), Asia (Indonesia, Pakistan and Thailand), the Middle East/Europe (Egypt), and six African countries where people and communities are being transformed through Community Health Evangelism.

Jim Davis, a member of Miami Shores Presbyterian Church in Florida, donated $1 million to Presbyterian World Mission earlier this year to support church growth in Egypt. Half of Davis’ gift will be used to build churches in underserved areas. It is estimated that more than 70 percent of Egyptian Christians do not have access to a church. The PC(USA) liaison for Egypt, the Rev. Steve Gorman, will work closely with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Egypt in this effort.

The other half of Davis’ gift will provide context-sensitive theological education to train leaders for new congregations and to support the teaching ministries of Presbyterian mission workers teaching at ETSC.

“The generosity of Jim Davis’ gift to the growing church in Egypt is something that exceeded my expectations and deserves every expression of gratitude,” says Gendy. “During the last three years, I paid two short visits to Jim during which I was deeply touched and impressed. Mr. Davis’ thoughtful questions, then, reflected very well his tender heart for the gospel, his interest in the growth and health of the global church, and his desire to invest his money in something that makes a difference in the life of a promising church.”

Davis’ gift comes at a time when it is needed more than ever, according to Hunter Farrell, director of Presbyterian World Mission. Without a leadership gift such as this, hopes for Presbyterian World Mission to respond to this open door in Egypt would have been unfulfilled, Farrell says, adding, “Jim gave this money specifically to challenge others to make significant gifts to Presbyterian World Mission.”

Gendy is recognized as a leader in the Synod of the Nile and the Council of Churches in Egypt. He is frequently asked to speak in the U.S. and Europe about the circumstances and witness of the Evangelical Church in Egypt.

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Individuals and congregations interested in responding to Jim Davis’ challenge to support Presbyterian World Mission may visit pcusa.org/supportwm or send a check to: Presbyterian World Mission, PO Box 643700, Pittsburg, PA 15264-3700. Checks should be made to Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and noted for fund E132192. For more information, please contact nicole.gerkins@pcusa.org or 502-569-5611.