It has been an eventful week here because it has been the end of school. I said goodbye to my RCG students almost two weeks ago. And last week was the seminary graduation, when I said goodbye to a few of my students and also to a few students who have been friendly to me this year. The graduation celebration at ETSC is long—like four days long. Guests come from around the world (including a big group from Peachtree Presbyterian in Atlanta). There’s a big party and baccalaureate-type event, with snacks and music, with speeches from various students about “what the seminary has meant to me,” with honoring the guys who graduated 50 years ago by inviting them to speak on various topics (for WAY too long—they were each asked like 5 questions!), with thanking the foreigners who helped during the year (Jason, me, and Esther), etc. The place was packed, but the translation equipment fell through so all the foreigners—including the group from Peachtree—were practically in the dark. For part of the time some of the professors were translating for small groups of people, but they ultimately trailed off and gave up. Foreign guests slipped out until there were none left…and THEN they were thanked and honored. nice move, 50-year-ago-graduate-question-asker!
The graduation ceremony, at the Kasr-el-Dubara church, was nice, though. It was also packed, but there was in fact translation equipment. The headphones kind of hurt my ears, and the translation wasn’t great, but overall it really helped. The commencement address was about the Trinity….it was long and not at all related to the scripture text that had been read earlier (which had already been preached on by a graduating student). In fact, I’m not at all sure what pastor Gindy said about the Trinity, because it was confusing and not well translated. What I remember are his transitions. “And now, the Son.” “What about the Holy Spirit?” It was pretty funny. I also remember the random Egyptian man who sat down next to me when Jason popped up to do his job as informal photographer. He said (in Arabic), “are you American?” (yes) “America good!” (ummm…) “what’s your mobile number?” (I don’t know) “here, take mine and call me right now so I’ll have your mobile number.” (not now, in the middle of the graduation, weirdo! And also, not ever!) Luckily Karla saved me just at the end. The guy wrote down the number for me, which I tried to leave behind, and then he handed it to me telling me I’d forgotten it. Then Karla stepped in with a very mom-voice admonishment “mish kwayes!” (not good!). It worked.
After the graduation I said goodbye to my students. Though I’m working in the seminary library, I’m not likely to see many of them. The ones who didn’t graduate will be busy in their churches or with writing their theses this summer. The only one I’ll see is Esther, who also works in the library. I’ll miss them—though I was nervous at first about working closely with Egyptian men (even though they are Christian and pastors) because we had been lectured about not becoming friends and whatnot, about keeping boundaries with Egyptians, etc. It was a good practice for me at setting pastoral boundaries. Unfortunately I didn’t do it well by cultural standards, apparently…yesterday I had one of the students tell me that on my first day when he invited me to his dorm room to drink tea and I declined, he was offended and didn’t invite me again. In spite of it being in every way culturally inappropriate for me, a single woman, to go to the dorm room shared by two men (one single and one married, but still), I somehow didn’t convey that I was trying to set a boundary. Instead I conveyed that I was unfriendly and didn’t want to be friends with Egyptians. oops. I think I rectified that throughout the year, but wow. Keeping pastoral boundaries is tough work, especially in a cross cultural situation! I hope I can be more sensitive next time, but still hold the boundaries. I also hope that next time I have a “first day” I know a little more about my options! I wish I had known that we could have just gone to the canteen (which is spelled “kanten” on the sign) and sat under the trees with our tea. Oh well…live and learn…and say goodbye to friends of all different kinds.
On Saturday night we had a going-away party for Tukei (pronounced 2-K), the Ugandan student in the Masters program. He has been a really interesting friend this year, because he’s an all-around interesting guy! He’s a Pentecostal pastor from Uganda. He’s witty and smart. He really and truly believes that the Word is the only way to life, that the Spirit indwells those whom God chooses, and all kinds of things. He’s incredible during prayer times, he’s a fiery and passionate preacher, and for a while it looked like he wouldn’t pass on his thesis because he was so passionate in his apologetics RE iconoclasm. As in, he is iconoclastic and he’s living in and writing about the Coptic Orthodox church and its potential relationship to African Traditional Religions. Now, there are plenty of issues with that whole thing, but ultimately he passed and he graduated on Friday…and on Saturday we had a surprise party! A bunch of us gathered together at Brice’s flat in the seminary. Brice took Tukei out for a while, and brought him back to us where we surprised him with food and us! It was incredible. Sung Min, Brice’s girlfriend who is from Korea, made sushi and soup. There was fruit and cake and sweets and pastries and all kinds of things. And after we ate, we talked about all kinds of things—where we’re from, who’s from “the south” of wherever, etc. And then we started the singing. Tukei brought his guitar from his room and sang us some of his original songs he uses for prayer. He sang us a Ugandan song. We got one the Koreans to sing us a Korean song. We sang a Sudanese song with Charles, a refugee. We sang “Father Abraham has many kids” (instead of sons) with Brice. We sang “rock-a my soul in the bosom of Abraham” with Bob the Californian English teacher who was so excited to meet other Christians working in Egypt. Esther (a middle-aged Chinese woman from the Philippines) sang us a Chinese children’s song about the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. It was a really wonderful international sing-a-long. I loved it! That is the kind of thing that just really excites me and makes me happy to be part of the body of Christ—to sing in different languages together. So fun. We had a great party. And now Tukei has flown away to Uganda, where he’s with his family and his church again. God’s blessing on him, and on the other graduates who are beginning new legs of their adventures.