A newsletter for friends of the Global Mission Institute, Luther Seminary

Global Vision - Spring 2012

View more articles in the Spring 2012 issue.

From St. Paul to Cairo: an international librarian loan

by John Klawiter, M.Div. Senior

Bruce Eldevik, reference librarian at Luther Seminary, spent three weeks last fall teaching at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, Egypt Below he shares a bit about the experience.

How did you learn about this opportunity?

(The Rev. Dr.) Mark Nygard, a 2009 Luther Seminary Ph.D. graduate who serves as the director of graduate studies at ETSC, invited me last spring. One of his colleagues, Dr. Willem DeWitt, needed to finish his Ph.D work so Mark called me up to teach the course "Research Principles and Methods."

Why was it beneficial for ETSC to have someone from Luther Seminary come teach?

Mark needed this material covered and I teach a similar course here at Luther Seminary for Ph.D. students called "Library Research Practicum." Mark took it when he was here and thought of me when he knew he needed an instructor.

How did Luther Seminary support you in this endeavor?

We needed to have discussions about how to cover my work in the library while I was gone. (Academic Dean) Rollie Martinson was very supportive because my work over there provides a good connection for our seminary with ETSC.

In return, how has Luther Seminary benefited from your time in Cairo?

I revised and, I think, improved the "Library Research Practicum" course as a result of my preparation for Egypt.

Beyond that, I have gained more sensitivity to what it's like to travel to another part of the world and try to fit in and learn while adapting to daily life in a new culture. I believe this experience will help my interactions with international students to be even more constructive and welcoming; they are doing the same thing, only for a lot longer.

To take it a little further, what will you bring back to Luther?

I also was privileged to witness the Christian church in a minority setting, which was "eye opening" to me. It also made the world of the early Christians come alive to a greater degree.

Besides the usual sites like the pyramids, what else did you get to see?

I was able to see two Coptic monasteries where monasticism began—the Monastery of St. Antony and the Monastery of St. Paul the Hermit, both out in the desert. It was amazing to see the old chapel that dates to the fifth century A.D., and that structures from that long ago are still standing.

I took pictures and we had a guides, but it really took a while to absorb what I was able to see and experience. It was all new to me and so far removed from anything I had seen or experienced before. It was fascinating to see the monasteries and I tried to take in as much as I could, but it was not until I got back and read a few things that I started to understand a lot more of what I saw.

With all of the events happening in Egypt, did you have any reservations about going?

Mark asked me in the spring and I had to think about it. I had a few questions, but he set me at ease regarding the political turmoil. 

Several people expressed some concern about my going to Egypt at that particular time because it looked like parliamentary elections would be held in early fall. I mentioned this to Mark and he promptly put me in touch with Mariam Hanna who, among other things, coordinates accommodations for visitors and guests of the seminary. She was very helpful and set me at ease regarding being in Cairo. Basically she told me that they continue to live a normal life, doing their regular activities, without undue worry.

You were there during a protest in which 24 Coptic Christians were killed when police retaliated. As a Christian, were you in danger? How did this experience impact you?

The seminary's work is done in a place where Christians are the minority. Things were mostly stable until that event. I didn't even know the extent of what happened until I showed up in the breakfast hall the next day to find that people were very somber. There was a lot of concern because the Coptic cathedral [where the funerals would be held] is close to the seminary. People worried that something could erupt again. 

The idea that Christians were targeted was unsettling. I think most of all I felt the concern of the seminary community during this time.  The mood that next day was very subdued, deflated.  It made me realize that Christians in Egypt have not had an easy road and I could see how they sometimes felt targeted.

Would you like to return to Cairo to teach again?

Yes.  And now, I know what I'd want to do differently. For one, I'd learn more phrases in Arabic to help me get around.  I only went out on my own once, otherwise, someone was with me and I was grateful for that.  Having experienced it once, I'd feel better prepared to return.