Faith Through a Culturally Aware Lens - Princeton Theological Seminary

When Dina Bishay arrived at Princeton Theology Seminary campus for the first time in 2016, she didn’t know a soul. She hadn’t even been to visit — she applied online from her home in Cairo.

But Egyptian friends who had gone to Princeton Seminary had told her she couldn’t make a better choice to answer her call to pursue a Master’s Degree in Theology. She quickly learned that they were right. They were so right; she has returned to campus this year in pursuit of a PhD in Practical Theology (Christian Education).

“I didn’t know anyone here. I had no connections. It was just like a leap of faith,” she says. “And it couldn’t have worked out better. When I came to PTS to do my Masters, that spark happened, and I started to feel the call to serve as teaching faculty in the seminary back home in Cairo.”

Born in Cairo and raised in an evangelical Presbyterian family, Bishay attended the Evangelical Theology Seminary in Cairo and earned a degree in the concentration of Theology and History in 2016. After earning her Masters at Princeton Seminary, she returned to Egypt.

“I wanted to teach at the seminary back home but there wasn’t any opportunity then, so I went back to Cairo. I got married and had two kids,” she says. “But this dream to teach kept on in my heart. It didn’t go away. And in 2021, they started listing jobs for teaching assistants for Christian education. And I was like, ‘Yay! Finally!’ So, I applied, and I joined the faculty.”

Joining the ETSC faculty was no small thing – she is only the second woman among three women in the seminary’s 160-year history to be named a full-time teacher.

While she studies at Princeton Seminary this year, she will return to ETSC to teach when she finishes her PhD. She keeps her teaching skills fresh by serving as a teaching assistant at Princeton Seminary as part of her program requirements.

She plans to dedicate her teaching career to working with pastors and clergy leaders. Her dissertation likely will focus on her first passion: Christian education for youth. But her future lies with church leadership.

“We have so many challenges in education in Egypt,” she says. “We need to be more innovative in teaching and designing our lesson plans — we need to be speaking in context and to the culture. Speaking to real needs. We should be opening new windows and insights into how education can be creative and practical and flexible for how people are living and how to handle the challenges we face right now. Change sometimes is scary. You prefer to stick to what you already know. It takes courage to enforce change.”

She knows something about change. Her life was headed in a completely different direction when she was young.

“The professors here really care about you and context that you came from. It’s not just that you learn about America or practical theology in America, but you also reflect on your own background and your own context.

“I was an architect,” she says with a smile. Bishay earned her bachelor’s degree in Architecture from the faculty of Fine Arts, at Helwan University in 2007, and worked in the field of design for a while, then shifted her work to the field of Education in private schools.

“When I was in college, I had an encounter with God. ‘My life is for you. My talents are for you. Just use me. Use me whatever you want to do with me Lord, I’m just there for you.’”

“That was like the beginning of my devotion to God. And things started to become clearer and clearer. I went into youth ministry, I served for many years. And then I realized that my passion is just going to teaching. Everything led me to teach. So, I believe that God was designing everything and designed my own past because this is where I eventually ended up!”

She has extra reasons to enjoy Princeton Seminary this time around. The first time, she was alone. This year, her husband Amir, pastor of the Heliopolis Evangelical Presbyterian Church has taken a sabbatical and lives with Bishay and their daughters Layla and Nelly near the Seminary.

She has never regretted taking her friend’s advice to attend Princeton Seminary, and has learned the importance of “thinking and working outside the box.”

Princeton is a great place to be, she says, if you want to learn and grow.

“I remember my first semester here, it was very eye-opening. The courses I was taking talked about the history of practical theology, and all the perspectives of denominations and Christian educators from around the world. I found it really amazing, especially how professors here are intentional about opening those windows for us to learn and to see what worked, and what didn’t work, and to be analytical, critical thinkers.

“The professors here really care about you and context that you came from. It’s not just that you learn about America or practical theology in America, but you also reflect on your own background and your own context. They ask: So, what does this mean to you after you’ve read this book? What does it mean to you as a Christian educator in Egypt and the Egyptian context?”

Context is everything, she says.

“In Egypt, we live in a religiously diverse country. We have a unique situation where Muslims and Christians are living together. We are not segregated, we live together. And this has implications on everything because we are an Islamic-majority country, and that has great influence on politics.”

“And it has a great influence on education. You have to be mindful when you are a Christian educator in the church how to teach your learners to be culturally aware and culturally smart and to live the Christian faith in this kind of environment. It’s about so much more than just memorizing.”