Give a year to God: A message from Gap year students
Are you a Gap Year student considering studying at ACTS? Read the following testimonials from Amanda Khalil and Luke Soliman of our Gap Year 2019 graduates. You will learn about their personal journey and what benefits they gained from taking a year and devoting it to grow deeper in the faith.
A message from Luke Soliman- Gap Year 2019 Graduate and co-valedictorian
“My name is Luke. I completed my undergraduate studies in Chemistry in December 2017, and am currently a hopeful medical school matriculant. Doing my best to stay productive for the year and a half between my Bachelor’s program and medical school, I applied to all sorts of programs: international fellowships, research groups, consulting positions, and things of that sort. It wasn’t until April of last year that I applied to the Master’s of Theological Studies program at ACTS -- just about 1 year ago. Reflecting on all the scattered ideas I envisioned for myself for this past year, I can now say with my greatest confidence that enrolling in ACTS was the single most edifying thing I could have accomplished during my gap period.
Just two months after applying, I found myself immersed in Coptic grammar, liturgical studies, and theological writing. The following semester I studied the church fathers, the Old Testament, and church history. And in my final term, I took an intensive study in the Gospel of John, as well as courses in apologetics, dogmatics, and Coptic language. One of the many beauties of the program is its commitment to both depth and breadth of material. Each course is thoroughly detailed in its lecture material and readings. And the 12 courses required for programs are diverse in scope, providing a secure foundation for any church servant or theology student. If you were ever curious about the transition from Byzantine to Islamic Egypt, you’ll study that. Or about the Orthodox understanding of salvation, you’ll study that too. If you want to fundamentally understand the construction of the New Testament canon, you’re also in luck. The courses are demanding, but manageable. They are rigorous, but rewarding. And for me personally, the tools and skills I gained from the program gave concreteness to my spiritual life.
Each month, I reflect back on my learning in the program. Every time I’m increasingly amazed at how much ACTS has prepared me. Certain other faith groups require their laity to work on multi-year service projects, usually for the purposes of evangelization. After witnessing the excellence of ACTS, it is my hope that, while not by means of requirement, formal theological education may become a commonly accepted standard for our young people.
As I move into my next phase of life, I carry with me better liturgical literacy, clearer theological understandings, and a renewed spiritual vision. I carry a new fire for my service. The MTS program has been empowering, fulfilling, and inspirational. If I can offer any advice to you as a gap year student, it would be this: apply to ACTS. Reach out to Jessica in the office (she’s amazing), or a certain faculty member in your area of interest (if you happen to have one). Everyone at the school has been professional and kind. If you have any particular questions about my experience as a Gap Year student at ACTS, feel free to reach out to me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org
I offer my best wishes to anyone contemplating the program, and pray we might work for the elevation of His name.”
A message from Amanda Khalil- Gap year 2019 Graduate
“The Coptic Orthodox church is a gem. It contains layers upon layers of precious information just waiting to be discovered by believers. As one digs deeper to learn about the Alexandrian method of reading the Bible allegorically, the development of the liturgy, the dynamics of the early Church and the Arab conquest, how to understand Christological or Trinitarian verses, and how to reconcile the faith with science, one’s appreciation of God’s greatness and His work in the Church becomes much more profound. One’s understanding of the Bible and the church can be completely altered by simply learning about social contexts and the history of the early church. In fact, most of what makes Orthodoxy unique can only be understood by learning about the history of the church—“history” encompassing liturgics, dogmatics, patristics, and many more fields.
Aside from learning about the Coptic Church for personal enjoyment and edification, modern day Copts are facing a much different dynamic today that necessitates the knowledge of our faith. In America, for instance, we are encouraged to think freely and critically, and our faith is often challenged. If we are not solid in our faith or perhaps do not understand certain aspects about Orthodoxy, we may stumble. Moreover, if nonbelievers perceive that Orthodox Christianity cannot answer difficult questions because believers do not know their faith, this can be a stumbling block to others. Additionally, as believers living in a society receptive to new ideas, we have the opportunity to share our precious faith with those around us. As St. Peter writes, “Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.”
For these reasons, I decided to pursue the MTS at St. Athanasius and St. Cyril Theological School. We are fortunate to have a Coptic Theological school in America with well-educated instructors—closely resembling the School of Alexandria found in the early church. As understanding the faith is essential, I figured that the best way to receive this knowledge would be in a structured learning environment, in which the information is organized into lessons that build upon one another. I planned to complete the MTS in my year off, between my undergraduate and graduate studies. I figured that this year would be the best time that I can fully dedicate myself to these studies, as it may get difficult to study alongside a career. Having entered the program with many unanswered questions as well as many unorganized schemas or incomplete understandings of concepts, I am now emerging out of the MTS with a comprehensive grasp on concepts as well as a deeper appreciation of God’s wonders and the richness of the Coptic Church. I would definitely recommend the MTS to gap year students; this is the main opportunity that we will get to dedicate the time to learn about the faith. Additionally, we still get a chance to impact university campuses when we enter our graduate studies; university campuses are the ideal breeding grounds to share our faith, as students are eager to explore new ideas. For all these reasons, I highly encourage everyone to pursue an education at ACTS, especially students taking a gap year.”