From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] A PC(USA) missionary letter from Egypt

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Date Tue, 27 Feb 2007 11:29:24 -0500

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07095 February 15, 2007

A PC(USA) missionary letter from Egypt

by Sherri Ellington PC(USA) mission worker

CAIRO - We (Sherri and mission worker husband Dustin and their two sons, Clayton and Christopher) have hit the two-year mark of our family's time in Egypt.

On the plane two years ago, our hearts were filled with excitement, anticipation, and dreams. We would soon be living in one of the world's biggest, most fascinating cities. We would be learning what it's really like to be witnesses of Christ and encouragers of the church's mission in the Middle East. I would join a seminary in the cultural and educational center of the Muslim world, and be privileged to train Christian leaders in a place where they were sorely needed.

Exactly two years later I was on a train. While talking with my student David Magdy, I could not keep from being distracted by the rich shades of green outside my window. Accustomed to Cairo, packed as it is with monochrome concrete and dust, my starved eyes saw the color green like a long-awaited meal.

We were on our way to David's city, Mallawi, where I was to offer a training event for leaders of churches in that part of Egypt. David asked me how I felt about living in Egypt. My reply was more mixed than it would have been two years before. I said that my family and I are happy here, that we're thankful to be part of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, and that we'd like to be here for quite a few years to come.

But I also said we had learned it was hard to live as foreigners and that Cairo's overcrowding and pollution weren't easy for us.

It helped to hear his response. My feelings about the congestion and pollution were more than matched by my student's feelings as a transplant from a smaller, greener city in Egypt. Listening to David helped me remember that while living in Cairo can be hard for our family, in many ways it's harder for Egyptians. They also have to deal with the anxiety and fear caused by low wages (often 50 dollars a month for recent university graduates) and the scarcity of jobs.

Dustin and Samuel enjoying a lighter moment of their lay-leader training event. When I arrived at the church in Mallawi, 8 pastors and 70 or so others greeted me warmly.

I had come to talk about principles and methods of reading and interpreting the Bible. I've found that this is a particularly relevant topic for Egyptian Christians because they love the Bible, but schools in Egypt emphasize memorization instead of training people to think about and understand what they read. This makes understanding what they read in Scripture extra difficult.

They responded to the topic with eagerness and with many thoughtful questions and comments. Egyptian believers don't take events like this for granted. One reason for their enthusiasm is that the local presbytery has 60 churches but only 18 pastors. So training of lay leaders is of vital importance.

Another reason for their eagerness is that, given the growth of Islamic extremism, Christians aren't sure they will always be allowed to hold such events.

Lay leaders in Mallawi gathered to learn more about interpreting the Bible. Women and men sit on opposite sides of the sanctuary. The presence of so many women in this gathering is significant for the culture.

That night on the ride back to Cairo, I found myself feeling grateful to be in Egypt. I felt thankful to be part of a seminary that really cares about people like the ones I had spent the day with. My colleague Samuel, professor of pastoral care, sat beside me. It was a joy to sit with an Egyptian partner whom I admire and respect.

Besides his regular teaching load at the seminary, Samuel does training events at churches two weekends per month, reaching about 3,000 people every year. I asked him, "I know all this traveling makes you tired and cannot be easy for your family. What keeps you doing it?"

His reply: "I see people grow in knowledge. I see it makes a difference in their lives."

As I often do, I finished that day feeling encouraged in my faith because of Egyptian believers. And on some level I knew I had made a difference in the lives of a few of them who, in turn, can make a bigger difference in the lives of others.

The following day our family celebrated our two-year mark in Egypt. We wanted to find a place without crowds and where we could take deep breaths of fresh air. That took us two hours away, to a new Chili's restaurant (yes, Chili's is in Egypt) with a playground overlooking the Red Sea, a place we had found on our last escape from the city.

When Mohammed, the manager, heard it was our two-year anniversary in Egypt, he decided to have his staff sing us "Happy Birthday" in both English and Arabic. He also gave us a giant, complimentary brownie sundae. We were surprised and a bit embarrassed, but we appreciated Mohammed honoring us. And all this came from a Muslim who knows I'm in Egypt to train leaders for churches.

As our family looks back on the past two years, we feel many things. We are a lot more realistic about living as foreigners in a poor, polluted, severely overcrowded city. At the same time, we also feel gratitude. Each of us has grown. We're surrounded by friends. God has kept us safe. And we're in a place where our lives can be useful. So perhaps we have less exhilaration than when we first arrived, but we also have grateful hearts. And our convictions about the need and potential for ministry here are strong as ever.

Information about and letters from PC(USA) mission workers around the world is available from the mission connections Web site (


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