by Rev. Steve Gorman*, PCUSA Liaison to the Synod of the Nile
"Do Americans know what a beautiful country they have?" asked Emil Anwer, pastor of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Benha, some 70 kilometers north of Cairo. We were driving around one of those "vista curves" on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Impressed with all the green, the hint of Fall colors and the lack of garbage on the highway, he wondered why more of these trees were not for fruit? After a brief explanation of deciduous trees dropping their once-colorful leaves, Emil asked, "What do you do with ALL the leaves?"
For 18 days Cinda and I were delighted and inspired by the six 30-something Presbyterian leaders who came to visit this country focused on the PCUSA. Theyhad a blast! We saw so much. We learned so much. And they returned to Egypt with bulging suitcases and packed impressions of their "mother church'" as they refer to us.
Well over two years ago Amgad Beblawi, then Area Coordinator from Presbyterian World Mission and Rev. Refat Fathy, Secretary-General of the Synod of the Nile, shared their hope that Egyptians could come to the US to learn of the PCUSA. They needed to be young. They should be novices to world travel. And, they would be encouraged to share their experiences upon their return.
I caught the vision. After nine month of of written applications, interviews, visa applications, an orientation and many emails, one woman and five men arrived in Indianapolis on September 6th. This whirlwind study trip began eating "American food" at a Bob Evans before staying at Louisville Seminary for four nights. Over three full days they learned from denominational leaders, took tours, and helped serve communion during worship at the seminary.
We continued on to Cincinnati after a tour of Hanover College, and were given free tickets to visit The National Underground Railroad/Freedom Center, one of the highlights of the tour. Visiting churches, they stayed with their first of five host families. Between worship and social service agencies, Llanfair Retirement Community and a Q & A before the Presbytery of Cincinnati, these curious and articulate English speakers were open to the breadth of ministries of the PCUSA.
Our longest drive to the Pittsburgh area included a tour of Westminster College and the New Wilmington Missionary Conference brick patio display honoring hundreds of missionaries, many to Egypt. At Sandy Lake PC they feasted on the potluck and hospitality of a rural church., greeted by Rev. Beth Creekpaum. Pittsburgh Seminary included classes, leading worship - including the singing of several hymns of Middle Eastern inspiration, verse one in Arabic - and their archeological museum. The surprise, laugh-filled birthday party was a special treat for our guests, Basim and Emil, with Elder Samir Zaki of Eastminster PC. (His b'day, too!) The Duck Boat and Incline Tours added a bit of fun accompanied by student-guides of the seminary who equally enjoyed the enthusiasm of these guests.
On to bedroom, rural and inner city churches in Philadelphia. Rev. Jeff Conway of Paoli PC gave us his hearty welcome and Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches! In both their worship services thee guests were ushered to the center aisle and prayed over by the entire congregation. Rev. Rebecca Kirkpatrick at Bryn Mawr PC shared in two days of touring us though the ministries of Broadstreet and Arch Street downtown housing and pre-school ministries. We connected the dotes on some American history as we visited Constitution Square. We learned of the needs of the urban poor, new insights to these sensitive Egyptians. They asked a lot of questions and came away feeling that both our church and society care for people in practical ways.
Emil and Heidi will write a report of their experience for the Synod. Amgad Z. will speak in his church and magma in Olia (Upper) Presbytery in Sohag. Rafik and Basim will share in Assiut, these three from Upper (southern) Egypt. Amgad S. will soon move to Basra, Iraq with wife and two children, sharing his preaching experience at PTS. And more. Much more.
The image many younger pastors and leaders of the Evangelical Church of Egypt is now pretty slim. They know over 160+ years ago missionaries came from America and Scotland to start schools, hospitals and churches. They are grateful. Now, these six have a much larger image of our congregations, our worship - both traditional and contemporary - Sunday school and programs within the church. They have seen firsthand the many ministries done by individual congregations and ecumenically for the larger community in counseling, housing, food distribution and job placement. They want the Church in Egypt to grow in these endeavors. Their "sense" of us in more than historical - it is this breadth of a church they will share about in Egypt.
Thus our core goal was met, as they were introduced to Elders and Deacons, our Presbyterian Historical Society, and the laughter around host families' tables to a much greater appreciation of the present "mother church."
The Presbyterian footprint which they witnessed is large in many communities.
Basim plans to write a book. We all have tons of pictures. We all have memories galore. Our meetings with welcoming congregations, enthusiastic hosts and sharing with directors of housing agencies are but a few of the many, many encounters which profoundly touched these colleague's minds.
Cinda and I returnedhome glad for all the blessings our Lord provided all along the way - yes, health and safety, but far more: learning and insight, inspiration and understanding as the partnership grew closer between the Egyptian and American churches. We are all richer for it, like Fall colors soon bursting upon us. We both gained so muchgreater clarity concerning our unity and diversity, our cultural difference yet our profoundoneness in Christ. Yes, it was a great 18 days. "Shokran, ya, Reb" Thank You, Lord.
* all the Americans mentioned in this article participate on the Leadership Team of the Egypt Partnership Network of the PCUSA. Learn more at www.egyptpartnershipnetwork.org