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March 2011

Luther Seminary alums forced to flee Egypt in midst of the revolution

On Jan. 28, all Mark Nygard, '09, '88 and '76,  had to do was look  out the front window of his apartment, located in the heart of Cairo, Egypt, to know something important was about to happen. Nygard, a professor at Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, and his wife, Linda, who also serves at ETSC, had twice that week been ordered to stay in their home, first when the original large public demonstration happened in Tahrir Square, and again on that day.

As their apartment is located on one of Egypt's busiest thoroughfares, the Nygards immediately noticed that traffic levels were remarkably lower than usual that morning. On a normal day, Nygard estimates that roughly 100 cars will pass by each minute. That day, as they listened to the traffic from inside the safety of their apartment, they noted that only about 30 cars per minute were going by, which eventually went down to only two cars per minute. Soon, there was no traffic at all and instead they heard chanting in the distance and saw the highway fill with demonstrators walking toward Tahrir Square.

"It was suspenseful and dramatic to see such a mobilization of public opinion right before our eyes," Nygard said. "Such moments are relatively rare in life, and we had a distinct sense of being part of history."

The following day, Nygard saw the marching demonstrators replaced by military tanks. Soon the Nygards, along with the other ELCA missionaries in Egypt, (including fellow Luther Seminary alum Peter Johnson, '99 and '98, and his family) were told that an emergency evacuation was called and that they would need to immediately leave the country.

"Evacuation is a terrible nuisance and was not our first choice, personally, but wiser minds than ours saw that the danger was real and ordered us out," Nygard said.

After a four-day evacuation process, the group safely returned to the United States. Nygard noted that the group was surprised by the level of concern that came from their family and friends based on what they had seen reported on the U.S. news.

"Not all parts of Egypt experienced the same level of danger, and the news media naturally focused on those areas where the danger was the highest," Nygard said. "Since we didn't happen to live at one of those focal points, we didn't happen to experience the kind of trauma that others of the missionary community faced."

He also noted that amidst the chaos, the world witnessed remarkable signs of mutual respect and support between Egyptian Christians and Muslims working together for a better future for their country.

Of course, in the wake of the revolution, interest in the Christian church in Egypt spiked. In the short five weeks that they were back in the U.S., the Nygards spoke with nine congregations about their experience and ongoing missionary work in Egypt.

"We have been making congregation presentations since our first term as ELCA missionaries 30 years ago. They number perhaps in the hundreds," Nygard said. "But never have we seen folks so focused on our experience and so interested in our ministry."

After their brief stay at home, the Nygards returned to Egypt on March 10, where they will go back to their academic duties at ETSC. Peter Johnson went back to Egypt on Feb. 25 as part of a delegation to discern if the time was right for redeployment. He has since returned to the U.S. and will prepare for definitive redeployment later this month.

Read more in Global Vision!

A more in-depth story about the missionary work of these Luther Seminary alums will be featured in the next issue of Global Vision, the bi-annual e-newsletter of the Global Mission Institute at Luther Seminary.

This story will include:

  • History and insights about the role of the Christian church in Egypt
  • Highlights about  Mark Nygard's work as a professor at Evangelical Theological Seminary-Cairo
  • Highlights from Peter Johnson about his work as an ELCA missionary to Egypt

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