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Global Vision - Spring 2011

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Alum Profile

ELCA Missionaries to Egypt Face New Challenges and Reality

by Jill Rode, M.Div. Junior

Mark Nygard

On February 1st, Mark Nygard, '09, '88 and '76, and Peter Johnson, '99, '98, along with their families and other ELCA missionaries, were evacuated from Egypt amid escalating protests against the now-fallen government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubrak.

Approximately two months later, Nygard and Johnson have returned to their ministries in Egypt. Nygard is the graduate studies coordinator at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (ETSC). He also teaches a course or two each semester, while his wife, Linda, is a library volunteer. Of note, Luther Seminary international alum Magdi Gendi, a 2004 Ph.D. graduate, teaches Old Testament at ETSC. Johnson is called as pastor of St. Andrew's United Church, an ELCA international internship site, and director of St. Andrew's Refugee Services.

Resuming the work to which God has called them has caused Nygard and Johnson to face both challenges and new realities. But amidst this time of great change for the Egyptian people, they have felt a warm welcome from friends and colleagues, glad for their safe return to their ministries in Cairo.

Nygard wrote about his return to ETSC, "The welcome of students and staff was overwhelming. Greetings ranged from exclamations of recognition and warm handshakes to hearty Egyptian double-hugs-and-kisses on each side of the face. Gradually I was brought to the edge of tears. Whatever else was happening in Egypt, what was happening here was good, and we felt so privileged to be a part of it again."
ELCA's Role in Egypt

Historically, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has not had an independent presence in Egypt. Rather, for a little more than 30 years, the ELCA has maintained an accompaniment relationship with local Egyptian companions; a model employed by the ELCA around the world defined as "walking together in solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality."

With the recent uprising in Egypt and subsequent change in government, Robert Smith, '03, ELCA area program director for the Middle East said, "This moment in history is absolutely pivotal. We're seeing changes in the Middle East that we didn't see coming so quickly. Things are happening."

ELCA missionaries to Egypt are now aware of the new challenges encountered by their local ministry companions.  Smith points to two primary challenges--an uncertain political environment and the dismantling of established understandings of how Egypt and the Egyptian government work.

"Now our role is to sit back, listen, and observe, whereas our companions have a calling to actively contribute to the shaping of Egyptian life," Smith said. "The active involvement to shape life in Egypt is neither the ELCA's role nor the role of Americans in context."

Despite the new challenges and realities brought on from recent events in Egypt, Smith sees this historical moment in the history of Egypt as an opportunity for learning and reflection.
"The ELCA is privileged to be present in this very rich moment," said Smith.
While some people may worry about political, religious and safety concerns for the ELCA missionaries, Smith affirms the ELCA's commitment to local companions in Egypt.

"As we follow our companions, as they navigate their new realities in Egypt, our accompaniment relationships will not waver and will remain strong," says Smith.  "If you speak to our mission personnel, each and every one will (affirm this)."

Read More

Learn more about these partner churches and church-related organizations in Cairo, served by ELCA missionaries:

Read Nygard's reflection about their experience fleeing Egypt and the response from friends and congregations in the U.S. during their time at home.