ELCA NEWS SERVICE
February 3, 2011
ELCA Missionaries Left Egypt with Mixed Feelings, Look Forward to Return
CHICAGO (ELCA) - The Rev. Peter C. Johnson, one of 10 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) missionaries and family members evacuated from Egypt this week, said the group left the country reluctantly, well aware of the colleagues and friends they left behind who eagerly await their return.
The 10 missionaries and family members are now in St. Paul, Minn., their temporary home until they are able to return to their assignments when the crisis in Egypt subsides. Members of Nokomis Heights Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, a congregation Johnson previously served, met the missionaries at the airport. Members also provided the missionaries with supplies and personal items, such as winter coats. Members of Roseville (Minn.) Lutheran Church, longtime sponsors ELCA missionaries and the apartments the missionaries are staying at, also provided support.
Johnson, an ELCA pastor who serves as pastor of St. Andrew's United Church and director of St. Andrew's Refugee Ministries, Cairo, Egypt, said in an interview with ELCA News that during their last few days in Egypt, the missionaries experienced "many instances of friendship, companionship and well-wishing" from Egyptians.
Egyptians who know the missionaries didn't want them to leave, Johnson said. "They understood why we were leaving, but they were also looking forward to us returning," he said.
Johnson said the missionaries were never threatened directly during the past week but were subject to the general chaos in the city. "We heard gunfire in our neighborhoods. There were times when we were insecure and even afraid for sure," he said.
"But there were mixed feelings about leaving," Johnson said. "We're called to serve in the context. Always in these circumstances we leave people behind -- people who are friends and colleagues, people we've learned to love and work with. We feel that our departing was necessary, to take time to let things simmer down before returning to the context."
While the missionaries are in St. Paul, they will debrief their experiences with ELCA Chicago-based staff and counselors, meet with sponsors and visit congregations to tell their stories. They will also share information about the ELCA's ministry in Egypt, which serves the local Christian community and the refugee population, Johnson said.
"We hold in prayer those primary places of engagement, but we also are hopeful that the process that is underway in Egypt can be a peaceful struggle," Johnson said. "In all of the congregations we visit, we will offer prayers for peaceful discernment that can further develop. We think about and hold in prayer our friends who remain and were unable to evacuate. We think about those people in Egypt who are even more vulnerable now."
In the past week, Johnson said the missionaries received many messages from ELCA members and others via phone, e-mail and social media channels.
"There has been a tremendous outpouring of support for all of us. That's been a real gift," he said. Johnson said he even heard from a former refugee from Egypt now living in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Johnson said the missionaries were also grateful for the assistance provided by members of Nokomis Heights Lutheran Church. The congregation sponsors the Johnsons and other ELCA missionaries, providing financial support through the ELCA, he said.
Nokomis Heights is located near the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Members, who have been watching events in Egypt closely in the past week, quickly organized to provide for the missionaries' needs when they arrived, said the Rev. Susan K. Debner, pastor of Nokomis Heights. The congregation stands ready to assist as long as the missionaries are in St. Paul, she said in an interview.
"We're ready to be 'family,'" Debner said.
The congregation has a tradition of laying hands on newly baptized members, confirmands and others, and praying for them, Debner said. "As a way of engaging the congregation, we had stand-ins (for the missionaries) last Sunday and we prayed for them. We named everyone we could and prayed for all we can. Our prayers are being answered beautifully because we know they're safe. We prayed for all of Egypt and the communities the ELCA serves."
The 10 ELCA missionaries and family members left Cairo Feb. 1 with other U.S. citizens on a U.S. State Department charter flight. The missionaries were among hundreds of U.S. citizens who were advised by the U.S. government to leave the country amid escalating protests against the government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. With the ELCA group was a missionary of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), an ELCA full communion partner church.
The group flew to Istanbul, Turkey, and continued on to Minneapolis, arriving Feb. 2. The missionaries are staying temporarily in ELCA-owned apartments on the campus of Luther Seminary, St. Paul. The apartments are normally used by missionaries who periodically return to the United States on home assignment. Luther is one of eight ELCA seminaries.
Evacuated with Peter Johnson were his wife, Michele, and their three children. Other evacuated ELCA missionaries from Egypt are Erin Odgers, Lansdale, Pa., a teacher at St. Andrew's Refugee Ministries; the Rev. Mark and Linda Nygard, Minot, N.D., who both serve at the Evangelical Theological Seminary, Cairo; and Paul Schick, an intern at St. Andrew's United Church, and his wife Stephanie. Schick is a student at Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, an ELCA seminary. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) missionary is Denise England.
Information about the ELCA's engagement in Egypt is at http://www.ELCA.org/egypt on the ELCA website.
Information about sponsoring ELCA missionaries is at http://www.ELCA.org/globalmissionsupport on the ELCA website.
About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with approximately 4.5 million members in more than 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.
For information contact:
John Brooks, (773) 380-2958 or firstname.lastname@example.org