ELCA NEWS SERVICE
March 11, 2011
ELCA Missionaries Returning to Egypt
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Six missionaries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) will return to the ministries they serve in Egypt by the end of March. The six were among 10 missionaries temporarily evacuated from Cairo Feb. 1 on flights arranged by the U.S. government, because of protests against the government of former President Hosni Mubarak.
The ELCA missionaries, along with one missionary from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), flew to Istanbul, Turkey, and eventually arrived in St. Paul, Minn. Most have been staying in ELCA apartments reserved for missionaries on home assignment while in the United States.
ELCA leaders at the churchwide organization in Chicago made the decision about the missionaries' return after two ELCA staff members visited Cairo last week. The two were the Rev. Dr. Robert O. Smith, ELCA area program director for the Middle East, and the Rev. Peter Johnson, an ELCA missionary who serves as pastor of St. Andrew's United Church and director of St. Andrew's Refugee Services, Cairo. Smith and Johnson conducted an assessment of the current situation in direct consultation with ELCA companions in Egypt.
"After being present in Egypt with our Egyptian Christian companions and the refugee communities accompanied through St. Andrew's, I am very pleased that our ELCA missionaries are able to return to the context," Smith said. "I know that every one of our evacuated mission personnel is eager to return home to Egypt so they can resume the work to which God has called them in that place."
The ELCA missionaries serve partner churches and church-related organizations in Cairo, including:
+ St. Andrew's United Church, an international English-language ministry
+ St. Andrew's Refugee Services, an independent organization providing a variety of educational, legal and leadership services to refugees
+ Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, one the largest Christian Arabic language theological seminaries in the world
+ Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services, one of Egypt's largest development organizations
While in Cairo, Johnson and Smith spent time in Tahrir Square, seen in many television news reports during the uprising. Located near the St. Andrew's compound, Tahrir Square is "a gathering place for Egyptians wanting to participate in the formation of the new Egypt," Smith and Johnson reported.
The two also reported that there is a general awareness that security remains "loose" and the government "is in a fragile position."
The Rev. Stephen Nelson, ELCA director for global community, said the ELCA churchwide organization will recommend extra safety precautions for the missionaries who return.
ELCA missionaries returning to Egypt are Johnson; the Rev. Dr. Mark and Linda Nygard, Minot, N.D., who both serve at the Evangelical Theological Seminary, where he is graduate studies coordinator and she is a library volunteer; Erin Odgers, Lansdale, Pa., a teacher and volunteer coordinator at St. Andrew's Refugee Ministries; and Paul Schick, an intern at St. Andrew's United Church, and his wife, Stephanie. Schick is a student at Wartburg Theological Seminary, an ELCA seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, The seminary and the ELCA churchwide organization agreed that Schick would return to Cairo to complete his internship.
Johnson, who remained in touch with St. Andrew's while he was in Minnesota, remained in Cairo after the assessment. He will return to the United States briefly before returning with Odgers and the Schicks on March 30, Nelson said.
The Nygards left for Cairo March 9. Staff at the seminary requested their return as soon as possible now that classes have resumed.
Johnson's wife, Michele, and their three children will remain in the United States for the remainder of the school year, said Nelson, based on advice from Smith and Johnson.
Information about the ELCA's engagement in Egypt is at http://www.ELCA.org/egypt 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