In September, Roger Dermody, Deputy Executive Director for Mission for the General Assembly Mission Council, traveled with three GAMC colleagues to Lebanon and Egypt. He and Charles Wiley, Associate Director for Theology, Worship and Education, agreed to share some personal reflections from a trip that left them deeply humbled and grateful for the relational history and partnerships that are at the heart of Presbyterian mission.
I want to begin with these words from the Psalmist because this is what our Christian partners, who are living through the events of the Arab Spring, are experiencing.
“Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Truly God is my rock and my salvation; God is my fortress, I will not be shaken.” –Psalm 62:5, 6.
We visited numerous mission sites that our denomination has had the joy of initiating and being highly engaged with such as the Near East School of Theology, Hamlin Hospital, Ramses College, the Egyptian Bible Society and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Heliopolis, to name just a few. To say that it was a powerful and humbling experience to be asked to speak at the Heliopolis church on the tenth anniversary of September 11th is an understatement.
Following the service, I met a remarkable woman who was a member of the congregation. After getting to know one another, she grabbed my arm, looked me squarely in the eye and said, “When I read my daily devotions, it is not out of routine nor pious guilt. Rather, I read God’s Word daily because in the context of all that we are going through here, I am desperate for the encouragement, guidance, comfort and challenge to remain steadfast that it offers.”
I was deeply moved. Here was an older woman, just over five feet tall, standing courageously in the midst of a terrible storm, daily meeting with her Savior, the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ our Lord. If your daily devotions need a kick-start, then spend some time placing yourself in the context of our Middle Eastern Christian brothers and sisters, who long for time spent in God’s Word as the deer longs for flowing streams. May we remember to pray for them and humbly learn from their powerful example of faithfulness.
I was impressed by the depth of faith I encountered. In some cases, faithfulness in hardship stood out. In other cases, it was the flourishing of ministry regardless of circumstance that impressed me.
I was deeply touched as I listened to a group of Iranian Christians sing. The depth of their conviction as they praised our common Lord was truly humbling. Theirs is no cheap Christianity.
In light of the January revolution in Egypt, leaders from both the Egyptian Bible Society and the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, expressed that Christians in Egypt do not want there to be an emphasis on the protection of Christians. Instead, they believe human rights and justice for all should be uplifted. The head of the Bible society said that if we could do one thing in advocating for Egypt, it would be to advocate on behalf of moderate Muslims. Christians are getting squeezed a little, but it is the moderate Muslim who fears persecution. If the rights of moderate Muslims are curtailed, Christians will suffer in the long run.
We were also privileged to visit two very impressive conference centers: Beit El Salam, House of Peace, (pictured) and Beit El Wadi, House in the Valley, a new conference center halfway between Alexandria and Cairo, that houses 360 college students from one single Presbyterian Congregation! What amazing experience to worship with and see this number of young leaders being developed by a single congregation.