Dear friends and supporters,
Michael and Joanna are a couple who have been married for about six months. They both were students in our classes and finished the MDiv and MA programs respectively at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (ETSC). After graduation, they moved to Luxor, 450 miles (10 hours by car) south of Cairo. Living in this far southern city where almost everything is limited is challenging. This is especially true for Joanna, who grew up in Cairo, and for whom Luxor seemed farther away than Europe.
Luxor is a world-renowned tourist attraction called “the greatest open-air museum.” It is famous for archaeological sites such as the Luxor and Karnak Temples and the Valleys of the Kings and Queens. It was originally the ancient capital city, Thebes, during the Middle and New Kingdoms (roughly from the time of Abraham until the time of David). The city is not far from Nag Hammadi, where the Gospel of Thomas and other Gnostic texts were discovered.
Michael and Joanna were called to Luxor to organize a new congregation in a newly developed city, New Taba, on the outskirts of Luxor approximately 10 miles from downtown. New Taba is a local administrative city built to house government agencies and the university of Luxor along with planned residential quarters.
An unexpected chance arose for Christian ministry. Even though Egypt is an Islamic society with 90% Muslims, the constitution ensures “the right to practice religious rites within different houses of worship.” The government donated a piece of land to build a church in New Taba. The government had initiated planting a new church! Needless to say, this eased the tedious and laborious process of licensing a congregation that is usually required before a church building could be erected.
The Evangelical (Presbyterian) Church of Luxor, an established congregation, responded to this opportunity. They laid the foundations for a new congregation with a fundraiser and searched for a young pastor who has the vision and capacity to lead this whole new ministry. The Synod of Nile (Presbyterian Church of Egypt) responded by interviewing and sending Michael and Joanna, who was looking for a chance to serve a congregation. Michael is a quiet and reserved person interested in Christian spirituality, and Joanna has an outgoing personality interested in Christian education. As a couple serving together, they were well prepared for family and young adult ministries.
This situation explains why there were no members when they arrived even though the church building was being built. Instead of leading worship services, they began their ministry by visiting congregations to build relationships with local Christians. As the most up-to-date seminary graduates from Cairo in the region, they were often asked to give speeches to young people on practical issues such as dating and marriage. They also went to see patients and their families at a local cancer hospital as part of social ministry. They recently began a prayer meeting with a couple of families in their homes. In addition, Joanna, who used to be a teacher in Cairo, found a job as an English teacher. She told us that Luxor is far behind Cairo in education.
It is evident that Michael and Joanna are breathing new life into this remote area. We are very proud of them not only for their new ministry but for their decision to go all the way to Luxor. In fact, there are only a small number of churches in the south due to various reasons. With the qualifications they both have, they could have remained in Cairo, but they graciously chose to live in a place where Egyptians often experience a culture shock in terms of language, custom, technology, and climate (Luxor’s average temperature on a summer’s day is 105 F with some humidity).
One of Michael’s responsibilities is raising funds for the church building. So far, the construction has not stopped with the generous donation of the Evangelical Church of Luxor and the Synod of Nile. But Michael is still praying for more donations to complete the construction.
As for ourselves, we are busy preparing for the spring semester. We will teach or lead seven courses. ETSC decided to continue to offer all the classes online for the time being, but MDiv students will come and stay on campus for about half the semester. We will have them in person for worship services, Q&A sessions, mentoring groups, and fellowship. We hope that we will teach in-person beginning with the fall semester. We also plan to travel to the U.S. for Interpretation Assignment during the summer and to see friends and supporters virtually or in person.
Your support with prayers makes it possible for us to teach and learn from Egyptian students like Michael and Joanna. We thank you very much for your participation in our ministry at ETSC.
Esther Shin and Noah Park
This article was originally written by Esther Shin and Noah Park and was originally published on the Presbyterian Mission Agency website and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.