“When we landed in Egypt and drove through the Sinai,” said Janessa Fisk, senior MAR student at the North American Lutheran Seminary, “my first thoughts were, ‘Wow, the Israelites walked here for 40 years, and there is nothing.’ It is gorgeous, rugged, desert hills and mountains and sand, and that’s it. That’s all there is.”
This summer, a group of students—including Janessa and her husband, Justin, a senior MDiv. student at the NALS—alumni, and staff from the NALS and Trinity School for Ministry traveled to Egypt for a mission-discipleship trip they dubbed “a pilgrimage of listening.”
“I wanted to be as much of a dry sponge as I could,” said Janessa. “I really wanted to learn absolutely as much as my brain can handle about what the church is doing there and what the culture is like.”
The learning started immediately upon their arrival. “I realized I was in a different place,” said Justin, “when I sat down in a mid- to late-80s Suzuki eight-seater that was seven feet long. Then when we started to drive, we were in the middle of the road—and you just know you’re in a different place.” Justin and Janessa laughed upon recalling that memory, as it was nothing compared to traffic in Cairo, which put Janessa in mind of “an entire city of formula-one race car drivers.”
In all seriousness, though, the Fisk’s trip to Egypt opened their eyes to the dynamic and far-reaching work that the church is accomplishing in that nation. From the Anglican Church in Cairo to St. Catherine’s Monastery at the base of Mt. Sinai, Christians in Egypt are sharing the gospel and loving their neighbors even at the risk of their own lives. One such story is that of Simon,* a convert from Islam to Christianity, who worships “incognito” so that he will not have to flee the country or face death. Even so, Egyptian Christians are not living in fear. “There is danger,” Janessa said, recounting a conversation she had while in Cairo, “but we’re not trapped by that fear. The Lord is trustworthy and fully in control. And regardless of what we might be dealing with in whatever culture we’re in, Christians don’t need to live in fear because we are united to the One who is peace.”
Such an attitude encapsulates the work of many Christians in Egypt, especially those of the Anglican diocese in Cairo and Alexandria. “I was absolutely amazed at the [boldness] of the ministries happening there,” said Justin. “The scope of ministry is massive. And it is led by a lot of creative people who are filled with the Spirit of God, coming together and using whatever resources possible to help—” the poor, the refugee, the child, the Muslim.
All of these efforts boil down to what Justin found to be the answer to an essential question: What does it mean to evangelize in an Islamic country? “It’s relationships,” he said. “You just have to be there for people, care for people when they need help, be there for somebody consistently, and talk about Jesus as you get the opportunity—because that’s what Jesus did. That’s how he taught his disciples. Go out two by two and be with people.”
It was surprising to both Justin and Janessa how often this answer was reaffirmed throughout their entire trip. They heard from Anglicans, Catholics, and Coptics, and all of them—in their own way—“exhorted us to go out and love people because people are so hungry for love,” said Janessa. She recalled how three Muslim students walked the group from a church in Alexandria to the train station, and how “they loved us so sweetly.
“I think that’s part of what struck me so much,” she said, “was being loved so well by someone who’s not a Christian. It was convicting because here are people who are not motivated by Christ to love God and their neighbor, and yet they cared for us as though we were kings and queens.” This memory gives rise to the question, “Would we have done that for them?”