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Student Pastor Nazmy!

A Letter from Noah Park and Esther Shin, serving in Egypt

March 2020

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“He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, …31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches …’” Mark 4:30-32

At the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (ETSC), students and professors meet once a week for an hour in small groups. About two years ago in my group, I lifted up “patience” as an important element in congregational ministry. It was a week later that Nazmy, an MDiv student, visited me with a sheet of paper. On it someone had translated his words into English: “I am sorry Dr. Noah since my English is not good enough. But I really want to ask you this question. You told us last week that a secret of long ministry at a congregation is patience. I have served as a servant in my church but there is a man who always makes me angry. How can I be patient with him?” I could not help giving him a big smile while holding his two hands. Who in the world could answer that question? But we continued our conversation both in my poor Arabic and his poor English for an hour.

After this conversation, I learned more about him. He is from Minya — the Jerusalem of Egypt — where his wife and three children still live. He is in his late thirties. He used to work as a full-time “servant” at a congregation before coming to the seminary. The word “servant” needs explanation. In a humble way, it means all types of leaders in the church. In Nazmy’s case, he served as a fulltime assistant to an old pastor for seven years, basically doing what any pastor does. During this time, he earned a college degree and would eventually apply for the MDiv program at ETSC. He has already shown great patience. At the seminary, he took some courses with Esther and me. We both found him very diligent and passionate. As his note showed, he is humble, honest, serious, and straightforward.

He began ministering as a student pastor last summer. This is one of the requirements that he must complete before his upcoming graduation in May. Each weekend he travels more than 500 km from Cairo to take care of a congregation at Girga, located south of Suheg. According to Pastor Sameh, the internship program coordinator at ETSC, there are only four Presbyterian pastors ministering to congregations south of Suheg. This means that, for about a distance of 400 km to the south of Suheg, there are only four organized churches in Egypt. Actually, the Girga congregation did not have a pastor for four years before Nazmy arrived despite its almost hundred-year-long history. This place in Upper Egypt is the place that he has chosen to serve after graduation. Recently I asked him why he felt called to serve in Upper Egypt. He replied, “Doctor! There are not many people who want to serve in Upper Egypt. I made up my mind to serve there before coming to the seminary.”

Our MDiv students spend three summers taking part in internships. Last summer, Nazmy was sent to the Girga congregation. He found that its members had waited a long time for a pastor and during this time had managed to avoid dealing with any internal issues. He also found that his Minya dialect was not very different from the Girga dialect. This gave his wife and him confidence that they were called to this congregation. Currently, there are six Coptic orthodox churches and two non-Presbyterian churches in the town. This is a good sign that there are a sizable number of Christians but that they are probably not very active. He has begun to visit people in the town every Saturday and plans to visit more people after graduation so that they feel comfortable with the Presbyterian church. He also wants to serve the larger society through social services as part of a focus on congregational ministry. To my surprise, he told me about a plan that the congregation had to build a new church building, though he said that the building would probably not be completed for a few years. Nonetheless, it sounded to me like the plan was already being implemented.

A Matthew 25 Church envisions “church vitality.” In Egypt, our graduates and graduating students are key players for vitalizing local congregations, especially those far from Cairo. Building up the church may seem as if it happens very gradually but, in my observation, this is how the kingdom of God grows in Egypt. I understand that most of the students will do their ministries in challenging situations. As Nazmy demonstrates, however, our students are committed servants, and we can be proud that we are educating them to be leaders of the church. That is why I call ETSC itself a miracle that I witness every day. Nazmy and other students — both those in ordained ministry programs and those in non-ordained ministry programs — are like “mustard seeds” in the “field” of the Arab world. As Jesus says in Mark 4, the mustard seed “grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches …” The kingdom of God is coming now!

We thank you for your continued prayers and support. In supporting us you have participated in this meaningful ministry at ETSC. This summer we will be in the U.S. for continuing education and Interpretation Assignment. We look forward to seeing you.

Noah and Esther

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