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The Unusual Friendship of Bassim and Pastor Peter

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

Spring 2023

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“Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him …” (Mark 1:41)

Dear friends,

I remember Peter with his big smile when he was a student at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (ETSC). Since his graduation in 2019, he has been serving a rural church in Upper Egypt for four years. You may wonder what the big deal is about this. It is because there is a kind of culture shock for our graduates once they arrive in rural villages for ministry after studying for four years in a metropolitan city, Cairo. When the congregation is in conflict, their trauma is beyond imagination.

Peter was sent by the Synod of the Nile to a congregation in the village of Oalandoul near Malawi. Despite its almost centennial history with many famous Western missionaries, there were a very small number of attendees at the Sunday service. Peter told me, “less than the number of my fingers with no children.” In a typical Upper Egypt area, Peter’s congregation would be a center for Christians, a minority group in society. Yet, it was not. When the previous pastor left, the church was split into two around two extended families. There was not much Peter could do. In Arabic, he explained what he did, “shweya shweya – little by little.” He visited members, played soccer with children, and invited teens to his house. Now the church has grown with about 100 adults and 150 children and teens at Sunday school.

It was during the first week of Peter’s parish ministry that he met Bassim who has Down syndrome. He is a 22-year-old young man born into a poor farmer’s family with seven children. When Bassim’s father described him as a “beast,” Peter instantly knew that Bassim was neglected and even physically abused at his own home. He could not read or write. When Peter talked to him with his characteristic smile, Bassim suddenly hugged him and said, “I want to live with pastor Peter.” It was an unexpected suggestion at the first meeting. But Peter responded favorably thinking that Bassim needed protection for the time being. With the parents’ consent, Bassim moved to Peter’s house inside the church.  

Peter decided not to send Bassim back to his home. In 2020, Peter was infected by the Coronavirus and left the church to stay at his parents’ house. While Peter was away, Bassim did something he had never done before. After asking where Peter was, Bassim took a bus alone to a nearby city. At its train station, he kept on asking people “Where is pastor Peter?” People reported this to the police and they eventually called Bassim’s father through the local police station. Everybody in the village was surprised to hear about this strange incident. Since then, Peter and Bassim are almost inseparable. In the morning, Bassim goes to his father’s field to help with farm work, and at sunset returns to have dinner with Peter. He attends evening meetings every day and joins Peter in his pastoral visits.

Peter confessed that Bassim often voices oracles like a prophet. One day, he pointed to a house where a disabled person lived. Peter did not hesitate to knock on the door and had a conversation with the family. Bassim introduced Peter to more houses where people with disabilities lived regardless of whether they were Christian or Muslim. Eventually, the session of the congregation decided to invite those with disabilities to the church once a month. To facilitate these meetings, the congregation sends motorcycle taxis called Tuktuks to each person’s house. At the meeting, church members share a meal while having various conversations. At the end of the meeting, the guests return to their homes by Tuktuks with gifts and pocket money. The congregation spends about 4,000 Egyptian pounds (about 200 USD) each month on this outreach which is equivalent to a pastor’s monthly salary.

As a result of Bassim’s initiative, Peter and the congregation opened their eyes to a new area of ministry. According to Peter, the Egyptian church as a whole does not have room to do this type of ministry. He explained that the most urgent issue is raising awareness that physical or mental disabilities are not the result of sin or punishment.

There was also good news for Peter. He sent us pictures of his engagement. He met his fiancé at a Christian gathering last year. She was working with college ministries. In Egypt, a couple typically marries after a period of engagement. They plan to get married this spring. Peter’s fiancé graciously understands what Peter does as a pastor in a rural village. At the end of our conversation, I cautiously asked about Bassim again. Smiling as big as if he had known what I was thinking, Peter continued, “We’d like to provide a separate apartment for Bassim in the church.” Peter added that his fiancé even joked with Bassim, “You need to teach Peter how to behave well.”

ETSC will begin a new semester in early February. The hybrid format of online and on-campus classes is almost established after a transitional period since the breakout of COVID-19. Last fall, with the support of the PC(USA), teachers’ offices were renovated, and each professor has a private office for the first time. As always, we thank you for your support and participation in theological education for our students.

Associates for Ecumenical Partnerships in Egypt

Esther and Noah

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