We are south of the equator, so this time of year is our summer. It has been very hot and unfortunately seriously dry. Our church work, however, has NOT been dry, but lively and refreshing. Presbytery meetings here are held yearly and last from Friday to Sunday, beginning with committee meetings on Friday afternoon. We have only seven churches in our presbytery spread out over this large state. The last few meetings have been in a meeting center in the capital, Salvador. We hosted the January 2017 meeting. It was a wonderful experience for us and those who attended. There were about 40 people there. Our church members have the gift of hospitality and are realizing they can serve the Lord by opening their hearts and homes to others. They are good cooks, so their meals are delicious. The attendees spent two nights and ate five meals with us. They slept in our homes and ate together at the church. Our church used to have an elementary school, so it has a small but nice kitchen in which large meals can be cooked. The presbytery meeting began with a meeting of the Adult Group on Friday afternoon.
Note: An Outreach team of ten traveled in January to Lebanon and Syria. They visited some of the 18 Presbyterian churches in Syria, meeting with pastors and church members. Jack Baca, an Outreach trustee, reflects on a part of the journey…
One of the key affirmations of Christian faith is that, in Jesus, God came to be with us. The angel said to Joseph that the child to be born would be called precisely that: Immanuel, God with us. We Christians take our clues for how we are to live from what God did and does in Jesus, and so we, too, go to be with others. This is an expression of love: to do what it takes to be with others.
This ancient theology kept running in my mind on Saturday, the second full day of our time in the Middle East, as we spent the better part of the day traveling. Early in the morning we left Beirut for the arduous trip through that bustling city, into the countryside and through farmland, across the border, and into Syria, as we made our way to Latakia, on the coast.
Warm greetings from Cairo. We have completed our short January term, when the students have intensive classes over a three week period. During this term, we invite international scholars to come and share their knowledge with our students. In past years, we have had people like Professor Iain Torrance, President Emeritus of Princeton, and Professor Mark Labberton, President of Fuller.
This year we were fortunate to have Professor Jostein and Professor Gerd-Marie Adna from the VID Specialized University in Stavanger, Norway with us. Both of them taught classes to the senior students: Jostein on New Testament and Gerd-Marie on Religious Symbolism. Neither are strangers to ETSC, having visited on a number of occasions in the past. Gerd-Marie first came to Cairo in 1985 to study Arabic and stayed for just under a year. During this time, she found the seminary library a haven of peace and started to develop a lasting friendship with ETSC. Gerd-Marie married Jostein in 1987, and she introduced him to Cairo in 1990.
This past weekend was a four-day holiday in Taiwan to commemorate the February 28th memorial when thousands of people were slaughtered by incoming forces from China in 1947. Many of the Taiwanese leaders were taken away at night and jailed or killed. For years this was a taboo subject, but as democracy flourished here it became a part of the history of this land.
Last year we took a group of pastors to Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina (see September 2016 update). We planned to have a retreat here in Taiwan for these pastors six months after our return, to check in with each other and to see how this experience shaped them and is still shaping them. We had pastors from every corner of Taiwan join in this experience, so Sunday afternoon they drove down from the high mountains, or took a several hour train ride from south, east, north, and west.
One of the most frequent observations that I hear when facilitating exchanges with Outreach Foundation partners in other countries is how joyous they are despite the often-difficult circumstances that they face. I often hear, "Can some of that bliss be brought back home?" There is no doubt that the adventurous thrill of an international visit combined with the naturally hospitable disposition of so many cultures creates the conditions for delightfully memorable interactions. However, when the excitement of the trip fades to make room for the routine and struggles of our lives as individuals and churches, the relationships that are built give us a sense of fulfillment that outlasts our visits.
We were five pastors and five lay leaders who came from Oregon, Indiana, Nebraska, California, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. As the team leader, I was the only person who had actually met everyone before we gathered in Lebanon and then headed into Syria for 10 days and 9 nights to meet with congregations and pastors of the National Evangelical (Presbyterian) Church. On either side of our time in Syria, we spent days in Lebanon meeting with Outreach Foundation partners who are doing ministry with Syrian refugees, or, as is the case with Near East School of Theology, training the next generation of leaders to serve the Church in Syria. The ten of us quickly became a family,