Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary organized a trip to Egypt in January 2016. The goal was to encounter the long history of Egypt as well as to get to know Christian and Muslim communities. Of the 37 participants from Canada, the United States and Australia, seven took the trip as a seminary course.
Together we engaged with texts from ancient Egypt that relate to the Bible and texts from the early church, as well as discussions about translating the Bible into Arabic, western missionary encounters with the Egyptian church, and socio-political changes since the Arab Spring.
As one of the students put it, “This course is unique in that we read texts from across a 3,000-year span.”
Whether in the course structure or in the trip itinerary, we were always conscious of not only encountering Egypt but also being encountered by Egypt, and the faithfulness, strength and resilience of the Egyptian communities.
We visited the Pyramids, of course, but there were also times when we were hosted by Muslim scholars to hear about Islam, and by the head of the Protestant churches in Egypt to hear about the church’s witness in its own context. The long history of Christianity in Egypt and the complex contemporary context of the church as a minority in Egypt have a lot to teach the church in the West about what it means to be faithful to the gospel.
One of the students reflected on what the Christian minority in Egypt teaches her about being a Mennonite living in North America as she negotiates the facets of her identity as a Mennonite who comes with privilege. This is indeed the kind of reflective work that can be sparked through travel and through encountering the church in a new context.
Students and church members who travel to encounter and be encountered by the church’s faithfulness will be more likely to view mission work as a mutual enterprise, experiencing God’s faithfulness not only through their ministries but also through those of others.
Safwat Marzouk is associate professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible at AMBS in Elkhart, Ind. He is originally from Egypt. Another learning tour, “Encountering Egypt: Past and present,” is scheduled from Jan. 25 to Feb. 8, 2020. To learn more, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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