Stories from the Global Church

Here you will find stories from the global church by ELCA global missionaries, scholars, and churchwide staff, brought to you by the ELCA Global Church Sponsorship team.

Living amid violence in Egypt

Posted on November 1, 2011 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Mark and Linda Nygard are ELCA missionaries in Cairo, Egypt. Mark is the coordinator of graduate studies at Evangelical Lutheran Seminary in Cairo. To support the Nygards, or another of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to

Linda visiting with Brother Ruis of St. Anthony's Monastery in the desert southeast of Cairo.

Linda visiting with Brother Ruis of St. Anthony's Monastery in the desert southeast of Cairo.

Dear Friends Stateside,

I arrived back from summer home leave on Sept. 14th, Linda two weeks later due to the new grandbaby, Micah.  It was exciting to receive visiting professor, Bruce Eldevik, head librarian at Luther Seminary on Sept. 24 for three weeks of teaching and consultation. My own class on the history of Christianity in the Middle East from Napoleon’s time to the present began on Sept. 27.  And another two-week Arabic class at the International Language Institute began Oct. 9.  It is intensely challenging and exciting to be penetrating rather rapid conversation at times in class.  (Of course, I’m lost again at other times!)

I first heard about the Oct. 9  tragedy in Maspero, Egypt, (in which at least 27 civilian demonstrators were killed in violence with security forces) during the morning break the next day.  Fellow Arabic student, Heinrich from Norway asked me what I thought of it, and it was all news to me.  The streets were a bit subdued that evening as we made our way home, but at 11:30 p.m. we were aroused again by thousands of people marching past our apartment, bearing crosses and more coffins as they proceeded to the cathedral.  I participated in the three-day fast that the Coptic church’s Pope Shenouda declared, and we prayed for peace and common humanity to prevail.  We would ask you to join us in this prayer for Egypt —  that Muslim and Christian might live together, caring for each other.

The peace of Jesus,
Mark and Linda

Proud of graduates in Cairo

Posted on August 6, 2011 by Hand In Hand

Mark and Linda Nygard are ELCA missionaries in Cairo, Egypt, where Mark is a professor at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo. To support the Nygards,or another of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to

Vevian, Redda, and Fouad, looking happy in the graduation receiving line.

Vevian, Redda, and Fouad, looking happy in the graduation receiving line.

Aug. 5, 2011

Dear friends of the Egypt-Nygards,

On June 10, 22 graduates of Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (ETSC) walked across the platform of Heliopolis Presbyterian Church to receive their diplomas. Nineteen of them received the bachelor of theology degree and will serve as pastors in the churches of Egypt and Sudan. Three of them were Master of Arts in Theological Studies – our program. Let me introduce you to them and their theses. It will help you reflect on the work that you are part of at the seminary. We are proud of them.

• Redda Thabet Ibrahim is a seasoned pastor in his 40s serving a large church in Assiut. He was interested in Old Testament passages where Israel was commanded to destroy entire towns of those they conquered. To his Muslim neighbors, these verses seemed to suggest that our so-called religion of love also sanctioned violence. His thesis, “Some Explanations for the Command of Yahweh to War and Ban in the Book of Joshua,” addresses ways we can understand this.

• Fouad Shaker Fouad Sedky, an Egyptologist by training, explored what Jewish sources around the time of Christ had to say about an early Old Testament monotheist in a thesis, “Jethro in the Jewish Tradition:  Pagan or Proselyte?” Fouad is a presbyter in Helwan just south of Cairo, and serves the seminary as coordinator of the Organizational Leadership and Management program under me as well as head librarian.

• Vivian Farok Beshara is a pharmacist on the Delta who is fascinated by languages. She has taught Greek, studied Coptic, and mastered English besides her own native Arabic. Only such a person could have used all four languages in a single thesis, “Al-As‘ad Hibat Allah Ibn al-‘Assāl: His Contribution to the Formation of New Identity of Copts in Egypt through His Critical Translation of the Gospel of Luke.” Vevian argues that her 13th century scholar purposely avoided Muslim vocabulary in translating the third Gospel and suggests possible reasons why.

Sincerely in Him,
Mark and Linda Nygard

Signs of new religious friendships in Egypt

Posted on May 10, 2011 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Mark and Linda Nygard are ELCA missionaries in Egypt. Mark is the coordinator of graduate studies at Evangelical Lutheran Seminary in Cairo.

aAn Egyptian flag morphs into a Christian priest and a Muslim imam.

An Egyptian flag morphs into a Christian priest and a Muslim imam.

Happy Easter from the East.

On a wall across the street from the seminary there is a clever painting of an Egyptian flag that morphs into a Christian priest and a Muslim imam, embracing each other with one hand and making the sign of victory with the other.  The red part of the flag  is really the priest’s robe, and the black part turns out to be the imam’s, while the white in the middle with the Egyptian eagle upon is, in fact, actually the link between them.  I take it as a prophecy of new religious friendship and respect in a land that has been too often troubled by interfaith hostility and violence.

This prophecy has been struggling for shape in the past few months.   After the New Year’s church bombing in Alexandria, Mariam in the seminary’s international office told me that, the following Sunday, Muslim neighbors had come to her congregation, offering chocolates to worshipers on their way in and actually sitting through the services with the congregation.  It was as if to say publicly, “We Muslims share your sorrow and fear,” and, “If anybody tries to bomb this church, they’re going to take Muslims with them!”

Some of you were watching the demonstrations on Tahrir Square during the revolution when Christians responded in kind.  When we show that kind of respect for each others’ convictions, maybe we’ll find fresh ways to hear and speak these convictions across social barriers.

One of our convictions is that we have a Lord who died for us and rose from the dead.  That conviction was widely celebrated in Egypt this past week. Perhaps most memorable was a Presbyterian Good Friday service we attended in Giza that was supposed to run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., concluding with a potluck.   Our hostess knew about low levels of Western endurance, so she invited us to come just for the last hour and then eat with them.  As the last speaker got up to speak about 4:00, she was translated, “I know you have been sitting for a long time, now, so I won’t keep you.  We’ll limit ourselves to 17 hymns!” There was mild amusement at the joke, but it was only half a joke. Eight or 10 hymns later, each punctuated by another word of grace, we Americans straggled out, 45 minutes late.  Gasp.  There’s no question that here are people committed to the climactic News of the Day and in no rush to move on to other more mundane affairs!

Sincerely yours,
Mark and Linda Nygard

ELCA missionaries serving in Cairo back in the US

Posted on February 3, 2011 by Hand In Hand
Pastor Peter and son Liam at the Cairo Airport. Picture from the CNN website.

According to the latest ELCA news release, the 10 ELCA missionaries who serve in Cairo and family members are now in St. Paul, Minn., their temporary home until they are able to return to their assignments when the crisis in Egypt subsides. Members of Nokomis Heights Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, a congregation Johnson previously served and who now sponsors the Johnsons, met the missionaries at the airport. Members also provided the missionaries with supplies and personal items, such as winter coats. Members of Roseville (Minn.) Lutheran Church, longtime sponsors of ELCA missionaries and the apartments the missionaries are staying at, also provided support.”
Read more…

One of the members of St. Andrew United Church, where Pastor Peter and Intern Pastor Paul serve, filmed this video about recent violence at the church.

Pastor Peter commented by website on recent violence at their church:

Due to our location across from the High Court buildings, St. Andrew’s United Church of Cairo has seen much activity in our neighborhood: protesters, tear gas, gun fire, etc. A few nights ago, the church was broken into by looters, though it appears nothing valuable was taken from the property. The next day, members of the church took church valuables to their homes in several locations around Cairo for safe keeping. The facade of the Guild Hall and a few windows have been damaged by bullets. Although the door of the sacristy was broken, the sanctuary appears fine.

Robert O. Smith, ELCA Global Mission Director for the Middle East, noting that none of the church’s symbols were harmed during the incident, observed that these looters were likely looking for something to sell rather than an expressing any anti-Christian sentiment.

The missionaries left with “mixed feelings,” according to the news release, and with the people and companions of Egypt in their hearts.  They look forward to returning when they can.

Learning the Language Has its Moments

Posted on November 5, 2010 by Hand In Hand

Recently we found an old Larry Larson calendar with a cartoon of two Martians emerging from their flying saucer, trying to talk to a handful of curious humans.

Larry Larson cartoon

“Take me to your stove? … You idiot! Give me that book!”

One of the Martians is holding an English-Martian dictionary in his hands, the other Martian is obviously annoyed and is reaching for the dictionary as he says, “Take me to your stove? … You idiot! Give me that book!”

That’s the shape of Linda’s and my lives these days as we try to learn and speak Arabic. Our language skills are growing.  We can say many things: “I’d like to buy some potatoes,” and, “I know it’s hot, but would you turn down the air conditioning, please.” That’s progress, and we’re thankful for it.

On the other hand, Arabic speakers love to use consonants that don’t exist in Western languages, things that come from way down in one’s throat that are almost impossible for us to say.  I personally find the word for “sit” so difficult that I would rather just stand.  “Spoon” is tricky (better to eat with a knife), and the verb “know” can easily be mispronounced to mean something unspeakable in the language. The other morning as I tried to greet our faculty secretaries with a witty hello, I was bewildered by uproarious laughter.  I had just called them our dancing girls.

ELCA missionary Linda Nygard learns Arabic in Cairo.

That’s not the worst of it. Neither my scholarly Dutch colleague nor my Egyptian tutor understood the cartoon.  They just don’t know that phrase, “Take me to your leader.” Not only is my mouth handicapped when it comes to making the elegant Arabic sounds; culture doesn’t necessarily translate, either.

And we expect to help one another share the Gospel?!  Surely the missionary enterprise is an audacious business!
Yet St. Paul claimed that God’s power is made perfect in weakness, and no one is weaker than one who can’t even talk right – like us!   Yet God often uses these moments of mispronunciation and awkwardness to bring good humor and communicate things that really matter!  Thanks be to God!
The Rev. Mark and Linda Nygard are ELCA missionaries working at the  Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo.

Khalas…lakina liss (Finished…but not yet)

Posted on June 29, 2009 by Hand In Hand

Submitted from Cairo, by Abigail Sylvester
teen-construction-crew-on-rooftop-classroom-736047Khalas…lakina liss; this is how I feel about my upcoming departure from my role as Director of Adult Education at St. Andrew’s in Cairo, Egypt. I hate goodbyes, I would much rather say “see you later.” But this time it isn’t a cop out. I truly believe there is a “not yet” part to this story. I’m not done with Cairo and I’m not done with the refugee community that has evolved into friends and family. I can’t give exact dates, career goals, or itineraries of when I’ll visit or see folks again, but I am genuine when I say, “I’ll see you later.”

Much has been happening this spring: President Barak Obama made a guest appearance in Cairo, a construction crew managed to build an extra classroom on the top of the gatehouse which will allow us to serve many more children and adult students (pictured), and just today I received a precious “I love you, Ms. Abigail” drawing from Yasmine whose father attends adult English classes. There is so much to process and analyze as I say goodbye (or, finish… but not yet), but for now I simply want to enjoy these last days with people.