[Photo credit: Chris Greer]
Brad, the 50-year-old leader of our group, looked me in the eye and sternly said, “If I tell you to get on the bus, get on the bus.”
Ten minutes later he issued another, more urgent warning: “Get all the Americans inside now!” His sharp tone and pointed words are not the kind that American missionaries in a Muslim country like to hear. But he needed to get our attention, so he shouted over the noisy chatter in the crowded church where we were doing our mission work. The locals who were receiving vision and dental care were told to grab their belongings and leave immediately.
Brad’s instructions brought an end to the conversation a few travel-mates and I were trying to have outside. Our incomplete Arabic and the villager’s broken English made our exchanges difficult, and I’m certain they were offended by our refusal to follow them home for tea, but retreating to safety trumped my desire to honor their hospitality.
We were ushered inside the tiny, ramshackle church turned makeshift vision and dental clinic as he repeated his command: “All Americans inside. Now.”
I was starting to get nervous.
The tension inside the church could be cut with a knife. At our leader’s command, the vision clinic volunteers quickly packed their gear. The Egyptian dental assistants tried to complete their final procedure of the day: pulling the long-since rotten teeth of a young Egyptian girl who’s family could not afford proper dental care. She winced at the pain and wriggled beneath the hurried hands of the dentists. Needless to say, her discomfort only added to the atmosphere of uncertainty.
As the dust began to settle, it became clear that the Muslim leaders in this tiny Egyptian village were becoming increasingly anxious over the humanitarian actions of 20 American Christians. As their anxiety levels rose, so did mine.
So I did the only thing I know to do when I’m anxious. I prayed.
I prayed for the safety of our team and for peace despite the uncertainty. I also prayed for the Egyptians I had met that day, both inside and outside of that little church, and a girl named Merna soon came to mind. Earlier that day I had sat on a rickety bench in Merna’s dirt-floor living room beside her ailing mother and little sister. Our team of four was there to visit, love and get to know Merna on behalf of her state-side sponsor. Through Healing Grace Ministries, a family in Dallas sponsored Merna, and their monthly allotment helped provide for her education and feed her entire family.
With a quiet voice and gentle smile she shyly answered our questions about her schooling and church activities. Before leaving, I asked what she was thankful for. Merna spoke four powerful words that are still resonating with me: “God is my shepherd.” The translator turned my next question into Arabic: “Did you learn that by reading Psalm 23?” Merna smiled broadly and nodded.
“The Lord is my Shepherd,” the Psalmist wrote. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Why? Because you, God, are with me.
Amidst the chaos in that tiny church, I uttered the words Merna had just reminded me of. God’s promises in Psalm 23 brought me the same peace they brought to her. I realized a nine-year-old Egyptian girl had mentored me in the things of God.
By Merna’s example I encountered God’s certain peace in an uncertain time.
Tonight, I write this post while sitting on a comfortable hotel bed in Minya, Egypt: proof that our team was able to safely leave the village. But Merna will not leave. Tonight she will not enjoy a hot meal and shower or lay down for sleep on crisp white sheets in a clean, safe room.
Merna lives in a never-ending state of anxiety and danger. She is a young girl with ill parents in a poverty-stricken village where Muslim/Christian tensions often escalate without a moment’s notice. Tonight, with a greater need for her Shepherd’s comfort and peace than I have ever experienced, she will pray Psalm 23 again.
Merna, and hundreds of other girls and boys like her, need sponsors like you. As I experienced this week in Egypt, sponsors like you and I need boys and girls like Merna. They need our sponsorship, and we need their mentorship.
Through a variety of Christian organizations, you can sponsor other children just like Merna, in villages just like hers, for only $30 a month. When you do, dedicated, local Jesus-followers build relationships and meet needs as they share the everlasting peace of Merna’s Shepherd. One day, if you visit Egypt or any other country where you are sponsoring a child in need, you will likely be mentored by that child, just as Merna mentored me.
Psalm 23:1-4 (ESV) “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.”
Here are two organizations through which my wife and I sponsor children. We proudly recommend both. Healing Grace Ministry serves the people of Egypt, and Food for the Hungry serves children all over the world. There are many more as well, which are easy to find through your local church.
Share with us in the comments:
Have you ever had an experience like this, in which a child (in every day life or on a mission trip) showed you a new side of faith? Share your story with us!