I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect on my first visit to Egypt. I had been well briefed by my son J.T. (short for Justin Thomas) who has spent a lot of time here recently. But there is always something about being in a place yourself that opens new horizons and understandings. His time had been mostly with teenagers as a counselor in a sports camp. My time would be with more than 500 pastors from across Egypt. They were coming to receive two days of leadership training from me and Dick Wynn, another staff member at Northland.
My first thought was, what business do I have teaching leadership to men who lead churches in a predominantly Muslim culture. My second thought was, are there really more than 500 pastors and leaders of churches in Egypt? The answer to the first question remains to be seen. The answer to the second was that this was just a small even select group of Christian leaders who were chosen for this training. Each one of them has committed to taking this training and over the next six months, they will train five more leaders. At the end of that time they will return for round two of what will eventually be six conferences on leadership.
Two things have stood out to me as I have interacted with these leaders. The first is their incredible joy. The smiles, and laughter, and enthusiasm that they display is contagious. You cannot help but have your heart lifted being around these people. There is no moaning about being a minority. Not excuses made due to their circumstances. They are simply excited to be following Jesus in this place and in this time. As a result they are doing more, with less, than most Christians in the west would ever dream of doing. Big lesson to be learned on that one.
The second thing that has stood out was their hunger to learn and grow. In Brazil a few weeks ago I saw that same hunger among church planters in the Amazon. But for them, they had very little formal education and the hunger was understandable because they had so little training. Here is Egypt it is different. These are all well educated leaders. Many of them with Masters degrees and seminary training. Yet here they are still hungering for whatever learning and skills they can gain. I contrast that with much of Christianity in the states in which people are becoming almost anti-intellectual. We seem to have forgotten the words of Paul to Timothy that we are to “study to show ourselves approved as a workman who rightly divides, (understand) the Word of Truth” 2 Timothy 2:6
My time with these brothers and sisters in Christ has encouraged me in ways I did not expect. The faith is alive and well here. They have figured out how to be a serving witness in their community. They pour their lives out for the sake of the Gospel. They are growing in unity, more than a dozen different denominations were represented in the group. They love Jesus and their neighbor with a reckless abandon.
I came here to teach but I knew that I would be a learner. I did not know that I would be so inspired and encouraged. Jesus you are good!