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 his voice rose above the noise as he said, “Get all the Americans inside right now.” And the somewhat agitated crowd of locals were told to leave.
His 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 my desire to retreat to safety trumped my desire to honor their hospitality.
We were ushered inside the tiny ramshackle church turned makeshift vision and dental clinic as Brad repeated his command – “All Americans inside. Now.”
I was starting to get nervous.
Once inside, the vision clinic volunteers quickly packed hundreds of eyeglasses while the Egyptian dental assistants tried to hold down a nine year old girl whose rotten teeth were being pulled without anesthesia. Needless to say, her shrill screams of absolute pain only added to the atmosphere of uncertainty.
This was not my first trip to Egypt. Seven years earlier, before the revolutions of 2011 and 2013, I served the poor in Cairo without an ounce of fear. Perhaps I was naive. Perhaps Christians in Egypt were safer then. Regardless, today the humanitarian actions of twenty American Christians were making the Muslims in this tiny village a bit anxious. Which, as I mentioned already, made me a bit anxious.
So I did the only thing I know to do when I’m anxious. I prayed.
I prayed for the girl in the make-shift dental chair and then I prayed for our situation at large. As she continued to scream, another little Egyptian girl came to mind. Her name was Merna, and just twenty minutes earlier we sat on a rickety bench in her dirt-floor living room beside her ailing mother and little sister. Our team of four was there to visit, love, and gather information about Merna for 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 small voice and gentle smile she shyly answered our basic 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.
Half an hour later, amid the chaos in that tiny church, I uttered the words Merna had just reminded me of. And God’s promises in Psalm 23 brought me he same peace they brought to her. Then and there 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 tension escalates 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. And as I experienced this week in Egypt, sponsors like you and me need boys and girls like Merna. They need our sponsorship. And we need their mentorship.
Through a variety of 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. And one day, when 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.
There are two organizations through which my wife and I sponsor children. We proudly recommend both.
Healing Grace Ministry serves the people of Egypt
Food for the Hungry serves children all over the world