Posted by: Titus Presler | February 1, 2011

Episcopal mission family’s continuity in Cairo turmoil highlights contribution of missionaries

The continuing presence of an Episcopal mission family in Cairo, Egypt, during the current crisis in that country illustrates the important role that missionaries play in a church’s international and cross-cultural relationships and ongoing work.

Paul-Gordon and Lynne Chandler are continuing to minister at the international Anglican church in the Maadi section of Cairo, as they have since going there in 2003, according to a Jan. 31 news story by Matthew Davies for Episcopal News Service.

“If ever I’ve had a role to play, it’s right now,” says Paul-Gordon of his work as rector of the parish, which both has a multinational congregation of professional people and hosts a number of other congregations, such a Sudanese group that was meeting there when I visited the Chandlers in January 2007.

The “critical role” that the article rightly describes the Chandlers as playing as Episcopal mission partners is not especially dramatic – no supplying meals to people on the barricades, tending the wounded or playing some consultative role in the political dynamics of the crisis.

Chandler is simply serving as a contact point for a number of people who are staying in Cairo who are related to the parish: “I’ve just been going through the church directory and calling people I’ve not heard from and finding if they’re still here,” he told ENS.  He hopes to resume worship services this coming weekend if the curfew is lifted.

This faithful ministry offered in the place of service highlights the importance of perennial missionary presence around the world on behalf of any particular church or denomination, in this case the Episcopal Church USA.  As crisis breaks out, Episcopalians – or Methodists or Presbyterians or Lutherans or whoever – can ask: “Who do we as a church have on the ground there?  How are we as a church connected with Christians and others who are struggling with this situation?  How can we connect with the situation through the people we have who are pursuing the mission of God there?”

Such mission-connectedness has been highlighted in other crisis situations as well.  The role of missionaries was focused during the Haiti earthquake crisis of January 2010 and following months through the work of Ogé Beauvoir and Lauren Stanley (see the posting of 16 January 2010 on this blog), though Stanley’s service was abruptly and mystifyingly terminated at mid-year.  Missionaries in South Africa were key interpreters of events to the wider church during the anti-apartheid struggle.  The late Randy Giles was an important link during the anti-conversion agitation in Tamil Nadu in the south of India in the 2000s, as was Ross Kane as a Young Adult Service Corps missionary for the southern Sudan situation.

Especially helpful as missionaries are for understanding crises, however, that is not their main role.  Rather, they serve as sacraments of the deep relatedness Christians have with one another as members of the Body of Christ across the otherwise difficult-to-cross divisions of culture, language, nationality and geography.  What they do may be dramatic and earth-shaking or it may be ordinary and humble.  Whatever they are doing, it is crucially important both in the place of service and for us who know them, pray for them and learn from them in the home church.

Beyond their ministries in the Maadi parish, in the Diocese of Egypt and in numerous inter-faith settings, Paul-Gordon and Lynne Chandler have important ministries through their writing as they interpret settings of the Arab world for Christians in the rest of the world.  Paul-Gordon is author of Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road: Exploring a New Path Between Two Faiths and Songs in Waiting: Spiritual Reflections on Christ’s Birth: A Celebration of Middle Eastern Canticles.  Lynne is the author of Embracing a Concrete Desert: A Spiritual Journey Towards Wholeness.

The Chandlers and other longterm missionaries illustrate the importance of extended commitment in a particular setting.  This is distinctly out of fashion in the mainline churches, where the notion has taken hold that there is something suspicious about longterm missionary engagement – that it must be that the missionary is in a rut, hanging onto power, and that the indigenous hosts are dependent, co-dependent or whatever.  Of course, that can happen, but the bias against longterm engagement is ill-informed and prejudicial.  Ironically, those who inveigh against longterm assignments are often quite content to hold onto their own jobs longterm at home!

Deep knowledge of a people, their culture and religious dynamics – the deep knowledge those of us on the outside find so valuable – comes only with longterm engagement.  Prior to their appointment when Jane Butterfield led the Mission Personnel Office of the Episcopal Church, the Chandlers served previously elsewhere in north Africa, and each of them grew up in missionary families in west Africa.  That is the immersion out of which their significant ministries arise, both in Maadi and for the sending church.  And notice: Even as the United States is encouraging its citizens to return home, Paul-Gordon says nothing about leaving during this crisis!

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  1. […] posting yesterday reflected on their faithfulness as exemplary of the important role longterm missionaries […]


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