By Kara Woolsey
Ever since Muren Church of God in Winslow, Indiana, first partnered with Ken and Keli Oldham, Church of God pastors to the Middle East, the idea of a short-term trip had been tossed around. But what would it look like? And would it be worth it?
With little experience connecting with Global Strategy and the church abroad, Muren Church of God had concerns about the purpose of such a trip. If the congregation couldn’t assist in physical labor or a project of some kind, was it good stewardship to use funds to send one or more individuals halfway around the world? Would donors understand the purpose behind their contribution for such a trip? And would anyone even be interested in going? With media on the Middle East focusing on turmoil and negative events, would the congregation have anyone to step forward to join the adventure?
Missions coordinator Kara Woolsey moved forward with a Field of Dreams approach. “If you plan it, they will come.” And that’s exactly what happened when Autumn Bailey and Shawna Robertson joined Kara, forming the team that would make the trip; they were eventually joined by Debbie Taylor, of Global Strategy, and husband Bob.
Through the months leading up to the February 2018 trip, the team completed Global Strategy’s training program and was in regular contact with the Oldhams through email and video calls. Becoming more culturally aware through the training and focusing on deepening their relationship with the Oldhams would prove to be two crucial pieces of the puzzle that set the trip up for the greatest success and ultimately shape their hearts long past the short-term trip itself.
What it looked like
From the nightfall landing in Cairo to the first steps out into the hazy sun the next morning, the team took in the vibrant Egyptian culture with all five senses. The Oldhams thoughtfully prepared an itinerary that allowed a climatic build, from the history, diversity, and blend of ancient and modern in Cairo to the heart and hospitality of the Church of God congregations in Alexandria.
“I’ll never forget our first day in Cairo. We were introduced to chicken shawarma, stood in a cavern believed to have housed the Holy Family during their time in Egypt, and got our first look at the city from the glittering waters of the Nile,” recalls Woolsey. “It was clear they wanted us to fall in love quickly.”
And fall in love they did. Cairo offered the group the opportunity for bucket-list moments, such as a pyramid-gazing camel ride and listening to the reverb of their humming of “Amazing Grace” in a 4,000-year-old burial chamber. At the same time, the days were balanced with opportunities to share in group worship with Cairo Christian Fellowship, connect with Oldhams’ friends and neighbors in Maadi’s international community, and share meals and laughter at the Church of God villas. The weaving together of the bucket-list moments with the intimacy of the connection time really helped the team connect the dots as they approached the day of travel to Alexandria.
“We loved Cairo, but I don’t know that we were fully prepared for how the incredible people of Alexandria would overwhelm us,” reflects Robertson.
It was during the team’s days in Alexandria that perhaps the trip’s biggest return on investment took place. Four hours north of Cairo on the sparkling Mediterranean Sea, Alexandria has a concentration of multiple Egypt Church of God congregations, each of which left powerful memories in the hearts of the team. The team’s final days in Egypt offered time in pastors’ homes, a meal shared at the House of Joel Conference Center, and opportunities to learn and share in the vision of each congregation and what God is doing in their midst.
“We went on this trip, expecting to carry the light of Christ, and I believe we did that. But we came home having been ministered to,” Bailey shares.
For Muren Church of God, this trip begins what they hope will be a pattern of connection with their Living Link partners, as they begin to envision sharing with Mike, Heather, and Maddy Webb in Tanzania in the future. Back at home, the team will soon share their Egypt experience in a unique gala on May 12, open to the public by ticket. This event will bring together the girls’ personal takeaways with a traditional Egyptian meal and a keynote address by Global Strategy’s director, Andrew Gale. (For information on this gala, click here to visit the Muren church’s Facebook page.)
Woolsey hopes that other Living Link partners and congregations will consider opportunities to connect globally in ways similar to what Muren CHOG experienced during their Egyptian stay.
“When we first talked to the Oldhams about this trip, Ken answered some of our concerns very simply. He told us that when we returned from Egypt, we would have the ability not just to care but to care differently. Places in the news would become places we’d walked. ‘Christians in Egypt’ would bring to mind a picture of those we came to love and know personally. We can better pray for them, support them, and actively participate in their ministry,” Woolsey explains.
Experience Egypt and the vibrant Church of God there for yourself! Two trips, or discipleship service experiences, are planned in the coming year. Click here to learn more about these trips.
Connect with the Church of God globally! For more information, click here to visit the Global Strategy website and explore the wide-ranging work of the Church of God globally.