Ten Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) missionaries arrived safely in Istanbul on Tuesday after they left Cairo on a chartered flight provided by the U.S. Department of State.
And a Minneapolis church congregation and ELCA seminary in St. Paul are getting involved to assist them after their long journey.
Members of Congress worked with the State Department on behalf of the missionaries to arrange the evacuations, said the Rev. Rafael Malpica Padilla, executive director, ELCA Global Mission.
The missionaries were among hundreds of U.S. citizens who were advised by the U.S. government to leave the country amid protests, some of them violent, against the government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The Rev. Stephen Nelson, ELCA director for global community, said the missionaries are scheduled to leave Istanbul today and will fly to Minneapolis through Amsterdam, Netherlands.
When they arrive, they will be met by members of Nokomis Heights Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, who will take them to St. Paul. They will be housed temporarily at apartments reserved for ELCA missionaries at the Luther Seminary campus in St. Paul, Nelson said. Luther is one of eight ELCA seminaries.
The apartments are “a place for missionaries to stay on home assignment,” Nelson said. Pastoral counseling services will be available for the missionaries when they arrive, and pastors and members from ELCA congregations, synods and seminaries will provide other forms of support.
The ELCA missionaries serve partner churches and church-related organizations in Cairo, including St. Andrew’s United Church, St. Andrew’s Refugee Ministries, the Evangelical Theological Seminary and the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services.
One of the missionaries, the Rev. Peter Johnson, pastor of St. Andrew’s United Church and director of St. Andrew’s Refugee Ministries, said the missionaries were treated well by Egyptians, according to Nelson.
They reported little difficulty driving to the airport in Cairo as they passed through many military roadblocks and citizen checkpoints set up to protect neighborhoods from violence and looters, Nelson said. Johnson and his wife Michele are from Minneapolis, and they have three children.
The ELCA missionaries will likely be in the U.S. for several weeks, Nelson said.
“We need to do a situation analysis and some re-engagement planning if and when that will be appropriate,” he said. The ELCA uses a set of criteria to determine when missionaries may return to a particular location, focusing on safety concerns, stability of government, whether infrastructure is functioning and other factors, Nelson said.
“Depending on how long they’re there (St. Paul), we will have various opportunities for them to visit congregations,” Nelson said. “They will be available to discuss our mission engagement in Egypt.”