Mission work generally brings with it plenty of pictures. Usually, there are hammers and paint brushes associated with those images, and many times those building projects revolve around a natural disaster of some sort. But if you ask the Rev. Beth Creekpaum what “mission” looks like, she’ll give you a different view.
“We are past the point in missions where mission has to physically have a project or have a vacation Bible school or have something that you do,” she said. “I think mission is so often more sitting down, having conversations, breaking bread together and worshiping together.
“Our country is in a culture of fear right now and I think it is good if more people have that fear broken by sitting at table and praying together, eating together and fellowshipping together.”
Beth is the pastor at Sandy Lake Presbyterian Church in Shenango Presbytery but doubles as a member of the Egypt Partnership Network, a national Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) organization that provides support to its Egyptian brothers and sisters who already have a long-standing relationship with regions in the United States like Shenango.
“The goal is partnership and relationship building,” Beth said of the Egypt Partnership Network.
In late September, Sandy Lake Church hosted five pastors and a church leader from the Presbyterian Church in Egypt (Synod of the Nile), a group that was touring the country visiting PCUSA churches and institutions. Dubbed the “Synod Six,” the group met in Louisville and traveled east, spending a bulk of their time in Pennsylvania in areas like Shenango, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, which also has a strong relationship with Egypt.
“They wanted to know what are the challenges of the church, what are the blessings of the church, how can we pray of you, how can you pray for us?” Beth said. “The goal wasn’t projects, but people. How do we build relationships? It was purely for these young leaders to know what’s going on in the church in the United States so they can take those stories home.
“Many of these leaders had never been out of the country. They now have names and faces with Americans so they can break some of the stereotypes, just like my people who had never met an Egyptian can have their stereotypes of Middle Eastern people broken, especially in times when our country and the Middle East are at odds. Having names, faces, people and stories puts skin on the problem and makes it a lot less scary.”
Sandy Lake Church provided an opportunity for the “Synod Six” to ask questions of those who gathered while also being available to respond to inquiries from the audience.
Organized in the summer of 2015, the Egypt Partnership Network reached out to Beth to be part of its leadership team at its inception, and following the birth of a child Beth accepted that call a year later. There were several reasons Beth was a logical fit to be part of this organization.
“Mission work in Egypt has been deeply rooted in the Shenango Presbytery area for more than 100 years,” she said. “The hotbed of people being sent to Egypt in the Nile Valley was coming out of this area and Westminster College. It was deemed that it would be a good idea to continue that partnership with this area and Egypt.”
Beth also traveled to Egypt while she was taking a course on the “History of Christianity in the Middle East” at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. She developed a passion for that area during her time studying and traveling to the country and has continued that connection into her ministry at Sandy Lake Church.
The goal of the partnership is to obviously continue to build relationships between the two countries.
“My hope would be that these trips continue, that the Egyptians come to America and Americans go to Egypt so that the bridges can continue to be built,” Beth said. “Right now it’s just in its baby phase; we’re only a little more than a year old. We’ll have to see what the Lord has in store for this group of people who are trying to form a partnership together.”
How this relationship will keep growing is unsure, but with spiritual guidance, Beth is confident the partnership will continue to thrive.
“My dream is that when we see brothers and sisters from a different place – whether we’re going there or they’re coming here – it makes them real, it makes the problems personal, and it makes the prayers more powerful and more personal,” she concluded. “My hope is that when we truly get to know one another, we see one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, we care about one another, we support the ministries that are important to them and them us, we pray for one another. And ultimately, I think we can learn from one another. How can we learn from one another so that we can become better ambassadors for Christ?”