Thanks for writing. I am thankful you are prayerfully and lovingly looking out for your daughter and son-in-law, and by extension all of us.
There are certainly momentous changes going on in Egypt right now. We are watching very carefully. One eye takes in the physical dangers, risks, and developments, while the other eye watches what is harder to see: the spiritual ramifications and possibilities. Ironically, civil and sectarian strife—more than times of peace and prosperity—often coincide with openness to the Gospel. The bulging churches after 9/11 are an example of that.
I want to give you a direct answer to your direct question. You have asked when we know the time to evacuate our team. Without stating it, you are really asking when your family members’ personal safety (and possibly their lives) are more important than their ongoing witness on the ground. This is not an easy question, nor is there an easy answer. Let me speak to your question at two levels.
First, we have thought these things through at length at a practical level. Knowing that our work and ministry takes us to volatile areas, we have a contingency plan that does not rely on emotion or reaction. For years without respite, Egyptian Christians have been attacked here. This is not good, it is unjust, but I want to clinically distinguish that there have not been, nor are there currently, any targeted attacks against expatriates (Christian or secular). If they begin, we would prepare for evacuation.
In our contingency plan, there is a fine line between pre-evacuation and evacuation. At whatever point we evacuate, we would send your children to a nearby country where we have a team and pastoral care to nurture and counsel them in case of any trauma. Again, what tips the scales toward evacuation is sustained attacks on foreigners where we feel lives are in danger.
We work very hard at doing all we can to protect our families and team without crossing into fear or reaction. This part of the world requires a somewhat higher tolerance for civil unrest than we are used to in the West.
The above answer is from the technical, preventive, and practical side, which we take very seriously. Earlier this year, we evacuated some team members because I was out of the country and wanted to be sure our short-termers were cared for. Those on the ground make the best decisions, for there are nuances and a sense you get by being here that is difficult to grasp from the outside. I realize the implication with a statement like that (the last sentence) is that you must trust us not to be cavalier with the lives and health of your precious loved ones. We are committed to being balanced and prudent.
The other side of this issue, however, is spiritual and missional. Here are some of the components we must wrestle with, and because of your bond to us, we ask you to wrestle with these as well:
- Is safety the primary goal of missionaries?
- What are we modeling for the Muslims we are leading to Jesus who cannot evacuate?
- What are we modeling to the Christians under persecution who cannot leave?
- What does the Bible say about suffering for the Gospel?
- What did Jesus and the Apostles do? (Sometimes Jesus left an area. Paul went over the wall in a basket once. But then Jesus set his face like a flint to go to Jerusalem, and Paul likewise, despite the warnings…)
- When do we retreat, and when do we stay and bear the consequences?
- Do we believe what we preach?
- Do we practice what we teach?
None of these questions are easy, and so we grapple with them. We believe there is a time to stay and suffer. We also believe there is time to tactically retreat and return another day. We have predetermined those times unemotionally according to our contingency plan. The plan guides us, but does not rule us. If I sense (as a leader on the ground) that we need to evacuate sooner, I can recommend that to my leadership. My leaders can also recommend an earlier than planned evacuation.
We take all parental concerns seriously. We are willing to die for the Gospel, but unwilling to die in the crossfire of political ideology. At this point I can honestly say that we (the team, my family, your daughter) are in no physical danger at all—because we are expatriate visitors that no one at this point wants to hurt. If that ever changes I can promise you we will evacuate our younger families and students first.
We recently had some parents of team members visit, and they happened to be here when the demonstrations began and experienced some of this with us. We are happy to put you in touch with them.
Thank you sincerely for your love and concern. Please continue to pray for us and for Egypt. Pray that God will use these events to turn many Muslims to Himself. Pray that we will have the wisdom to make good decisions that first honor God, and yet also honor concerned parents like you.