In March 2011, two months after the Egyptian revolution, Anne Zaki ’99 and her husband, Naji Umran, traveled to Cairo to see how loved ones were faring in the dangerous and unsettled country. Zaki was born and raised there.
“There was death and there was destruction and damage; there were unanswered questions and chaos,” Zaki said. “We couldn’t just stand and watch. So we prayed—lots. We were afraid for Egypt, afraid for our friends and family, for what the country is going to become.”
One of the things they witnessed was that many Christians were leaving the country and some were key church leaders.
Obviously, there were good reasons for that—for safety, for opportunity, for more certainty of the future.
“We thought to ourselves, ‘Who is going to shepherd these people, who is going to comfort my people, as it says in scripture?’ We’re not everybody’s answered prayer but we can be someone’s answered prayer,” she said.
Zaki and her husband sensed that nothing would bring them greater joy than to come into the gap being left in the church there and to raise the next generation of Egyptian Christians.
Approximately 100,000 Christians left Egypt in 2011, many of them for the sake of their children. Zaki and her husband and their four boys were doing the reverse. They’ve been in Cairo ever since.
Of course, they worried about what might befall their family, their sons, as they discerned that God was calling them from safety and certainty to an unsettled situation. But they have seen God’s grace grow every family member.
“There is something to resistance that makes our vision clearer, that declutters life,” she said.
Zaki teaches practical theology—which means courses on preaching, spiritual formation, worship and psychology—at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo. In addition to being a seminary professor, she is seeking ordination in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Egypt. She’s been waiting for seven years, as she’s the first woman to submit such a request.
There are churches in the country that need pastors, with some congregations made up of 90 percent women, as many men have left their communities to seek better employment opportunities in neighboring cities and countries.
“I am called to be a pastor, and I don’t care if I’m the first or the only or the 100th, I just want to obey God’s call,” said Zaki.
Zaki came to Calvin after spending time as Egypt’s representative in an international school in British Columbia, Canada. She felt led to attend a Christian college and chose Calvin. She found she was not quite ready for the jarring shift in culture.
“I was ready to leave Calvin, but Chaplain Dale Cooper challenged me by advising, ‘If you don’t like it here, change it,’” she said. “This has been the message of my life ever since. That open invitation helped me belong to Calvin and helped Calvin belong to me.”
Zaki started the student-run international talent and culture presentation, Rangeela, which has been a tradition at the college now for over 20 years.
After Calvin, she graduated from Calvin Theological Seminary and remains affiliated with the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship, where she’s served as a resource specialist for global and multicultural worship.
She remembers people paying attention to her without her asking them to do so, investing themselves in her and discovering her gifts before she did.
“They made room for me, the female, the foreigner, the stubborn, the faithless,” she said. “[Calvin] has not only given me what I was looking for, a path to walk with God, it has also given me a map for how to re-create Christian community everywhere I go.”