Damaged Egyptian cemetery to be restored by Habitat partners

By staff writers
28 Jul 2007

Don Mosley, a south Georgian who co-founded Habitat for Humanity in the 1970s and has since led a number of international humanitarian efforts, has begun raising funds to restore a Presbyterian cemetery in Egypt that has been heavily damaged by earthquakes, floods and vandals - writes Jerry Van Marter of Presbyterian News Service.

The cemetery is one of two Presbyterian cemeteries in Egypt, said the Rev Victor Makari, the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s coordinator for the Middle East. The other, more prominent and more frequently visited, is in Cairo.

The plight of the Assiout cemetery - on the edge of the desert six hours by train from Cairo - was brought to Mosley's attention while he was in Assiout this spring to speak at the 96th anniversary of the founding of the Lillian Trasher Orphanage, named for an Assembly of God missionary in the early 20th century. More than 15,000 orphans have grown up in the orphanage during that time. Capacity for the orphanage is 600.

"Lillian Trasher genuinely turned my life around," Mosley told the Presbyterian News Service in a July 26 interview. "At 21, I was traveling around the world, trying to break out of my religious upbringing in Waco, Texas, of hellfire, judgment and apocalypse. I'd heard about Lillian's orphanage and had been sending $5 a month to support one orphan, so I went to see her."

Mosley spent two days with Trasher. "She exuded an aura of joy and life I had not experienced before," he said. "People crowded around her everywhere she went. I can't read Bible stories of crowds flocking to be near Jesus without thinking of Lillian Trasher." She died one year after that encounter at age 74.

So while in Assiout for the 96th anniversary celebration, Mosley went to the nearby cemetery where Trasher and a number of Presbyterian missionaries to Egypt are buried.

"It's a little compound - maybe 200 feet square," Mosley said, "with some individual graves and a larger crypt in the back."

Upon entering the cemetery, Mosley said, "Our Egyptian hosts were very upset about something. It took a minute for me to spot what it was. Grave robbers had been there ahead of us! Several of the old burial sites had been badly damaged. The main crypt toward the back of the area was broken open, caskets smashed, and even the human remains had been scattered about as the robbers searched for articles of value."

Mosley said he "was both dismayed that anyone would show such disrespect for the remains of other people and touched with sympathy for those who did it. After all, it was their extreme poverty - and quite likely hunger - that made them desperate enough to dig through old caskets, trying to find something they could sell for a little money."

Makari said the Synod of the Nile of the Evangelical Church of Egypt "has been very concerned about this cemetery since an earthquake and subsequent flooding in 1992 caused the initial damage."

The Egyptian church "was devastated by the damage to the cemeteries, but their resources were exhausted in assisting the living - rebuilding homes and churches," he added. "We were able to provide some funds for repair of the Cairo cemetery, but with all the restructurings since 1992, there has been no budget for that sort of thing," said Makari.

During his visit to the Assiout cemetery this spring, Mosley determined that he was going to raise funds among overseas mission-minded Presbyterians to restore the historic cemetery. He has already sent personal letters to "50 to 100 of my Presbyterian friends," seeking support for the effort.

Working with George Assad, an Egyptian Presbyterian who is the current director of the orphanage, and Yousry Makar, an Egyptian Presbyterian who is president of Habitat for Humanity in Egypt, Mosley has lined up contractors, who have estimated that it will cost $30,000 to restore and secure the cemetery.

"Don Mosley's visit was a Godsend," said Makari. "Our partners in Egypt have repeatedly told me how gratified they are that this cemetery will be restored in gratitude and respect for the years of service of Presbyterian missionaries in Egypt." Makari said his office has found money for "a small grant" to help the project.

"However, as much as I respect these historic Presbyterian missionaries," Mosley added, "I would feel awkward about giving such attention to the dead and ignoring the living people of Assiout and the surrounding villages."

So he's raising an additional $20,000 - $10,000 for the orphanage and $10,000 for Habitat for Humanity in Egypt. The money will provide full support for 25 orphans for one year and build nine Habitat houses in the community around Assiout.

"We've gotten one US$ 5,000 contribution so far and a few smaller gifts," Mosley said.

Mosley and his wife, Carolyn, are leaders of the Jubilee Partners community, whose goal is "to express Christian beliefs through compassionate service to others," primarily by helping welcome and support refugees from all over the world into the USA.

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