Mission: Possible

by Georgeann Halburian Ikuma

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’”—Matthew 19:26

Bankruptcy—financial, spiritual, and moral—dominates the news and leaves little doubt about the state of the world today. Although most people who struggle to make ends meet can’t imagine how they can possibly give to others, Joe ’92 and Lori (Schlaick, attended ’89–’92) Lawson found a way. Assigned by the United States Army in Cairo to train the Egyptian military on the maintenance and operation of its M1A1 tanks, Joe and Lori gratefully accepted the opportunity to lead Petrescue Bible Institute (PBI)—an adult college designed to educate, encourage, and provide a resource for refugees. Now, with the Lawsons’ help, those with great need have a chance.

Shortly after their arrival in Egypt two-and-half years ago, the Lawsons took an active role in restructuring the school at the request of their pastor from the Ma’adi Community Church, whose congregation includes people from 40 different countries and just as many denominations. “He was looking for someone to rewrite the curriculum and put more focus on teaching the Bible and theology,” said Joe, chair of the college’s governing board. “Lori took up the challenge and transformed the school into a viable institution which now offers 16-week semesters with four programs that lead to a bachelor’s degree.”

The majority of refugees attending PBI face many obstacles on the road to graduation. Many rely on scholarships to pay for tuition, earn little to no money as jobs are scarce, travel up to an hour and a half to attend classes, and return home late in the evening to care for their families. But their successful education undoubtedly benefits the younger generations, as well. “By properly preparing our college students, they, in turn, are able to help teach at the refugee schools,” said Joe. “We would like to see these schools equipped with the books and facilities necessary to effectively educate children so they will know the Lord and be competitive in the tough job markets both in Egypt and in their respective homelands.”

The Lawsons credit their years at APU with not only preparing them for this rewarding endeavor, but for also teaching them about servitude and being true to their beliefs. “My professors changed my life by bringing their faith into the classroom,” said Joe, who holds a bachelor’s degree in biology. “I not only learned what secular scientists taught and believed, but I also learned about service, different worldviews, and not having to hide your faith in order to be a good scientist.”

Lori also applies her knowledge gained at APU to her current role as PBI director. “My instructors challenged me to think, ask questions, and engage my world,” she said. “Specifically, Dr. Earl Grant challenged me to see people of other religions from their point of view, while Dr. Jerry Pattengale’s enthusiasm in the classroom and love of history and academics continues to guide my own desire to teach.”

The Lawsons’ education reached far beyond the confines of the classroom. Both agree that their years of involvement with APU’s Mexico Outreach solidified their call to ministry and ability to make a difference in the lives of others. “Mexicali showed me my passion and true direction, which is to influence people by serving and supporting them,” Joe explained.

Though thousands of miles away, and what many might see as worlds apart, the Lawsons’ hope for PBI and its students mirrors that of APU’s founders. “We would like to see PBI grow into an accredited Western-style Bible college whose graduates are equipped to pursue advanced degrees and effectively pastor, teach, or minister to communities throughout the world.”

The Lawsons have regularly supported their alma mater since 1992. A plaque in the Segerstom Science Center honors their faithfulness.

Georgeann Halburian Ikuma is a freelance writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. ghikuma@yahoo.com

Photos courtesy of Joe and Lori Lawson