The Egyptian Plate

My father, Victor Duerksen, turns 101 years old this September. Overall, he’s in good health and has a positive outlook. He lives in his own place, and the home-care worker who comes in several hours a day has become a good friend. Yet, when I was visiting with him recently, he was wondering why God continues to wake him up each morning.

“The ceramic Nativity set Mom painted, that’s the only thing in the house that has any real meaning for me anymore. Whenever I look at it, I feel her warmth. But, that’s about the only thing that has any 'family' connected with it," he said.

“Take anything you like when you go home today,” Dad told me. “There’s nothing here I want anymore.”

I pointed to an old copper-looking plate hanging above a bookcase. “I’ll bet you bought this when you were on the Army base in Egypt during World War II.”

I handed him the plate and then listened to this story.

“One of the Army guards came back to the base one day and told me he had found the Seventh-day Adventist church in Cairo and offered to take me there on Sabbath," Dad related. "He had also found the address of the church pastor and was willing to take me there the next day. I agreed immediately.”

I had never heard this story. Dad described going downtown, locating the correct apartment building, climbing the stairs and knocking on the door. No one answered, but Dad kept knocking.

“Finally, the door flew open, and an American woman grabbed me and the guard and pulled us inside. She was so surprised and happy to see Americans!”

The pastor and his wife took Dad under their wings while he was in Egypt. Since Dad was responsible for the sanitation services in the base cafeterias, he was sometimes able to provide the pastor with genuine American food that was not available elsewhere in Cairo.

“We had a big pingpong tournament on the base, and I invited the pastor to come play. He came and played well. While he was playing, I asked the cooks to fill the back seat of the pastor’s car with American food. They loaded it with ketchup, corn, cheese, spaghetti and anything else American they could find. On top of the pile they nestled a whole pig. Then, the cooks and about 50 of the pingpong players lined up at the cafeteria windows to see what the vegetarian Seventh-day Adventist pastor would do with the pig.”

The pastor came out to the car, thanked Dad and the guard for the food, and then picked up the pig and handed him to the guard.

“I believe,” the pastor said, “that this pig will be much happier with you than with us!”

The watchers applauded, laughed heartily and went back to work.

Before he left Egypt, the pastor and his wife gave Dad the small Egyptian plate as a way to remember their friendship. Now, in Dad’s hand, the plate was one more item in his house that made him feel warm, valuable, glad to be alive.

And by the way, that pastoral couple were Neal and Elinor Wilson in their first year of mission service. Neal later served as General Conference president from 1979 until 1990.