A circuitous journey from percentages to pastoral care

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (PNS) The Rev. Adel Malek didn’t necessarily intend to
become a Presbyterian minister. An engineer by profession, he and his
wife moved from Egypt to the United States in the late 1980s. Malek
worked as an engineer until he retired last December.

But along the way, he became a pastor too.

In the early 1990s, Malek was working for the state of California when
he walked into the office of one of his consultants during lunch to
drop off some papers.

“I found him taking his lunch and reading his Bible and so I asked
him, ‘Are you a Christian?’ He said, ‘I’m a Jehovah’s Witness.’ I
said, ‘Well, would you like to speak about Christianity?’”

For the next 18 months, the two men shared lunch once a week. Malek’s goal, as
he explains it, was not to convert his colleague but to try to better understand the
Jehovah’s Witness perspective regarding the Trinity.

“He asked a lot of smart questions, so I had to study the Bible more,” Malek.
A year and a half later, the colleague was transferred from Los
Angeles to New York, but Malek’s interest in studying Scripture had
been piqued. He wondered how he could continue to polish and use the
knowledge he had gained.

After some searching, he began to attend what were then called
‘extension’ classes through Fuller Seminary in Southern California.
“They told me, ‘To study, you have to choose a certain track,’” Malek
said. Not knowing which one to choose, he decided on ‘apologetics.’

After a year or two, Malek became interested in studying Greek and
Hebrew, but was told he couldn’t do so with the apologetics track. He
didn’t want to be ordained, so he decided to pursue a Master of Arts
in Theology, not an M.Div.

After graduating with the MA in 2003, Malek began an Arabic-speaking
fellowship at his church while still working full time as an engineer.
He still did not want to be a pastor.

“I thought that I would just be doing the Bible study and preaching —
I’m not very good at pastoral care and visitation, and actually, I
thought that it would make me bored,” he said.

But he found himself doing pastoral care anyway.

“I found that it would be rude not to visit people if they were sick
or in need, or if someone asked me to coffee and begins to discuss his
son’s drug problem — what was I to do?” he said.

Malek began to realize that, rather than being a boring chore, his
love for people gave him the impetus and the basis for his acts of
pastoral care.

“This is Christianity — welcome to being a Christian,” he said. “I
thought, before, that the pastor’s job would be about half and half —
half preaching, half pastoral care. But it is not really ‘half and
half’ — it is more like ‘whatever happens, it will happen’ and it
doesn’t matter the percentages. I had been calculating like an

“When I found myself doing everything like a pastor I said, ‘You know
what? It’s really not bad. How about I begin the process?’” Malek

So, after consulting with his wife, his pastor and a few friends,
Malek entered the process of becoming an ordained Presbyterian minister
— a decade after taking his first seminary course.

Ordination requirements behind him, Malek set about preparing to
receive a call. The only catch was that not only was he a full-time
engineer, but his wife was also still working, so relocating was not
really an option. This can be a challenging situation for many pastors
who are ‘geographically inflexible’ while seeking calls — especially
when one is seeking a call within the Arabic-speaking world of the
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

One day, Malek was speaking with a colleague, Amgad Beblawi in the
denomination’s office of Middle Eastern Congregational Support.

“He asked me if I was willing to go to Arizona for a few weeks because
a pastor there had not been able to take a vacation for the past two
years. I said sure, but be careful that it is not the first Sunday of
the month so they don’t ask me to offer the Lord’s Supper.”

His friend’s response was quick: “You know what? We really need to
ordain you.” Malek’s response was equally as quick: “Well, look for a
church to do it!”

But as the conversation unfolded, both mean realized that they might
need to think outside the box. Malek, a trained pastor, an Arabic
speaker, and longtime resident of the United States, had skills,
qualifications and experience that would be ideal in mentoring other
Arabic-speaking pastors and churches within the PC(USA). But he did
not have a call.

“I said, “We have one of the most creative executive presbyters in the
nation, Steve Yamaguchi — maybe he would be willing to receive this
idea, just a baby now — who knows what might happen with it?” Malek

So Malek and Amgad met with Yamaguchi and Stated Clerk Keith Geckeler.
Though receptive to the idea, there were two glaring issues: where
would the money come from, and what would the accountability look

The money part was easy — Malek would be a tentmaker. The
accountability piece also began to fall into place, with a special
committee set up to report back to the presbytery’s committee on

“So, I am reporting to the COM but coordinate my work with the GAMC
because they are the ones who know where the needs are,” said Malek,
whose duties include mentoring new pastors, conflict resolution for
churches, leadership training, preaching and interpreting Middle
Eastern culture and issues back to the PC(USA).

“I didn’t go through the normal process,” said Malek, the engineer
turned pastor, percentages traded in for pastoral care.

Erin Dunigan is a freelance writer, photographer and pastor who lives
in a small coastal community in Baja California, Mexico, when she is
not following her wanderlust out into the world.