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Retired pastor to be honored for work in Egypt

5/29/2008 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

The Rev. Harry Eberts, shown with wife Dottie, will be honored by the Akron Peace Council for his work with his church in Egypt. The framed artwork on their wall is a prized possession of the Eberts that was presented to them in Egypt in 1981.
Photo: Ken Crisafi
WEST AKRON — Thirty years ago, the Rev. Harry Eberts made his first trip to Egypt. The experience changed his life and led to him being chosen as the 2008 recipient of the Akron Peace Council’s annual prize.

Eberts, 81, of West Akron, is being recognized for his work with the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services (CEOSS), for which he made nine trips to Egypt between 1978 and 2000.

He also began the organization Hands Along the Nile Development Services (HANDS), which he based in Akron from 1995 until he stepped down as president in 2003.

Eberts, who served as pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in West Akron from 1978 to 1991, said he was struck by many things on that first trip to Egypt that he and his wife, Dottie, took in 1978.

“It’s a very different culture,” he said of the predominantly Muslim nation. “There are mosques and the sounds of mosques all over Egypt. The general religiosity of the region surprised and awed me.”

The density there also surprised him. He said that today the population of Cairo is up to 16 million people, double what it was when he first visited the city.

“There are problems of overpopulation and how do you use the atmosphere properly, and poverty grows out of that,” Eberts said.

Eberts is a native of Wheeling, W.Va. He earned degrees from Heidelberg College and Yale University Divinity School, as well as the San Francisco Theological Seminary. He was ordained in 1951 and served as pastor in churches in Ohio as well as Pasadena, Calif., and Evanston, Ill., before heading to Akron.

It was while he was teaching at the San Francisco Theological Seminary in 1975 that he met three Egyptian men who were pastors of the Coptic Evangelical Church, which is the name of the Presbyterian Church in Egypt. Two of the men, Fayes Fares and Samuel Habib, became good friends and invited the Eberts to come to Egypt and become part of CEOSS’ mission. The organization stressed helping villagers learn to read and write, as well as improving diets, upgrading health care and addressing poverty and sanitation issues in the North African nation.

While there, Eberts taught both ministers and elders of the church and also preached, while Dottie taught macramé to women. They also met with as many church members as possible to share friendship and fellowship with them, Eberts said.

“Friendship was very important,” Eberts said. “When I first heard about the church there, it was greatly isolated.”

Because the Christian faith is not as widespread in Egypt, Eberts said it was important to reach out to church members to support them. The Eberts eventually organized and led several mission trips to Egypt, in which several Akron residents participated.

After his years helping CEOSS, Eberts said he realized there should be a U.S.-based organization to support its mission. In 1995 he founded HANDS, which solicited support across denominations and was able to contribute between $200,000 and $800,000 a year to CEOSS initiatives in 200 communities in Egypt.

Eberts said he was surprised to be chosen for the Akron Peace Council award, which will be given at a dinner in his honor July 11 at The Martin University Center at The University of Akron.

“I’m pleased by it,” he said. “It will help focus on the very important country of Egypt and the work that CEOSS does there.”

He also hopes it will help people realize the importance of Egypt to the Middle East.

“When we think of the Mideast now, we tend to think of Iraq and Iran,” he said. “Egypt is one of the most important countries in the place.”

According to organizers, the primary purpose of the July 11 dinner is to promote and publicize Akron as an International Peace City and to honor a person from the area who has made a significant contribution to world peace and international understanding in their lifetime. Past recipients include John Seiberling, Akron Mayor Donald Plusquellic, Akron International Friendship (Grace Mays and Michelle Wilson, directors) and Dr. Richard Hirsh. At this year’s dinner, Plusquellic will give remarks and Eberts also will speak.

Tickets for the dinner are $22. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact Maxine Floreani at (330) 864-1453 or Dale Kline at (330) 836-7369.

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