Holy Fire: Egyptian Christians Worship in Joy and Expectation

Last month, I was devastated to hear the news about so many churches being burned down all over Egypt. One of the churches, Malawy Presbyterian Church, holds a special place in my heart. The senior pastor is a dear friend and partner in ministry. The church is a vibrant community of believers committed to living out the Gospel, seeking reconciliation with their Muslim neighbors, and caring for the needs of the poor in their community. After the 2011 Egyptian revolution, I had the opportunity to preach to the congregation. We celebrated a new future for Egypt post the Mubarak regime and looked in eager anticipation for what Egypt’s future might hold.

Amidst unrest, fires spread across Egypt destroying Christian business, churches, and communities. In the past few months, at least 83 churches have been set to fire. On August 17, I received a picture of Malawy Presbyterian Church. The main sanctuary building had virtually burned to the ground.

 

Read the rest of this article at The Huffington Post

The Role of Religion in Global Society at the University of CA – Santa Barbara

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to speak on a panel at the University of California – Santa Barbara’s Luce Project on Religion in Global Civil Society. The topic of discussion was “The Role of Religion in Global Society: A Focus on the Middle East and Africa.” The dialogue was very thought provoking and included questions about the significance of religion in international development.

 

Participants included academics, practitioners, and religious leaders from various cultural backgrounds and faiths.

Here is a brief response to one of the questions I was asked:

Role of Religion on World Visions’s work in the Middle East:

World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization providing hope and assistance to tens of millions of people in nearly 100 countries around the world. Motivated by our faith in Jesus Christ, World Vision serves alongside the poor and oppressed as a demonstration of God’s unconditional love for all people. World Vision serves all people, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or gender. We seek to honor God in all that we do; to honor our donors and the public by being transparent about our motivation; and to honor those we serve as well as our colleagues in the field. Our passion is for the world’s poorest children. The ability of these children to reach their God-given potential depends on the physical, social, and spiritual strength of their families and communities. To help secure a better future for each child, we focus on lasting, community-based transformation. We partner with individuals and communities, empowering them to develop sustainable access to clean water, food supplies, health care, education, and economic opportunities. World Vision works in several regions of the Middle East including Afghanistan, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel/Palestine. Throughout the years World Vision has been involved in the Middle East, serious conflicts throughout the region have had profound impact on the lives of children. As a Christian organization, World Vision affirms that all people have the right to life, food, liberty, security, education, and adequate health care.  These rights also have been enshrined in such international agreements as the UN International Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), highlighting the responsibility we all have to ensure these rights are protected for all children throughout the Middle East.

Please note: While the above paragraph speaks to World Vision’s work in the ME, this blog is personal and the views here represent exclusively the owner of this blog.

Work in the Middle East Continues

I am very excited to share the news that I am moving into a new role that will allow me to continue my work in the Middle East! As of October 1, I am now based in Washington D.C. and am thankful to have moved back home to Southern Maryland. Here is an announcement about my new role and some of my responsibilities:

I am now working as the Senior Director of Advocacy & Outreach – Middle East for World Vision USA. World Vision is a Christian humanitarian charity organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. World Vision serves close to 100 million people in nearly 100 countries around the world. My new role focuses on consensus building and collaborating to promote peace and justice in the Jerusalem/West Bank region. I will be responsible to lead and coordinate World Vision U.S.’ education, policy, and advocacy efforts related to Israel and Palestine. In addition, I look forward to working alongside of church leaders and to help raise awareness about U.S. policy toward the region. I will have the opportunity to work closely with our offices in Jerusalem/West Bank to build consensus, policy statements, and strategies in relation to the region and the conflict. I look forward to seeing how my studies and past ministry experience might be used to help shape the future direction of this work and ministry. I would very much appreciate your prayers on my behalf and on behalf of all of the people living in the Holy Land and the greater Middle East.

Please note that the content of this blog does not reflect any formal policy or position of World Vision US.

The Reality of Religious Tensions in Egypt?

One of the challenges in coming back to the United States has been the way happenings in the Arab World are recorded by American media. Many of the “topics” in the news are similar… however, often U.S. based reports provoke further fear and discomfort in regard to the dynamics at play in the Middle East. During my recent travels, many family members and loved ones have expressed “fear” at my safety… particularly because “Muslims are killing Christians all over the Arab World”. These are some of the sentiments that have been expressed… and sadly, they are very untrue. There are instances of violence… but in general, particularly in Egypt, there is still an overall sense of religious solidarity and commonality… even bridging the often wide divides between Christians and Muslims. Here is a report from Paul-Gordon Chandler, Rector of St. John’s Church in Maadi, Cairo. He has been living in Egypt for more than ten years and I respect greatly his opinion and interpretation of what is happening there on the ground.

Recent religious sectarian conflict: Many of you have written about some of the recent sectarian conflict here in Cairo that the international media has reported on, and were concerned for our safety, for which we are most grateful. Writing about “persecution of Christians” can be difficult as can perhaps be imagined. Both sides are often at fault, to one degree or another, and also the contexts for any conflict are each so varied. Regretfully, both in Egypt and the West there are groups that tend to “exaggerate” the tensions and the gravity of the situation, thereby sadly hurting the legitimacy of some of the true problems that do exist here and that need to be seriously addressed. In short, our experience is that the general inter-religious solidarity within the majority of the populace is deeper than it ever has been. And many wonderful and encouraging things are taking place, in the midst of some of the recent tensions, and I will share a few of them below.

The recent conflicts have largely involved the Salafis (a ultra conservative fundamentalist sect with Sunni Islam heavily influenced by Wahabism from Saudi Arabia, that even has a hard time accepting the Grand Imam of Al Azhar…who is the spiritual and intellectual leader of Sunni Islam, the majority of Muslims in the world) and who are known here as “counter-revolutionary thugs”…those wanting to create conflict to destabilize the country for their own gain. Both can be dangerous groups. However, thankfully, both are minorities in terms of the population. The most recent major conflict (May 7) was the burning of two churches (St. Mina and Church of the Holy Virgin) here in Cairo in an area within the Giza governorate called Imbaba, It is an extremely poor neighborhood and one of the country’s hottest spots of Islamic militancy. The reasons for the conflict are complex. It is important to understand that the Coptic Orthodox Church does not allow divorce. So it is quite common for Coptic women to convert to Islam in order to get out of abusive marriages. Recently this happened with two spouses of Coptic priests. This is of course something the Coptic Church doesn’t acknowledge, but it is common knowledge here. This was the initial reason for the conflict; a Coptic women, married to a priest, left to live with a Muslim man, then left the Muslim man to return to the Coptic husband, and the Muslim man shared publicly that his “wife” had left him and was being held hostage by the Christians. Obviously, this caused a lot of tension in the neighborhood. It was believed the Copts where holding the woman in the Church of St. Mina, and so Salafis Muslims came to “free” her. It is also known that sometime the Copts do “hold” women at times who do this, or want to do this type of thing. Just weeks before this recent church burning incident for example, some Coptic brothers killed their sister and her son over her alleged conversion to Islam and marriage to a Muslim man.

In regard to the recent conflict, in fear of the Muslim mob gathering in front of the church, and most were Salafis, a gun went off…said by the investigation team to have been fired first by a Coptic Christian from the nearby roof, so the Salafists and thug mob went to get guns themselves and then returned and eventually burned the church and another one nearby. Tragically, seven Christians and five Muslims died, most by gunshot, and hundreds were injured, some seriously. The subsequent investigation team learned that the Salafi mob, mixed with counter-revolutionary “thugs” believed there was a cache of guns in the church. It is also important to remember that these kinds of tension almost exclusively take place in highly uneducated areas and hence rumors quickly become “factual truth,” and then can become “threats” very quickly.

One thing that is helpful to understand when hearing about religious conflict here in Egypt is often the Copts (the historic Christians in Egypt) see themselves here as a “different people,” and not just a different religion, and therefore one has to see the their pope (the pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church) as not just a religious figure, but also as a political one…quite similar in many ways to a “king” of the Copts. The Copts see themselves as the descendents of the ancient Egyptians prior to the Islamic incursion in the 7th century. This of course further complicates any tensions that surface. In reality, in today’s context both the Copts and Muslims are considered “Arabs”. And of course one cannot therefore tell the difference between them. It is this perception of themselves that can often heighten the tensions.

Photo by Ben Robinson

Positive outcomes to the tragedy: The reaction by the Egyptian masses was again one of shock and deep sadness. It resulted once again in proactive mass demonstrations of religious solidarity and unity, which in our experience here, is the true heart of the majority of the Egyptian people. It was quite moving to see veiled Muslim women with the cross painted on their niqab (face veil) parading throughout the streets…saying “we are all ‘one hand’–Muslim and Christian.” Additionally, as a result of this most recent tragedy, some very encouraging developments have taken place.

1) The transitional government, also in shock about this recent conflict, with a desire to ease the sectarian tensions, promised within 30 days to draft both a unified law for building houses of worship and a law criminalizing the use of religious slogans in electoral campaigns (to keep religious propaganda out of the political sphere by fundamentalist groups on both sides). Regarding the new houses of worship building law, in the past, Christians have been discriminated against (under the Mubarak regime) in obtaining the right to build new churches or restore current churches. It was very difficult to get permission to do so. However, mosques did not have the same constraints. Now the government is planning to equalize it. This was unheard of pre-revolution.

2) The Cabinet (the transitional Prime Minister’s Council) announced that they will reopen churches which were closed for “security reasons” under the Mubarak regime. Faithful to their promise, within one week’s time, the Prime Minister Esam Sharaf, in his first ruling on this subject, issued a decree to have 16 churches re-opened, scattered around six governorates. This was most encouraging news and a wonderful sign.

There are of course some really amazing stories. For example, those that are currently restoring the icons within the churches in Imbaba, Cairo that were recently burned are largely Muslim. It is seen by them as an act of love and solidarity. That is a brief overview of the quite complex recent conflict. In short, yes, there are real tensions…with some tragic consequences, especially in some slum areas. However, everyday there is more and more encouraging news.

See also my recent article in Prism magazine (of Evangelicals for Social Action):

Mae Elise Cannon. “A Revolution Unites: Will Interfaith Harmony Be Part of the Liberation of Egypt’s People.” Prism. Vol. 18. No. 3. (May-June 2011):20-23; 44.

Farouk Eldeiry: Women & Ordination

Today was a very special day. Not only is it the last day of my 2+ weeks in Egypt, it was also the day that Rev. Dr. Farouk Eldeiry proclaimed his views (publically!) about women and ordination. Permit me to tell you a little bit about Pastor (Assis) Farouk: He is the father of Fady, Joy, and Sylvia… I was introduced to him through Fady in November 2010 during my first trip to Egypt. I learned that he was the founding pastor of Ibrahimi Evangelical Church in Alexandria in the 1960s and served there through 2001. He has a Master of Arts in religion and a Masters of Theology… and also an honorary doctorate. He has taught Systematic Theology (oh, my!) at the Evangelical Seminary in Cairo for the past several decades. He is currently launching a new ministry called Anwaar (lights) which focuses on responding to the needs of the poor in Malawy and Deir Abu Hennis. As I have gotten to know Farouk over the past several months, I have been amazed at his energy and passion. He is in his 70s and is starting a new ministry that takes time, energy (and money!); and is committed to mobilizing the church in Egypt to respond to the needs of the poor and the oppressed. Farouk and I have had many lively discussions – including academic “debates” about predestination, the revelation of God, and other questions of theology. Whenever Farouk has mentioned (remotely or directly) the question about women in leadership and the ordination of women – I have quickly said, “I don’t want to talk about it. Talk to Dr. B!”

I have pointed Pastor Farouk in the direction of Gilbert Bilezikian (Dr. B), a mentor, friend, and brilliant New Testament scholar who taught at Wheaton for many years. Dr. B wrote the book “Beyond Sex Roles” in 1985 and has since been a stalwart advocate of women in ministry. Dr. B, in his writing, teaching, and every day life, has been an amazing support… and he has the biblical expertise, training, and patience to continually address the theological and practical questions surrounding women in ministry. I do not!

I have found being a woman in ministry a very painful (and often lonely) journey. There are limited places where women are free to completely use their gifts without question in regard to gender – sometimes things are worse in the U.S. than in the Middle East! On a weekly (if not daily basis), I am reminded of these limitations. I could tell many painful stories: People in the community thinking that I was the church secretary and not one of the leaders on pastoral staff; The surgeon in a hospital where I was serving as a pastoral chaplain who asked me if it was Haloween because I was wearing my clerical collar – even though it was February!; Not being able to serve communion because the church does not acknowledge that women are free to officiate ceremonies of such spiritual significance… I could go on… These are just some of the challenges that women continue to face as ministers of the Gospel around the world today.

Pastor Farouk, while always supportive of women using their gifts, has consistently repsonded to the question of women and ordination by affirming women, but then asserting that he is “undecided” about whether or not women should be ordained. In fact, I heard him say these very words to me last week when we were ministering together in Upper Egypt. Thus, I was shocked by the events that unfolded today!

Today I was invited to preach at Attarine Evangelical Church in Alexandria, Egypt. In speaking with the congregation, I talked about what an exciting time this is in Egypt and around the Arab world as revolutions are continuing to overturn authoritarian regimes and challenge current political authorites. As the youth of Egypt have cried for righteousness and justice; we as Christians must look to see what the Scriptures say about these two things. I shared about my love for Egypt and encouraged the church to engage with their community as the Scriptures have commanded us to do.

Pastors Farouk Eldeiry, (me!), and Radi Atalla Iskander.

After I finished preaching the sermon, Pastor Farouk had the opportunity to share a few words. He shared in Arabic and the man sitting next to me translated the words that were being spoken… Pastor Farouk affirmed that we as the church must respond to the current situation in Egypt. We must care for our personal and corporate relationship with God and also be actively engaged with the needs of society (my sermon was about righteousness and justice). As he affirmed the words in the Scripture message, he also made a declaration – for the first time – about his views of women and ordination. He stated that the authority by which we speak does not rest in the person sharing the message – but rests in the authority of Christ – and that it doesn’t matter if the person delivering the word is a man or a woman, as long as the truth of God is being declared. Pastor Farouk publicly declared that he affirms women in any role of leadership within the church including that of eldership and a pastoral role. As he shared his words of affirmation, I was very moved. His declaration was totally unexpected and a great gift to me! Pastor Farouk is a leader in the Christian community in Alexandria and throughout the Arab world. He has taught hundreds of seminary students, many of whom are now pastors, and has great influence. His public affirmation of the ordination of women and women in pastoral roles is a very significant one! Serving alongside of this man the past two weeks, I have been honored by his humility and his committment to caring for the needs of people around him. Although some may consider him to be more “advanced” in age… Farouk is young in spirit. His affirmation of all people – including women – has greatly encouraged my heart.

For further resources about women in ministry:

Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says about a Woman’s Place in Church and Family, Gilbert Bilezikian (Baker Academic, 2006) 

How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals (Zondervan, 2010)

Discovering Biblical Equality: Complimentarity Without Hierarchy (InterVarsity, 2005)

Another great resource is Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE): www.cbeinternational.org.

Tahrir Square: At Your Service…

When we first arrived in Tahrir Square early this evening, I felt this overwhelming sense of the significance of the place. I was moved to tears. There is much work to be done concerning Egypt’s future; but goodness, what has been accomplished! People are coming alongside of one another, helping, supporting, and working together. Weekly there are community efforts to pick up garbage off the streets and participate in other such beneficial activities. When traffic gets bad, someone from the neighborhood comes out into the middle of the street to direct it. People greet one another and are openly nice to one another! There are lots of smiles, laughter, and an energy in the air… even still almost two months since Mubarak’s resignation.

Fady and Farouk Eldeiry and me at Tahrir Square!

One of my favorite moments of the day… Farouk had parked his car in a busy area near Tahrir Square. There were some security/police officers in the area who he had asked if they might keep an eye on it. Before the revolution, the police would require a “tip” to take care of these kinds of things. Watching cars and such is a bit outside of their job description, so they expected to be compensated. When we returned from our walk in the area, Farouk went to tip the security guards. They refused his tip and said “We are at your service…” This is one small (but significant!) sign of how things have changed as a result of the Revolution. It may sound silly, but there is almost a “spirit” in the air that is very different from the last time I was in downtown Cairo! You can feel excitement, generosity, and a feeling of commraderie that is unique to this time and place in the history of Egypt.

The more time I spend here the more I love Egypt!

Egypt: A Glimpse of the Future of the Revolution

I am now back in Cairo and tomorrow will be headed to Tahrir Square – the heart of the January 25th Revolution. I left Malawy early this morning on the 5 a.m. train. It is about a six hour ride to Cairo and another 2-3 hours until Alexandria. I am thankful that the trains are back up and running (they were down for a substantial period of time around the time of the Revolution). More than 250,000 people gathered on Friday in Tahrir Square as a reminder of the goals of the January 25th revolution. I am told that this number is very small considering the millions who participated previously!

During my last night in Mallawy, I had the opportunity to spend more time with Pastor Francis Samuel and his family. We led an evening service together and then gathered with his family for tea, cakes, and fellowship. We talked religion, politics… and life! I have mentioned before how much I enjoyed their two boys – Matthew and Calvin. I have fallen in love with them both. They are loving, affectionate, and smart. Meeting them makes me excited for the future. Here is a small picture of the future of the Revolution in Egypt… Calvin is saying something to the effect: “The will of the people… Down with the regime! The will of the people… Down with the regime!”

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Ma Alsalemi, Deir Abu Hennis

Peace be with you, Deir Abu Hennis. Today, Sunday, we finished our third day of ministry in the village. I have gotten accustomed to our daily routine. We wake up fairly early in the morning in Malawy and are fed a breakfast of foul and falafel. After eating, Basem, a man from the village meets us to drive us to Deir Abu Hennis. The drive to the village  is about 30-40 minutes away. The team from Anwaar ministry, Pastor Farouk and Ezabelle, were excited that this trip is the first time they have been able to use a bridge to travel over the Nile River. The last time I was here (November) the only way to cross was by ferry. Although the bridge is not yet finished – only parts of the road are paved and there are deep crevices throughout the paved areas – it is still luxurious to not have to wait for the fairy to cross the waterway. During our first morning trip, I didn’t think much of how rough the roads were. However, on our first evening drive back from the village I was a bit overcome by how “dicey” the roads are… Many cars that travel on Egyptian roads have poor lights (if any). It is also common to have donkeys, carts, bicycles, and other modes of transportation traveling along the roadways (day or night). When traveling at nighttime, it is important that drivers flash their lights regularly, otherwise on-coming traffic won’t see that they are coming. In addition, the roads are unmarked (there are no lanes) and there are bumps and deep holes on the unfinished bridge and travel-ways… all that to say – driving at night can be quite an adventure!

A view of the fields on the way to Deir Abu Hennis.

 

However, in the daylight, the road to the villages is beautiful. The fields are luscious and green with palm trees providing shade and covering along the road.

The last few days have been very full and rewarding… we have been in church services, meetings, and many home visits.

Mariam, Basam's wife, one of the hosts of a delicious meal in Deir Abu Hennis.

I have been blessed by the hospitality of the villagers in Deir Abu Hennis and have shared more than one meal with gracious families. I have met young people and old who are very poor. I met one young woman who has a newborn baby (I think around 2 months old). For some reason, the mother is unable to produce breast milk. Since her family is so poor she does not have an alternative to feed the baby. She has done her best to compensate by feeding the baby warm water with herbs… However the little boy cries regularly because he is hungry. Anwaar graciously comes alongside of women like this one and helps provide their basic needs. When we returned to Mallawy, one of the church members owns a pharmacy and donated formula for us to take to the young woman. After the services this morning, Ezabelle took the mother aside and taught her how to use a bottle and the formula. This is just one example of many of the types of poverty we have seen.

As we walked through the village today, I was attempting to pay attention to many of the details during our visits. There are flies everywhere and often the streets smell like manure. Many of the families in the village live side by side with the animals. There were moments went I felt depressed about the great needs of the people I met. I have once again fallen in love with the children of Deir Abu Hennis and spending time with them continues to bring me great joy. There were also moments of laughter and true fellowship. One night, I was asked to preach at a revival meeting at the First Evangelical Church in Deir Abu Hennis. A few minutes before we were going to walk from someone’s home to the church, the lights in that part of the village (where we were staying and the church is located) all went out. We waited a bit (hoping they would come back on) but then decided we should walk to the church in the dark. It was a bit challenging to walk the few blocks to the church so we used our cell phones to provide lighting along the way. When we crossed the threshold of the church – immediately – all of the lights all came back on. We got quite a kick out of that. We took Jesus’ words “I am the light of the world” to heart! Also, Anwaar means “lights” in Arabic and we have been praying that we have been a light and encouragement in the places we have visited. The church building was full with many people from the village. We worshiped together, prayed, and I preached about the love of Jesus. When the service was over, I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with the children. Then, just a moment after we crossed the threshold of the church and were on our way… all of the lights in that part of town went off again! When we came – the lights were shining – and when we left, everything again went dark. How we have laughed about that!

This morning I preached at the 2nd Evangelical Church in Deir Abu Hennis. I shared from John 21 when Peter encountered Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. I have loved telling stories about places where I have been in the Holy Land… Being able to describe a little bit about what things look like seems to make the stories come to life. We are now back in Mallawy and I will be preaching here tonight.

Me with Calvin Samuel... Who is 3 and-a-half and a leader in the making!

I have been incredibly blessed by Pastor Francis and his family. He has two little boys – Matthew and Calvin – who stop by every evening for a visit. They laugh and make fun of my Arabic and it is a wonderful (and humbling!) experience. Tomorrow morning, we are leaving on the 5 a.m. train, which I will be taking to Cairo. The last couple of days there have been further protests in Tahrir Square… so it will be good to see firsthand some of the things that are happening where the heart of the revolution took place. In speaking with youth here in Mallawy and Deir Abu Hennis, I am hopeful for the future of Egypt!

Egypt: Malawy and Deir Abu Hennis, continued…

Today the church in Mallawy celebrated “Thanksgiving Day”. For the past several years, women from surrounding churches in the El Minya region have gathered for a day-long conference and worship celebration.  The worship was wonderful… but I could only understand a few words here and there… “Shukran” (Thank you)… and things like that.

 I am experiencing an intense cultural immersion and learn new things every day about what is acceptable (and not) in rural Egyptian society. For example, when I am out in Malawy or the village (Deir Abu Hennis), it is best to not wear sunglasses. This is quite a challenge because of the bright Egyptian sun! Sunglasses are judged very harshly by the society as a sign that someone thinks they are too good for their faces to be actually seen. Considering that Malawy (and 90% of the population of Egypt) are Muslim (thus women wear head coverings and sometimes full facial coverings), I was surprised to learn about the negative perspective toward people who wear sunglasses. I had received the same instructions when I was in the Palestinian Refugee camps in Lebanon… and am thus learning that in these contexts, sunglasses are not a good thing.

I have learned that one can determine a man’s religion based on whether or not he has a beard. The Muslim Brotherhood (or other Muslim fundamentalist movements) tend to wear a full beard as a sign of their religion. In addition, it is common to see a slight indentation or discolored mark on many men’s foreheads – further indication of Muslim piety and commitment to sala (the practice of praying five times a day).

In the village churches, women, as a sign of their conservatism and deference to the Scriptures, still cover their heads when in the church building. I have noticed distinctly that the poorer the community, the more conservative the churches tend to be. Many of the women from the village communities also wear all black. The last time I visited in November, I was struck by how the elderly women would often kiss my hands. I am told that this is a sign of blessing and honor. Yesterday when I spoke to the women, many of them gathered around me at the end of the service and asked for a blessing. They would take my hands and place them on their forehead. I received many kisses… on my face and my hands.

Today we returned to Deir Abu Hennis… the village that I had the opportunity to visit in November. It was wonderful to see people who I had met previously and to recognize many faces. Although the community is terribly poor, they are also abundantly hospitable. One of the families welcomed us into their home and served us a meal. Tonight I preached at the First Evangelical Church in the village. The church still has many conservative customs with the men sitting on one side and the women sitting on the other. There is not a feminine word for “pastor” in Arabic. The word is “assis” (for men) and sometimes I don’t think people quite know what to call me. I have heard some introduce me as “assisa” but that word doesn’t really exist in the language. My favorite part of the day was getting to see the children again. My Arabic has improved since November (albeit only slightly!) but we were able to carry on a bit more of a conversation… When I left the church tonight they said “Bukhara” – which means “tomorrow”? And I was able to say “Bukhara, ana hon.” Tomorrow, I am here.

Mallawy: The countryside of Egypt…

When donkeys really get going “hawing” they sound more bird than beast. After the first night (falling asleep to hoof beats walking down the street), my romantic thoughts about life in a rural village dissipated rather quickly. About 10 minutes after my head hit the pillow, I began to hear a rooster crow. Then at 5 a.m. the next morning, the street market – located JUST outside my window – woke me up to greet the day; a bit earlier than I would have hoped!

During the day, Ezabelle, Farouk, and I had the opportunity to walk through the market of Mallawy.

I spent the day yesterday working with a church located in the heart of Mallawy. The city has a population of about 250,000 people and is considered to be a major center of commerce in Upper Egypt. The statistics of poverty in this region are extreme and are the worst in all of Egypt. More than 45% of the people living in Upper Egypt live below the Egyptian poverty line. Women and children are the ones who fair the worst. There are high statistics of sexual and domestic abuse. Basic needs of adequate water supplies, nutritional food sources, health and hygiene are very lacking in the extended community. Nonetheless as I spoke with many of the poor women in this community, I was encouraged by their deep faith and great hope. Every week, the church where I have been serving distributes food to several hundred women and families. I had the opportunity to share a message with them. I told them about the things I was learning about Mallawy and then introduced them to my life in Jerusalem. We spent some time talking about the Mt. of Olives and the significance in Jesus’ life and ministry of that mountain which overlooks the city of Jerusalem – Dominus Flevit (where Jesus wept); Garden of Gethsemane; the Golden Gate. It was encouraging to my soul to be reminded of the significance of these places as we prepare in a few short weeks for the celebration of Easter.

Speaking to the women in Mallawy who gather at the church every week for fellowship and to receive distributions of food and basic needs.

Spending time with the people of Mallawy, I am reminded of God’s amazing heart for the poor. Although this place lacks material wealth, there is a richness of spirit found in the people of Mallawy. Yesterday during the day, I spent some time with the young people of the church. They have been actively involved in the January 25th Revolution and they shared with me challenges about living in a country where Christians are so significantly the minority. For many youth, they are facing challenges of a counter-revolution and have struggled to have hope that things in Egypt can really change. I am inspired by their passion and energy for change… and attempted to encourage them that they have already, and can continue, to make a difference – not only in Egypt, but around the world.