30 year old fruit

Image

More than thirty years ago I had the privilege of meeting Bishop Moussa, the newly appointed Coptic Bishop for youth in Egypt.

At the time he asked me if I could help with training of Coptic Orthodox youth leaders in inductive Bible study at his office.  What started as a small group of 18 youth leaders developed eventually into the St Timothy Center for Inductive Bible Study which continues until today.

On Saturday I attended a “Day on the Bible” organized by a small church in an inner-city district in Cairo.  The ambitious priest of that church, Father Marcos, has a vision for helping young people interact with the Bible and had planned that day as a way of encouraging people to interact with the Bible creatively.  I was amazed by what I saw!  By the time I got there at 10:30 in the morning about one thousand young people had already arrived and during the day many more joined them.  They had rented a school for the event and had set up about thirty different booths, each focusing on the theme of the day which was the parables and proverbs in the Bible.

One of the booths showed how many of the proverbs in the Bible are related to popular proverbs in Society.

Another presented the parable of the Sower in a creative way by pouring water into four different cups each having a white powder at the bottom and the first two gave no reaction, the second lots of fizz which fizzled away quickly and the forth lots of fizz that overflowed and continued to overflow from the cup! The young youth leader using this visual manner explained the parable of the Sower and its message!  Many other booths had creative titles and creative ways of presenting the different parables and proverbs in the Scriptures.

I was amazed by the enthusiasm, the creativity and the commitment of these Coptic Orthodox young people who obviously love God’s Word and want to help others to interact with it.

When I arrived Bishop Moussa was addressing the crowd and when he saw me asked me to join him on the platform and say a word to them.  As he introduced me he talked graciously about the ministry of the Bible Society in Egypt and its role in helping provide the Scriptures in attractive and creative formats for all ages.  I told those present that without this kind of vision and drive to get the Scriptures out to young people, we as a Bible Society would not succeed as a publisher.  Yes we do produce the Scriptures in as creative formats as we can but without church leaders and volunteers who will distribute and communicate these Scriptures our nice publications would simply sit on the shelves of our bookshops.

How I thank God for the vision of a person like Bishop Moussa who for thirty years has been encouraging young people to engage with the Scriptures and someone like Father Marcos who organized this day and worked so hard to get God’s Word out.  It is exciting to serve the Lord alongside great men and women of God in the church in Egypt.

The Turning of the Tide

Dear friends,
     Thank you for your prayers for the Cairo International Bookfair.  In spite of all the turbulence in Egypt these days, the Bookfair opened on time and has been doing well.  Attendance is lower than expected but the Bookfair grounds have been peaceful, providing more time for quality interaction with those who are sincerely seeking.

It’s been 3 years since the January 25th revolution.  The subsequent Islamist victories in both parliamentary and presidential elections came as no surprise.  Egyptians are very religious by nature, and the masses were seen as being easily manipulated by religious slogans and intimidated by any show of force. Many feared that – once the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) was in power – Egypt would be saddled with this new “theocracy” for decades to come.

What was very surprising to all of us was how quickly the Islamist agenda was discredited; the majority of Egyptians had turned against the MB by last summer!  It was also amazing that – in spite of threats of violence by the deposed MB – over 20 million people voted in the recent referendum on a Constitution which upholds human rights.  Also, on the 25th of January millions took to the streets in support of the direction of Egypt’s present government. Regrettably, however, many acts of violence took place all over Egypt that weekend.

The Egyptian masses are no longer to be underestimated!

The great amount of violence attributed to the MB since their removal from power has made many Egyptians hate them.  Because the West has not sufficiently condemned the Islamists for their violence, focussing instead on police brutality in resisting them, many Egyptians blame the West for indirectly supporting these acts of terror!

As we move into 2014, the tide has been reversed: instead of an Islamist majority imposing its will on moderate Muslims and Christians, we have a government which is determined that the MB has no control over the media or politics!

This has made it extremely difficult for those who – although they have no sympathy for the Islamists – believe that true democracy should allow them to freely express their views.  This position is held by many intellectuals, youth and virtually all Western media.  Yet both past and recent experiences with the MB are the grounds for the government’s strong-handed repression.

So where do we stand as Christians?  Frankly, we are delighted to have the MB out of leadership and grateful for a new degree of inclusiveness and respect towards the Church.  In my lifetime I have never seen such openness to Christians in Egypt.

On the other hand, while we see no viable alternative solution to restrain the Islamists’ violence, we do not want to align ourselves uncritically with hatred or discrimination towards any human beings. Thank God for church leaders who continue to call for an attitude of love and forgiveness towards all.

Please pray:
1. For wisdom and restraint for our government and for all Egyptians, whatever their political perspectives.
2. For continuing safety at the Bookfair until its end on February 6th.
3. That the many Scriptures which we and other Christian publishers are selling may reach those who really want to get closer to God during these challenging times.

With many thanks for your partnership with us,

Ramez Atallah
General Director
The Bible Society of Egypt

PS: Please feel free to share this with your friends.

The Price of Democracy

Egypt_Votes

Dear friends,

As we begin 2014 the biggest concern of most Egyptians is whether or not they, individually and as a nation, can afford the price of the new “democracy” which was achieved by our “Revolution”!

In January 2011, when Egyptians in large numbers toppled the government by protesting against the autocratic rule of the Mubarak regime, there was hope that the country would become truly democratic. We dreamed of a nation where everyone could freely express his or her perspectives and opinions and yet also work together in harmonious tolerance.

This dream was quickly crushed when the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) took over the government and imposed what increasingly resembled religious theocracy. When that regime was ousted by popular demand last summer, there was new hope that the dreams we’d had during the Revolution would finally be realized.

Unfortunately, since the dispersal of the MB’s 48 day sit-ins on August 14, 2013, disruption of daily life and violence on the streets has become a normal part of Egyptian life.  We often hear of people wounded or killed in clashes between MB supporters and the police, the army or angry civilians who want to live a normal life. In an attempt to restore peace on the street, the government’s aggressive response to continued MB disruptions sadly seems to create more violence rather than less.

As we prepare for a national referendum on a new Constitution, the violence continues in an attempt to intimidate the general population and scare them from going to the polls on January 14 and 15.

Having just celebrated the birth of the Prince of Peace, Christians in Egypt yearn for that elusive peace in their hearts and in the country as a whole.

We are grateful that the Lord has protected the Bible Society staff.  Even though two of our bookshops were viciously attacked last summer (photo at left), one of them has already been reopened (see picture below) and we hope that the other will be back in operation shortly.

In spite of the constant interruption of normal life due to months of curfew, demonstrations and strikes, and the resulting traffic nightmare, we have distributed more Scriptures than ever in 2013!

Undoubtedly, as people feel insecure they turn more to God’s Word for comfort and encouragement. Pray with us to know creative ways to better reflect what the Prince of Peace would say to Egypt.

And please pray for us as we begin 2014 and prepare for the Cairo International Bookfair (January 22 until February 4) that God’s Word may be boldly and creatively presented and shared with many Egyptians who are seeking true peace.

Thank you so much for your prayers, support and encouragement during 2013,

Good news for Gabriel

ImageImageImage

This Christmas we are rejoicing for the birth of Gabriel the newborn of our son Joel and his wife Carla.

Since they live in California the best we can do is visit with them on Skype.

Even though my grandfather “Atallah” had four sons, it so happens that Gabriel is his only male descendent of that generation who will carry on his name!

It all began in 1900 when Atallah – who was a teacher at the Anglican Mission School in Cairo – married Nabiha, the daughter of Naoum Moghabghab, the Lebanese Principal of the School.

The car pictured here is that of Naoum driving some family members from Beirut (then in Syria) to Cairo to attend the wedding. 

That romance and eventual wedding united two families whose patriarchs were among the first Protestants in the Middle East.  Nabiha’s grandfather, Khalil Moghabghab, was the first ordained Presbyterian pastor in the Middle East.  Atallah’s father, Athanasious, was the first elder of the first Presbyterian Church in Assiut in southern Egypt (one of the oldest Presbyterian churches in Egypt).  In the Athanasious family picture you see him holding a Bible in his hand.  And in the Moghabghab family picture you see Naoum holding a Bible in his hand.  Not too many family pictures today have people holding Bibles.  It may not be a coincidence, therefore, that the Bible Society of Egypt is the main publisher of that Bible today.

I wonder if Gabriel will ever appreciate this heritage. I certainly had no idea of it as a child, teenager and young adult.  My self-identity until my mid-thirties was that I was the grandson and only male heir of my mother’s father, Joseph Kfoury, who was one of the wealthiest businessmen in Egypt.  His many businesses and properties were confiscated by the socialist Nasser regime in Egypt in the late fifties.  This caused us to escape Egypt as a family never expecting to return.  

When I came to a living faith in Christ, early in my time in Canada, I felt called to go back to Egypt to share the Gospel with my people.  At that time, and until much later, I had no idea of the rich Evangelical heritage I had through my father’s family.  I found out about my spiritual heritage mainly by reading books and articles on the history of the Presbyterian Church in Egypt and the Middle East.

I hope that Joel and I can share with Gabriel early on the story of his rich spiritual heritage so that he won’t have to read up about this good news in history books like I did.

 

 

 

 

Bible Society Bookshops burned and destroyed

Dear friends,
I have just received the sad news of the complete burning and destruction (by Muslim fundamentalists) of our Bible Society’s bookshops in Assiut & Minia (the largest cities in Southern Egypt). These were both very beautiful, fully equipped bookshops. Fortunately we were closed today, fearing such an attack, so none of our staff were injured. The attackers demolished the metal doors protecting the bookshops, broke the store windows behind them and set the bookshops on fire. They did the same to many stores on those streets as well as demolishing many parked cars.
Similar incidents are taking place across the nation and to date 15 churches and 3 Christian schools have been attacked and some set on fire.
Dispersal of Sit-ins
Most of you know by now that the Egyptian police, supported by the army, have dispersed the demonstrators from one of the big sit-ins of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) protesters and are working now to evacuate the other, larger one.
To understand why most residents of Cairo feel that these sit-ins should not continue, you should imagine how long residents of New York – or your own city – would tolerate the following scenario:-
Imagine more than 10,000 protestors camped for six weeks in Times Square in New York. No traffic can go through the square and, as a result, all other traffic in the area becomes congested, especially at rush hour. People and businesses in the surrounding buildings have their lives completely disrupted – they can hardly get access to their shops or homes and cannot stand the stench of 10,000 people in the middle of summer using the street and sidewalks as housing. In addition these strangers have set up their own shops and facilities in the middle of the streets. So it is a very scary scene. Add to this the non-stop onslaught of speeches blaring from loudspeakers all day long, and those living in Times Square will neither rest nor sleep as long as the sit-in continues!
In retaliation for the government dispersing the sit-ins, this morning Muslim Brotherhood leaders called for nation-wide protests. In response to these calls, Muslim fundamentalists all over Egypt have gone on a rampage of violence; some of it aimed at Christian targets, but also targeting government institutions, police stations and private property especially parked cars.
One of the reasons why the government has been so reticent in dispersing the sit-ins was precisely because of the MB’s many threats of retaliation. So most Egyptians expected the violence. Nevertheless, it is heartbreaking to watch on TV this bloodshed between fellow-Egyptians unfolding before our eyes.
Trusting God for the future
It is important to underline that — while some Christian properties have been the victim of this violence — they are by no means the only ones targeted. This is an attack against the State by a violent minority in an attempt to destabilize the Nation.
Please pray….
• That the government may manage to disperse the remaining sit-in with as few injuries and loss of life as possible.
• That these sad incidents would not increase the alienation of the MBs but that they would somehow be re-integrated into Egyptian society.
• For protection for all Christian properties across the Nation.
• For Christians to have a spirit of forgiveness and love towards those who are perceived as being our enemies.
The Bible Society of Egypt has been in operation for 129 years and this is the first time we have been the victims of such attacks. We thank God for His protection, praise Him that none of our staff were injured, and are determined – as soon as things settle down – to rapidly restore these two bookshops to continue providing God’s Word in those two strategic cities.
Sincerely in Christ,

Ramez
PS: please feel free to circulate as you see fit
Burned bibles

Burned bookshop 1

burned bookshop

Light at the end of the tunnel

Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings and I have come down to deliver them…” (Exodus 3:7)

Dear friends,

When I wrote last Wednesday July 3rd about the remarkably peaceful mass demonstrations against President Morsi, I could not have imagined that by that night he would be deposed and the next morning we would already have a new interim President!

On Thursday the majority of Egyptians partied on the streets all night celebrating the downfall of the man and his Muslim Brotherhood (MB) party.

Why did Egyptians vote for Morsi then demonstrate for his removal?

Last year Egyptians had to choose between a former Mubarak-regime army general and a Muslim Brotherhood leader for president.  Many abstained from voting and among those who voted for Morsi were liberal Muslims and a small percentage of Christians who were really voting against a Mubarak candidate.

Within a year since being narrowly elected, Morsi had violated every one of his campaign promises.

Shortly after his election he began acting much more like a totalitarian dictator than as an elected official, and soon gave himself full executive, legislative and judicial powers.  Instead of choosing the best and most capable people to lead the country with him, he replaced nearly all government Ministers and most of the 27 regional Governors by people from his party.  Most of these were incompetent for the positions to which they had been elevated.  In turn these leaders did the same with the people under them.

As a result, the performance of Morsi and his government was extremely poor in almost all areas – economically, financially, politically and from a security point of view.   Moreover, he was leading Egypt rapidly towards the dark tunnel of political Islam, the ideology which he and the MB espoused.  In doing so he and his party succeeded in rapidly alienating themselves from most Egyptians who realized he was really not interested in their welfare.

The greatest blow to Political Islam in recent history

Egyptians are deeply hurt by what they perceive as a complete lack of appreciation by many Western and other allies for the enormous liberation they have achieved.  The BCC claimed that the peaceful demonstration against Morsi by more than 30 million Egyptians was probably the largest demonstration in the history of humanity!

Since it was founded in 1928, the MB has been striving to establish an Islamic state in Egypt which would eventually encompass the Arab world.  Gaining power in Egypt was their first political breakthrough.

The complete failure of the first Muslim Brotherhood “political Islam”experiment is a terrible shock for them and “miraculous” (this word is often used in the media) for many Egyptians who were convinced the MB were here to stay!

The worldwide consequences of most Egyptians’ rejection of political Islam as a viable option are a serious set-back to the MB theocratic political dream. Islam is no longer “the political solution” as the Islamicists claimed.  It has been tried in Egypt and has failed to win the approval of the 21st century Muslim masses. This will have dramatic implications for many of the countries the MB influence in the region (Syria, Jordan, Gaza, Libya, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey, Tunisia among others) and worldwide.

What next?

Most Egyptians believe the only way to have liberated themselves from the iron grip of the MB was with the army’s help.  But they are also looking forward to returning to a civil State as soon as possible.  So the sooner we can have new Parliamentary and Presidential elections the better.

To do so, there needs to be a political reconciliation with the MB followers, who have been protesting on the streets since the removal of their leader and are continuing to incite their followers to violence.  Their anger at being ousted is understandable.  But the violent and destructive way in which they are protesting is creating havoc in the country.  Unlike the peaceful millions who were on the street to remove Morsi, the hundreds of thousands of MB protestors are terrorizing the areas in which they congregate.  This aggressive protest, and retaliation to it, has very sadly resulted in more than 130 deaths to date and more than 4000 wounded!

Please pray for a breakthrough in this complex, dangerous and very sad deadlock.

Egypt is and continues to be a Muslim Nation

It is very important to emphasize, in no uncertain terms, that Egypt’s voteagainst “political” Islam was actually a vote for “moderate” Islam.  The tens of millions of Muslims who protested on the streets last week will be celebrating Ramadan (which begins this week) with great fervor and deep religious commitment.  What they protested against was the MB narrow understanding  of Islam being forcefully imposed upon all Egyptians.

During and following the January 2011 revolution, Christians in Egypt regained close relationships with their Muslim friends and neighbors and felt very much at peace living among a Muslim majority.  During Morsi’s presidency Christians feared that Egyptian Muslims as a whole were espousing a version of Islam which would not have been hospitable to Christians.  We sighed a deep sigh of relief this week, realizing that the vast majority of Egyptian Muslims were moderates who wanted to share Egypt equally with us.

Back to Nation Building

Having been side-tracked by the MB takeover, we all now want to rebuild our Nation on the basis of true justice, freedom and equal opportunity for all.  Please pray alongside us that this dream will be achieved without discrimination or recrimination.

Pray for us at the Bible Society as we again seek to promote these crucial values which come from God’s Word.Image

A remarkable example of “People Power”

What happened in Egypt this week, culminating in the remarkable decisions of last night to remove our President are a clear proof that millions on the street can be more efffective and convincing than ballot boxes which can be rigged.

People are rightly worried, however, that you cannot run a country by deomonstrations.  Pray for us as we move towards a truly democratic State and choose leaders who will genuinely serve the people rather than bully them.

Here are my reflections a few hours before the historic decisions of yesterday:

http://t.co/znvvQ1okRw