From Ashes to Beauty

17b30f59-54e4-45b6-9286-85981f97c35f[1] 96a40fb9-12b1-431f-8048-34521c8b9ebe[1] e126fb03-f181-4cde-94bf-1104f5e3a79e[1]July 9, 2014 was a remarkable evening in the Christian history of Egypt. Assuit, the largest city south of Cairo, was once a bastion of Christianity. While the percentage of Christians has radically decreased, a very strong Christian presence in the city yet remains. The occasion was the re-opening of the Bible Society Bookshop in downtown Assuit which had been viciously destroyed by Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers on August 14, 2013 in response to the dispersion of the Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo.

The celebration of the re-opening of the Bookshop was a significant event for Christians in Assuit who felt humiliated and threatened by the destruction of dozens of churches, Christian institutions and many privately owned Christian properties. The re-opening of the Bookshop in a main street in downtown Assuit is a symbol of the continuation of Christian presence in Egypt. What was remarkable about this particular event was the presence of Christian leaders from all denominations in Assuit. Bishops, priests, pastors, Christian leaders, businessmen and others attended the joyful celebration and many spoke about the significant impact of the Bible Society bookshop on the life of the Church in Assuit. No other event could have united the Christians in Assuit in such a way.

It made me realize once again that the Bible is the most uniting common factor among Christians in Egypt. The presence of this Bookshop in such a strategic location is certainly an indication that Christianity continues strong in the city. This has been a real encouragement to the Christians, as this re-opening boldly states that “We are here to stay!” A week earlier we had a soft opening of the bookshop and the staff shared story after story about passers-by who were delighted to find the bookshop open and spontaneously bought bouquets of flowers and presented them to the staff. The staff could not close the bookshop before midnight, and sometimes stayed up till 2 am just to welcome the well-wishers who came excitedly to congratulate them.

On the opening night I also met the young girl who had filmed the attack on the Bookshop from her eighth floor balcony in the building opposite the Bible Society.

The young girl said how terrified she was when she saw the people coming to try to break through the heavy metal door protecting the Bookshop. She said that she did not believe God would allow them to do this and was expecting divine intervention at any moment. After they broke the door and then destroyed the glass she still expected someone to come to stop the raging crowds. When no one came and the destruction continued, her sister standing beside her fainted and her mother kept screaming for help. The presence of three women in the balcony of this house was evident and they received threatening looks and signs from those destroying the shop. I told her that her courageous act of filming helped thousands world-wide to see and experience what really happened on that fateful day.

A Muslim neighbor rejoiced with us at the re-opening and said it felt like he was congratulating a newlywed son on his new home!

Despite the horrible upheaval of 2013, we thank God for the testimony of His faithfulness. The love and support that was showered upon us, both from within Egypt and abroad has been an amazing experience! We have been enabled to provide all of our regular programs and quickly rebuild the destroyed Bookshops, reflecting our commitment and determination to serve the Egyptian Church. Not only are the Scriptures made easily accessible in the Egyptian marketplace, but this network of 15 Bible Bookshops is unique in providing a common meeting point for the Christians of Egypt.

How can I thank God for the privilege of being involved in making God’s Word available in Egypt.

30 year old fruit

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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.

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