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


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,

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



Mohamed Mounir in concert

Mohamed Mounir in concert

Normally, the drive from the Stella to Amigo resorts on the Red Sea coast near Ein Sokhna takes a little over 15 minutes.  So when we finished a lovely afternoon with family and friends yesterday (Eastern Easter Sunday) it was 8:15 pm and Rebecca and I fully expected to get back to Amigo by a little after 8:30 pm.

What we had not known was that an extremely popular Egyptian singer, Mohamed Mounir, was having a concert at a resort half-way between Stella and Amigo.

What we experienced last night is very hard to describe.  However much I try to explain it in words you will not be able to imagine the scene.  As we began driving we felt something was wrong.  The wide divided highway we were on had two lanes and sometimes three on either side.  We had never seen it crowded since that area of the Red Sea is sparsely populated.  Last night, however, we began noticing much heavier traffic than ever.  We soon stopped in bumper to bumper traffic which was hardly moving.  On either side of the road buses, vans and cars were parked sometimes three deep on each side of the road.  Having parked their vehicles hundreds of young men were walking to the concert which was still several miles ahead.  It was scary to see an unending flow of young men pass us and to know that nearly all the moving vehicles ahead and behind us where themselves looking for a place to park!

No traffic police was in sight (we never saw any) and the scene last night looked like a disaster ready to happen. 

As we inched forward on our side of the highway we realized to our horror that the opposite side of the highway was completely stopped!  Resourceful drivers who realized that our side was very slow decided to drive the wrong way on the opposite side resulting in all the traffic on that side coming to a complete standstill!  A friend who was going in the opposite direction told us it took him 7 hours to get through this traffic jam!

As we gradually inched our way forward extremely slowly for many hours we were sure that the young people hurrying on their feet to get to the concert in time were in the hundreds of thousands.  Without any security whatsoever and with the frenzy of excitement such events seem to elicit in young people, the atmosphere was potentially explosive.

We were worried when we saw a few families making their way to the concert some carrying small children and even babies.  There were also a few women, but 99% of the fans were young men.

As the evening progressed we would pass by people attempting in vain to leave but realizing that there were one or two rows of parked cars blocking them in! 

It took us nearly four hours to get from Stella to Amigo.  A record we hope to never repeat. 

Today on the news we heard that the concert was supposed to have started at 7:30 pm but the singer actually began at 11 pm and seeing so many rambunctious young men – many of them inebriated or stoned – he only sang for an hour and left.  This resulted in great anger among the crowds who had spent many hours and a lot of money coming from a great distance away to hear him.

We thank God for having been safe last night and for living in a country were the people are basically peace-loving and relatively law-abiding.  Somewhere else the lack of police and the volatile atmosphere may have turned violent.



Obscure Garbage Collector Dies


Young boys collecting garbage

“Mr. Quidees died this week leaving behind his wife and six grown children.”

If an obituary would have been written for him, the above is probably all that would have been written.

But the welcoming committee in Heaven undoubtedly accommodated him in the VIP Heavenly Village and said “We welcome Quidees, an Egyptian Hero of the Faith, whose faithfulness to His Lord resulted in establishing a ministry which impacted Cairo, Egypt and the World”.

So how did this unknown man have such a great impact for God? What remarkable feats did he achieve to accomplish such great spiritual success?

In the early 70s, Quidees was a young garbage collector who at the crack of dawn each day left the Mokattam Garbage Village (MGV) on his donkey cart to collect garbage from the far away district of Shoubra.  One of the homes from which he collected was that of Farahat, an evangelistically-minded Coptic Orthodox believer.

Farahat began talking to Quidees about God’s love for him and how Jesus had come to earth to save him from sin.  In those days – though all the residents of MGV were nominally Christian – there was no Church at MGV and Quidees could not believe that the Creator of the Universe could care for a poor, illiterate, and despised garbage collector.

Often Farahat would take time to evangelize and then disciple Quidees.  The spiritual change in his life was evident and Quidees was keen for Farahat to come to the MGV to share the gospel with his family.  But Farahat had heard terrible rumours about that dangerous ghetto full of garbage and criminals and he had absolutely no desire to visit it!

But Quidees was persistent, and after two years Farahat finally capitulated to his urging and went to share the Good News of the Gospel with his family.

The response was rapid and remarkable.  The whole extended family was converted and they soon cleared an area from garbage to hold meetings for their neighbours.  Within a short period, many were radically transformed by the love of Christ and they decided to build a church.

Many of you know the rest of the story, as Farahat eventually accepted God’s call to pastor that small church among the most despised and ostracized people in Cairo.

As the people were transformed from the inside and began to feel a sense of worth, they were motivated to improve their lifestyle and transform their village.

This week I met with three, different groups of visitors to Egypt, each with a completely different itinerary.  But they all took it for granted that visiting the MGV now world famous “Cave Churches” was a must.

Never in a million years could Quidees have imagined that his persistence with Farahat (now Father Simon) would have eventually resulted in planting the largest and best known Church in the Middle East and one whose powerful spiritual ministry has been an inspiration to Christians worldwide!

No wonder he got such a great welcome in Heaven!