This morning Rebecca and I attended the lovely and very meaningful Easter Sunrise service of our English Speaking Church – the Heliopolis Community Church. This early morning Easter event has been held at the Commonwealth Graves Memorial gardens in Heliopolis for more than 30 years! After communion around the large cross in the middle of the garden we share a communal breakfast together.
We went there with our children in the 80s and today our daughter Leila and our grandson Alex joined us! It aways is a blessing celebrating Easter in that way and it brings to us a flood of good memories from years past….
After a short nap we dressed up and went to the Palm Sunday service of our Arabic Church, the Heliopolis Evangelical Church. (Eastern Christians have a different church calendar and this year the Easters are one week apart).
Egyptian Christians are all given the day off for Palm Sunday so this is one of the best attended church services of the year. Our church was packed and the large sanctuary reverberated with vibrant singing and praise to God!
Next week we celebrate Egyptian Easter and, as we have done for more than 30 years, we will attend the Saturday Evening Easter service at the St. Simon the Tanner Cave Church at the Garbage Village with yet another congregation we relate to because of Rebecca’s ministry there since 1982!
All this may seem a bit confusing to you – and I must admit, it is sometimes also for us. But we praise the Lord for the rich and alive church traditions we have in Egypt and the privilege we have as a couple to feel at home in each of these very varied church traditions, and to be deeply blessed by worshipping with the wonderful Christians we know in each one.
In October 1982 Rebecca visited the Mokattam Garbage Village for the first time. Since then she has been there at least twice per week in a variety of ministries culminating in her present ministry at the Center of Love for the Disabled.
In the early years Rebecca longed for anyone to be willing to go with her to help these destitute garbage collectors and hardly anyone responded. Most were afraid of getting diseases or being in danger in what seemed like a God-forsaken place.
Over the years, as God transformed the Village in ways none of us could have ever imagined, the Mokattam Garbage Village and its Cave Churches are now on nearly all Christian visitors to Egypt’s “must see list”. Each week Rebecca recieves emails from people wanting her to show them around the Village. She can only respond postively to a few of these requests or else she would become a full-time tour guide!
The popularity of the Garbage Village Churches was dramatically demonstrated to us this week when our son Joel send us a link to what one website recommended were the “51 Reasons To Fall In Love With Egypt”. The first picture was of the remarkable Abou Simbel Temple in Upper Egypt and the SECOND was of the large Cave Church at the Garbage Village!!??
32 years ago none of us could have even imagined that what was then a neglected and avoided shantytown would rate as number 2 on a list of things to see in Egypt!
It has been a remarkable blessing to us to observe first hand the metamorphosis of the Mokattam Garbage Village through the work of the Spirit of God over these many years. The lessons we have learned are too many to enumerate, but maybe the most important is that we should never underestimate what God can do in transforming people from the inside whom He would then use to transform their community.
To Him be the Glory!
Enjoy these remarkable pictures of our wonderful country:-
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,
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.
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:
I was in a rush to get to a meeting at Church when I saw him. He looked as big as my 5 year old grandson, but I assumed he was older but simply smaller. Though it was winter he was barefoot, very dirty, and wore tattered clothes. In his hand was a dirty rag with which he was trying to wipe the windshields of cars stopped at the traffic light.
Tonight business was slow and he looked lost, forlorn and cold.
As I rushed passed him rushing to get to my meeting on time I felt a flood of emotions and was very disturbed. So I phoned Rebecca to tell her about it. Her first question was “…well, what did you do?”. When I admitted I hadn’t done anything she said “…well, go back to him, get his name and see how you can help him!”. I wanted to tell her I was now nearer to Church than to where I’d seen him, but I knew this was a lame excuse and that I’d have to go back…
I went back, he told me his name was Maged and that his mother was dead and his father had abandoned him and his siblings, and that they were living with their aunt and uncle. “Where do you live?” I asked. “There” he replied pointing to a dark grassy area between two sides of the divided road. I gave him what he would have considered a large amount of money and told him to buy himself some shoes and some food. He seemed grateful but not prepared to do so right now.
On my way back from Church I noticed that Maged was no longer at that street corner. I hoped he had at least bought some food for himself (which he would have undoubtedly shared with his siblings), I also noticed some people bundled in blankets under a tree in a dark part of that grassy area (I assumed that was his extended family and that he may be cuddled with them in one of the blankets!).
I’ve looked out for Maged since then but haven’t seen him. Yesterday was Egypt’s National Day for Street Children. The theme of this year’s day is pointedly “Street children … our children”.
Yesterday, as I thought of Egypt’s street children, Maged’s lonely lost face haunted me!