Good news for Gabriel

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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.

 

 

 

 

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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

 

 

THE LONGEST 15 MINUTES OF OUR LIVES

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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

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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!

A young child who haunts me

lonely, cold and lost

lonely, cold and lost

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!