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.

How much will you spend for ten minutes?

Pope dragging me through crowds!

ImageA few days before the new Patriarch of the Coptic Church was consecrated, a group of us from the Bible Society visited Pope Tawadros in his monastery. It was a long drive out into the desert and we drove fast to be in time for our 11 am appointment. We soon realized that everyone in Egypt had decided to also visit the new Pope and as we waited hour after hour for our appointment (all the time being promised that we would be next), I began to realize that we will probably never meet with him. So finally at about 3:30 pm I decided that we should leave and wanted simply to shake his hands and say goodbye. He was outside in the courtyard greeting hundreds of people who wanted his attention. I went up to him and gave him the special Gospel of Mark which we had produced for the occasion of his consecration and told him that all I wanted was to deliver it to him and that there no need for us to take his time on this very busy day. When he saw me, however, he said “absolutely not, you are not leaving before we sit together!” He then dragged me by the arm, pushed me through the crowd and made his way out with me trying to keep up with this big man’s rapid pace (he is very tall). He took me to the floor above his waiting room which was full of Bishops and other Christian leaders waiting to see him. The other Bible Society staff followed us and we were able to meet alone with him for a few minutes as we showed him the Gospel for which he had written a beautiful introduction and congratulated him on his new appointment. He was most gracious and we were careful not to take any extra time but simply asked him to pray for us and then left (of course after having been photographed with him.) That day the subway in Cairo was on strike and it took us five hours to get home. So I calculated that I spent eleven hours to meet Pope Tawadros for ten minutes!

As I began pondering whether it had been worth the effort, I realized that the staff who had come with me believed it was extremely worthwhile and were delighted to have had the privilege of spending ten minutes with his Holiness the new Pope.

It’s a good reminder to those who calculate time only chronologically that -by applying different criteria – some minutes are worth more than several hours!