Sunday, October 24, 2010

Part 1: An Encounter with the Ancient Church of Cairo...The Coptic Church

Over the past few weeks we've begun to form some wonderful friendships. We've especially enjoyed getting to know some of our Egyptian friends, some of who are Christians. Most Egyptian Christians call themselves Coptics, (Coptic originally simply meant Egyptian), and belong to what's called the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. Sometimes we Americans imagine that Christianity is essentially a western religion, and that the middle east is essentially a non-Christian region. But the truth is that Christianity was born in the middle east, and though it's no longer its major religion, there has been a rich and continuous Christian presence in the region for almost 2000 years. Christianity has been in Egypt almost since Christianity began. The Coptic Church attributes its founding to St Mark (the one who wrote the gospel), who is said to have evangelized Egypt within the first few decades after Jesus' crucifixion!

Recently one of our Egyptian friends invited us to an event at Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral. As we walked to the church, our friend told us that St Mark's is the seat of the current Coptic pope, Pope Shenouda III. St Mark's was built in the 1970's, which is actually quite new for Cairo standards. We arrived early and walked inside the gate, where many hundreds of people were socializing. We looked up and saw the cathedral, which is as beautiful as it is vast. It seats over 7,000!

The event we were going to was called a Bible study but it's kind of like an advise call-in. For this event, hundreds of people send in letters requesting advice, insight, or blessing from the Pope. The Pope then reads and answers some of these letters, and then gives a sermon about a topic of his choice.

We walked into the Cathedral, which seemed to be about full. It's walls were adorned with gorgeous mosaics, paintings, and stain-glassed windows depicting Jesus, the saints, and other religious symbols. A man ushered us towards an area where there were headphones connected to the seats so that we could listen to an English translation. In the front of the Cathedral, on one side, sat dozens of priests, monks and bishops, all of them dressed in black robes, and all of them with great long beards. On the other side, there was a youth choir. A crowd of thousands waited in nervous excitement for the arrival of the Pope, who would be entering through one of the side doors. The choir finished a song. Suddenly, the side doors opened, the assembly jumped to there feet and began to cheer, and a chant echoed through the Cathedral, “Baba, Baba, Baba, Shenouda....”

Thursday, October 7, 2010

We were afraid of you

“Mrs., we were afraid of you.” That is what an 8th grade girl told me (Stephanie) after the second day of class. “We were afraid of you, but now we see that you are good.” I think she was talking about their difficulty understanding my American accent. I didn’t tell her, but I could say the same thing to them. At first, I was afraid of them. I was afraid they would misbehave, they wouldn’t understand me, and they wouldn’t be interested.  Now I see that they are good.

This is what I have been doing with my time. I have begun volunteering at St. Andrew’s Refugee Services (StARS). StARS is a nonprofit organization run by the church (St. Andrew’s United Church of Cairo) that serves refugees in the area. A word about the organization:
St. Andrew’s Refugee Services was founded over 30 years ago. Today StARS provides programming to refugees from 32 different countries, inluding Sudan, Iraq, and Somalia.  Services provided include education for children and adults, legal assistance for those seeking resettlement, and fair trade products made by the refugee community. StARS programming today serves almost 1,200 refugees each week.
To see pictures and read more about us, visit 
So what do I do? I help with the children’s education program. Refugee children usually cannot attend public schools in Cairo, so we run a complete school at the St. Andrew’s campus spanning from 1st grade through high school. Since most of our students are from Sudan, we teach the Sudanese curriculum. I am teaching 8th grade Nutrition and Health, 7th grade Science, and 7th grade Nutrition and Health. As I teach, Paul continues to learn about leading the church, and we grow more and more confident in our new life.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Saqqara Pyramids

A few weeks ago, Pastor Peter, his wife Michele, and their boys took us to visit our first pyramids. We went to an area outside of Cairo called Saqqara. It is a huge site with many pyramids, tombs, and other ruins. Here are a few pictures.

We are next to the first pyramid built in Egypt. It was built in 2650 B.C.

We went inside a different pyramid. This is the "stairway" we used to get in and out.

Here's Steph inside a pyramid! She's under a doorway and the wall above her is covered hieroglyphics.

Paul and Alex under a ruin covered in hieroglyphics.

Inside Teti's pyramid, this carving and  paint is about 4,300 years old.