Friday, January 7, 2011

Struggles and Solidarity

I was stopped by the police as I was walking into our church compound for worship this morning. “What is your name?” I was a little nervous, I have never been stopped by them before.
“Stephanie,” I told him.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“The US.”
“The US?”
“Yes, I'm American.”
At this point, our usual gatekeeper came out and said something in Arabic and the officer told me I could go on in.

Some other members we questioned or had to show their ID's before entering. The increase in security is a result of a bombing that happened on New Years. The bombing was in Alexandria, a city a couple of hours away from us. In the bombing, 22 people were killed and many others were wounded as they were leaving a church service. In the aftermath there has been some protesting, some anger, a lot of sadness, and some solidarity between Christians and Muslims.

We should tell you that the violence here was aimed at Egyptians and not foreigners. Our everyday life has not been interrupted and we feel as safe as ever. Our hearts go out to those who lost loved ones, or who feel uncertain about their safety now.

Last night was Coptic (Egyptian Christian) Christmas Eve. A woman at church told us the story of the Christmas Eve service her daughter attended. Inside the church it was packed. All of the seats were full and there were crowds of people standing. Outside the church, Muslim men stood guard. They were lined up along the outer gates and sides of the compound. These men were not paid, not security guards, they were everyday Egyptians, in a powerful display of solidarity with their Christian neighbors. Thanks be to God for this.

Let us join with the Egyptian people as we pray for healing and peace in this place.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Happy New Year!

To start things off, we'll go back to mid December, when the semester ended at school. We had a wonderful time of celebration! First we had a day of sports. The kids were all really into this. In this video you can see some of the children cheering for their team. "Mandella! Ohoh-ohoh."

The very last day of school was the closing ceremony. Students and their parents filled all of the seats and floor space of our Guild Hall. The students were given awards and performed dances. Here some of the children are in costume, performing a Sudanese wedding dance.

Before Christmas we spend some time preparing our worship space for the festivities. First, the congregation had a cleaning day. We came together to wipe away the layers of dust that inevitably covers everything in Cairo. In this picture Paul and some congregation members are working in the sanctuary. Then we had a decorating day. In addition to the usual Christmas decorations, we used the beauty of God's creation with a live Christmas tree and green leaves from the trees outside to spruced up our windows. For us living in the desert, green plants have become very, very beautiful indeed.

It is an interesting thing, celebrating Christmas in a country that doesn't. Unlike the US where stores and the media start reminding that it will soon be Christmas more than a month in advance, here it is mostly unnoticed. But still, Christmas in Cairo was wonderful. We had a beautiful Christmas Eve service with lots of hymns, some from the American tradition, some from other places. Paul attended a Christmas Day service for the Sudanese churches. The 3 hour service included lots of singing, preaching, and even baptisms.

Finally, we really celebrated New Year's in style. A church member lives in a very tall building. We joined her on her roof for a small party. We were on top of one of the tallest buildings in Cairo. We watched boats go along the Nile and the huge expanse of city lights. And then, it was New Year's and we were above all the fireworks. From up there, we could see them all around us. It was really amazing.