Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Sadness Amidst Celebrations

If you have visited my website in the last few days you will already know that my girlfriend Teri’s mother passed away recently. She had been fighting cancer for about a year now and had been fighting a good fight. Shortly after Teri and I left for Cairo she took a turn for the worst. As Teri tells it, her mother Beverly went to the hospital because she was in a tremendous amount of pain. The doctors said there was no reason to stay at the hospital but Beverly insisted. The doctors told Teri’s dad David, that there was no immediate danger, but at about 7AM on October 31st Beverly died. Teri returned home two days later.

I think the hardest thing for me out of all of this is not being able to be with Teri to support her. We discussed the possibility that Beverly might die while we were here and that I would not be able to return with Teri. Now that it has actually happened, I very desperately want to be with her. This is more difficult than I thought it would be.

Teri’s family went to the Pacific Ocean to spread Beverly’s ashes, so I haven’t had much contact with her since she left. I hope in the next few days I will be able to get more word from her. Please keep her and her family in your prayers.

Meanwhile I have stayed rather busy in Egypt. On November 4th, all of our Young Adult Volunteer’s (YAV’s) gathered (with the exception of Teri, which left a noticeable hole in our group) for the first time since we parted ways to our respective cities. Jen and Jennifer have been living Alexandria, Stephen and Eric went to Minya, while the rest of us stayed in Cairo. We met up in Alexandria (commonly referred to as Alex by the locals) and headed to a conference center called Beit El Salem (House of Peace) for the 50th anniversary celebration of it’s founding.

The organizers managed to bring in some of the original volunteers who helped build the center back in 1955, many of which were Americans. They were not called YAV’s back then, but they were the 1950’s equivalent, so the organizers wanted us there to show the old volunteers with the current volunteers. The celebration was joyous but long. We sang hymns, there was a gigantic cake (a photo is on my photos page) and there was a lot of talk about fundraising. But as it turned out, we didn’t play into the celebrations at all. We were pretty much there as witnesses. I don’t look at it as a waste of time though because it afforded us some good rest and relaxation away from the hectic streets of Cairo.

At work I had been putting together a book for the 150th Anniversary of the Synod of the Nile, which had given me several nights of diminished sleep, so I was happy to take a break. We strolled around the grounds of the conference center, and played on the beach. It was too cold to go swimming, but breathing the dense salt air helped to clear the lungs. All of us guys slept in a dormitory just inside the fence from the Mediterranean. There were twenty or thirty men sleeping on bunk beds. I slept up top, something I haven’t done since I was probably ten years old. The sound of the sea cashing nearby and the wind howling outside made it very easy to go to sleep when I settled down for the night.

We woke the next morning and waited for our bus to arrive and take us to Alexandria. It ended up being some four hours late, but it didn’t matter because when we finally got to the library, it was closed for the holiday called Eid. Strike TWO! The same thing happened to me last month when I visited Alex with some American tourists, except it was closed for Ramadan then. The only thing we did after that was visit a mall so the Jen and Jennifer could see it and know where it is. The mall was just like a mall in America. It even had a food court. I got some photos of some western restaurants with Arabic marquees. I don’t know why, but this just amuses me. I’m a dork.

We boarded the train and headed back to Cairo. This wasn’t the usual Metro subway train I’ve been riding to work. This is a commuter train with seats. All in all it was an enjoyable ride through the countryside, but I had a rather nasty experience in the bathroom. It was disgusting. Six words: No toilette paper… at all… anywhere. Luckily I brought my own. I’ve learned to be prepared where that’s concerned.

On Monday, November 7th I returned to the Synod of the Nile to help with the final preparations for the 150th anniversary celebrations. I sifted through nearly a years’ worth of emails to collect information on who was and was not going to attend. I helped with some last-minute PowerPoint glitches and still managed to have an Arabic lesson with the secretary. I showed her pictures of my family (many thanks to my Dad who gave me a stack of them before I left the U.S.) and learned the words for aunt, uncle, grandfather, grandmother, and so on. Something I found interesting is there are different words for a maternal aunt and a paternal aunt. Same thing for uncles.

Tuesday, the 8th was the big day. We wrapped up last minute stuff and then, in the evening, we had the 150th Celebration of the Synod of the Nile at Kasr Al Doubara Evangelical Church, which is just about half a mile from the Nile. I don’t think I’ve given any history of the Synod on my website so I’ll give you a little now as best I understand it.

In the 1850’s, the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America sent missionaries to Egypt and evangelized up and down the Nile on a houseboat. An Indian prince had come to Egypt to select a bride, and when he married an Egyptian woman, they had their honeymoon on a houseboat. After the honeymoon, the prince donated the boat to the Presbyterian Church. It was christened “The Ibis,” and the church used it for years, up and down the Nile.

Eventually they set up permanent missions in cities such as Alexandria, Assuit, and Minya, and built a seminary in Cairo. Their main focus was on education, so they built schools for children all over Egypt. That tradition is still alive today. In fact, I live at one of the schools: The Ramses College for Girls. Currently there are around 30 schools in Egypt run by The Synod of the Nile.

In 1891 the first batch of Egyptian ministers graduated from the seminary. Evangelical Theological Seminary (Evangelical means Presbyterian in Egypt) still exists today, and is only a 20-minute walk from where I live. Last year they graduated 35 students and the enrollment is on the rise.

You have probably heard about the civil war in Sudan in the news. Well, Sudan is Egypt’s southern neighbor, so there are a lot of Sudanese refugees that have fled to Cairo. Most of them are Christian because Sudanese Muslims are oppressing and killing Christians. The issue is much more complicated than that, but that’s it in a nutshell. If you want to know more on the subject, visit Sarah Sevcik’s blog at She is a YAV like me, but she works directly with Sudanese refugees and has a better perspective on the situation.

Anyway, several Sudanese refugees are going to the seminary now. Sudanese Christians have been coming to the seminary for years, but enrollment is on the rise because many more now live in Cairo.

In the 1920’s Egyptians gained independence from the Americans and have been running the Egyptian Evangelical Presbyterian Church since then. The actual name of the church varies depending on who you are talking to or what time period you are reading about, but for all intents and purposes, it is the same as the PC(USA), it’s just in Egypt, run by Egyptians.

For those of you not in the Presbyterian Church, a synod is simply a governmental body. In the U.S., the structure of the Presbyterian government goes like this: Local Church Session à Presbytery à Synod à General Assembly. Each level encompasses a larger geographical area than the last, with the General Assembly covering the entire country. The church in Egypt has the same structure but the Synod is the largest level. There are eight presbyteries and 312 churches in the Synod of the Nile.

So when we talk about the History of the Synod of the Nile, we are really talking about the history of the Presbyterian Church in Egypt, beginning with the first missionaries from the U.S. Whoa! That was a mouthful.

Now back to the present day. Last night at Kasr El Doubara Church we celebrated the 150th Anniversary of the Synod. The large church was packed with Egyptians from all over the country, forty some odd foreigners including Americans, Scots, Dutch, Germans, and Canadians, and representatives from each major religion/denomination in Egypt, including Islam. In fact the most prominent Muslim from Al Azhar Mosque, the center of Islamic thinking, attended and gave a very inclusive speech. His name in the program is Grand Imam Dr. Mohamed Said Tantawy. Marian McClure, Director of the Worldwide Ministries Division of the Presbyterian Church (effectively my boss) gave the keynote address. There were representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and The Coptic Catholic Church, and the Mayor of Cairo delivered a speech. This whole celebration was a BIG DEAL, attracting all kinds of “powerful people.” Martha Roy, the 92 year-old musicologist who plays the organ at St. Andrews was given special recognition. Victor Makari (a native Egyptian who now lives in the U.S. and works for the PC(USA)) spoke about Martha said she had known five generations of his family starting with his grandfather, down to his grandson. Amazing!

I hope all is well with you. Be sure to drop me an email sometime. I always enjoy hearing from home. Take care!

Yours in Christ,

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