Last night we had a really great bible study lead by Sherri. She asked us to think back to the beginning of the year and think about what we expected from this year. She wanted to know what had we expected to accomplish during our year here and had we accomplished it? I thought about it and I remember approaching this year by saying wherever God wants me to be, and whatever God wants me to do, I will be there doing it. I tried not to set any concrete goals because those would probably be my goals, and what I hoped to accomplish was God’s goals.
It was refreshing to think back to that time. I think Sherri was trying to get us to refocus and revisit our original thoughts on coming here. What I had set out to do had gotten muddled by all of the recent struggles with our site coordinator, how the women in our group have been abused my Egyptian men, and the daily frustration that comes from dealing with Egyptians on the street. I think I had lost my dedication. It was great to think back and place myself at the beginning of the year. Have I been doing what I set out to do… to follow God’s will?
I think recently I haven’t. I have come to a place where I suspect any Egyptian I meet. I suspect their motives in why they want to meet me. Do they want money? Do they want to use me to get to America? Those seem to be the pervasive reasons people want to meet me. My perspective of Egypt and Egyptians has become warped because of these consistent requests. Is this really what God had in store for me?
Stephen pointed out that Christ was used on many occasions. People sought Christ out simply to be healed. I imagine that went down just about the same way my daily experiences go.
“Hi there. What’s your name?”
“Jesus of Nazareth.”
“So, you’re the Jesus I’ve been hearing about, huh? Would you mind healing this bit of leprosy I have?”
“Hello. What’s your name?”
“Jesus, son of Joseph.”
“Oh, I can’t believe it’s really you! My nephew is afflicted with demons. Will you come expel them?
“Will you give me some shekels?”
If we are supposed to live as much like Christ as we possibly can, does that mean I should give all my money away and try to get every Egyptian I can into America? Maybe. But perhaps it simply means understanding why everyone is so interested in money or getting to America.
For starters, the unemployment rate in Egypt is 35%. Over one third of Egyptians don’t have a job. Add in the fact that Western style capitalism is taking hold of this country more and more every day, enabling the rich to become richer while the poor remain extremely poor. Poor people see the extreme wealth and are envious. They are not immune to the allure of western style advertising that has become so prevalent here. They simply can’t even begin to live that kind of lifestyle.
In some cases there is a backlash to western styles of living. For instance in the mid-nineties Muslims became increasingly more conservative, to the point that women began to wear higabs (head scarves or veils) again. For years higabs were the exception, not the rule, but over the course of a few years Muslim women donned the scarves in droves. That’s one way that a significant portion of the culture here has tried to deal with the “western invasion.”
Other parts of the culture seem securely caught in the trap, so well in fact that they will hassle any westerner for money or the chance to move to their country for better employment opportunities.
Of course this is an oversimplification of what is really going on. There are many complicated layers, most of which even I can’t begin to understand, and I been here for three-quarters of a year.
Even though I have kept these generalized aspects of Egyptian life in mind, it has been hard to get by the negative experiences. So last night at the end of our bible study, I asked for prayers of a new perspective. If I can focus on the bits of positive instead of the overwhelming negative, and keep in mind what is going on here in Egypt, then perhaps I can have a more meaningful time here, and get back to being on God’s path.
Today I went to work and felt rather motivated for the first time in a while. I photographed three old books from the late forties and mid-fifties, and converted them to a digital format, which is one more than I usually I complete in a day. I took the Metro on the way home and was pleasantly surprised when an Egyptian man ushered me to the front of the mob that serves as a ticket line. At first I refused and told him to go ahead of me. He insisted and I could see in his eyes that he genuinely wanted to help me. He wasn’t looking for money and didn’t ask me where I am from. He just wanted to be nice. That was really refreshing and I treasure that small bit of generosity more than he realizes.
Hopefully that means I’m on my way back to living amongst Egyptians, not in spite of them, and closer to what God called me here to do.
Please keep me in your prayers.
Yours in Christ,